Privacy experts praise Google+ rollout so far

Google could suffer from showing rivals its cards too early, but avoiding a privacy blunder is worth the competitive risk

By , IDG News Service |  On-demand Software

Peter Eckersley, a senior staff technologist for the Electronic Frontier Foundation. said Google has shown that it understands the value of being "loud and clear" about stamping out privacy bugs in its user interfaces with a limited launch period. "We'll have to see what Plus looks like in a few months time in order to give it a fully critical privacy review," Eckersley said.

In the meantime, it's important for people to understand that, even if Google+ delivers on all of its privacy-protection features, there are areas that aren't covered by it or by any other social networking service, he said.

"Google Plus is clearly designed to give people better control over their privacy with respect to their family, co-workers and friends, [but] there are other types of privacy that it simply can't provide. If you want a communications tool where the information you're sharing can't be read by Google, or by governments or lawyers in western countries, Google Plus isn't the service to use. Nobody has succeeded in building a social network that can offer those kinds of privacy protections yet," he said.

By showing its cards early with a limited release, Google risks tipping off competitors, primarily Facebook, to the features that it hopes will give Google+ a competitive edge. In fact, already Facebook has responded to Google+'s multi-person video chat feature with a similar -- albeit more limited -- capability to offer one-on-one video chat through a partnership with Skype.

Still, the value of avoiding a Buzz-like privacy fiasco is well worth the risk of letting Facebook and others respond to Google+ before it's widely available, according to Forrester Research analyst Josh Bernoff.

"Facebook is indeed in a position to replicate the best of what it sees out there. You see this happening all the time -- LinkedIn copies Facebook, Facebook copies Twitter, Google copies Facebook, ad infinitum," Bernoff said. "But Facebook is what it is, and that's horrendously complicated [in its privacy controls]. It's not easy to fix that by copying something Google invented that's simple."

Google deserves credit for assuming that competitive risk and also for resisting the calls to open up the service widely more quickly, Bernoff said. "This strategy is better than flinging it out to everyone when it's not fully cooked. In fact, I think they have it about right, but the pressure to make this completely open will be very significant given the attention it's getting," he said.

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