Would analytics calm social network privacy fears?

Neither Facebook nor Google+ let users gather data about visits to their profiles

By , IDG News Service |  On-demand Software

With the unveiling of its Google+ social network, Google is again bringing to the spotlight the recurring question of whether social network privacy settings are too complex, confusing many users and causing them to share posts with more people than intended.

Google is raising the issue now in order to pound on Facebook, pledging that people will find that Google+'s mechanism for sharing content is simpler and more intuitive, thus lessening privacy concerns.

Whether Google accomplishes that remains to be seen. Google+, still in limited beta release, is a work in progress, and privacy glitches have been reported and acknowledged by the company. Some also feel that understanding Google+'s privacy controls at this point isn't as easy as Google initially promised.

Facebook could also very easily take issue with the premise that its privacy settings are a major concern to its users, considering that usage of the site continues to grow massively. The site recently exceeded 750 million registered users worldwide, and time spent on the site continues to rise.

Still, assuming that there is an opportunity for consumer social networks to reduce privacy anxiety among some of its users, it seems timely to question whether traffic analytics could help.

Web usage analytics software has been around for many years, giving publishers traffic data for their sites, yet this type of functionality has been extremely limited or non-existent for users of consumer social networking sites.

Has the time come for analytics in social networks, as a way to bring transparency to how content is being shared and to dispel privacy concerns? Could this be a game-changing privacy feature for the first social network to adopt such a policy?

"Interesting question. We believe that people have a right to know what information is being collected about them and control over how that information is being shared," said Amber Yoo, director of communications at Privacy Rights Clearinghouse.

Facebook has by design made it impossible for people to gather data about visits to their personal profiles and views of their posts. With some variations, this has been the norm for consumer social networking sites in general over the years. Google+ is no exception.

There are signs that a substantial number of people might be interested in this. That's why rogue developers on Facebook frequently use the false promise of providing profile analytics data to dupe users into installing their applications or clicking on malicious links.

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