I’ve been openly critical about Google’s lack of privacy in their launch of Buzz (and I argue other things as well), and its’ opt-in attitude towards opening up contacts and settings people previously thought were private. That doesn’t change. However, I’d like to spend some time here playing devil’s advocate and share how perhaps, Google starting with an open approach may be a good thing for Google in the long term. Let me explain:
There’s no doubt that Google opening up all our data at the launch of Buzz is making people think more about Privacy. I’ve had a post in the back of my head for quite awhile now that I was going to write on how I think Facebook could have made a mistake starting with a focus on privacy, as now people just assume that everything they put online is private, when in all actuality there is no way that will ever happen 100%. Because of Facebook, people are getting more comfortable with posting their lives online, and while, even if Facebook remains a private environment for those people (in many cases it isn’t), they are now becoming more comfortable posting that information elsewhere, assuming it will remain private in those places as well.
I think Facebook could have done their users a disservice by giving them that comfort. What if, instead of starting out private as Facebook did, they instead opened up everyone’s profile by default, and enabled them to choose what elements they want private after that? Make people completely aware their information is 100% public, and then it is up to those people to decide what they share online, and what they would prefer stays private. I think there would be a lot more education amongst users this way, and people would think twice before sharing things online. Of course, Facebook wants people to share in easier ways and in a more comfortable environment to make sharing as easy as possible, so this isn’t going to happen, but it may have been even more in the right by defaulting to public on more things. Ironically, these types of moves are what is getting Facebook a lot of flack as is, regardless of whether there are privacy controls in place that users can still turn on.
So perhaps Google is doing a good thing here. Even the optimistic Louis Gray says we’re all wearing tin foil hats by criticizing their lack of privacy. By starting public (while I still argue turning what was previously private into a completely open environment is completely wrong, and it seems they’re backtracking to try and fix this), Google is encouraging each and every one of its hundreds of millions of users to think twice before sharing anything online. Google is taking a risk here by making people think twice, since it makes money off of the content you share.
I fully predict Google will be adding more and more privacy controls as they move forward. I agree, maybe they launched too soon before having these privacy controls in place. One thing they may have done right though is that they are making us think twice about sharing. They’re making each of us think about what goes online, and what stays off, and how comfortable we are with what we want public. I think that’s a good thing, and more companies should be defaulting public, rather than private, until the general internet audience gets used to this type of environment where we know everything we share could very well be made public for the whole world to see.
I encourage you to step back and think about this – I agree, privacy is a good thing, but could the default to public be even better? Are users being educated with this move? It’s an interesting move by Google – let’s just hope they can get more privacy controls in place for users to choose from as they do it.