The Electronic Privacy Information Center said it is filing a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission over Google's Search, plus your world personal search results service.
Updated: It didn't take long for
privacy advocates to launch their crusade against Google's "Search, plus
your world" social search feature, which attempts to surface photos, posts
and people from users' Google+ accounts.
The Electronic Privacy
Information Center (EPIC) said Jan. 12 it will file a formal complaint with the
Federal Trade Commission that Google's Search, plus your world service
infringes on user privacy and even antitrust regulations.
EPIC Executive Director Marc
Rotenberg, who spearheaded
the complaint over Google Buzz that led to the FTC ordering Google to avail
itself to privacy audits for the next 20 years is holding a press conference with media at 3 p.m. EST today to discuss the filing.
Search, plus your world lets
searchers see Picasa photos and posts they've created on Google+, as well as
those their Google+ followers have shared with them, on search results pages.
Users can also search people they follow in Google+ in the search autocomplete
function of the search box and directly in search results. Google also surfaces
Google profiles and Google+ pages related to a specific topic or area of
The service builds on Google
Social Search, a service that to date held little value for users because it
lacked the connective fabric of a social network from which to tap relevant
content. With more than 60-plus million users reportedly on Google+, the search
engine now has that network to leverage.
While this may all sound
great for avid Google+ users, Google confirmed earlier this week that it wasn't
surfacing content from rivals Facebook and Twitter. Google said these companies
refused to make their data available to its search crawlers.
Moreover, some believe this
is just another example of Google leveraging its search engine to bolster its
other Web services to the detriment of Internet rivals vying for prime
placement in the world's leading search engine.
"Google is an
entrenched player trying to fight off its challenger Facebook by using its
market dominance in a separate sector," Rotenberg told the Los Angeles Times Jan. 11. "I think that should trouble
Twitter, the company
from whom Google fueled its real-time search service, was
one of the most vocal critics of the service. The microblog, which
reportedly wanted more money than Google would pay to index Twitter's fire hose
of tweets, complained that its tweets would not be as accessible on Google.com, with Google giving priority to Google+ content in personalized results.
The sentiment that Google
is cutting off smaller players from its prime real estate is something that the
FTC and Congress are looking into. Senators grilled Google Executive Chairman
Eric Schmidt last September on Capitol Hill, arguing that Google ranks its own
content over results from Yelp, TripAdvisor and other smaller players that rely
on the search engine for traffic.
Less clear is how Search,
plus your world infringes on user privacy because the personal results remain
separate and distinct for each user. A Google+ user's results will only include
photos, posts and content from their Google+ account, as well as content from
people who have shared content with them via Google+.
Moreover, the personal
results are protected by HTTPS encryption, the same security protocol Google
used for its search and Gmail services.
Even so, EPIC said in
a note on its Website: "Google's changes make the personal data of
users more accessible." Also, while users can opt out of seeing
personalized search results, they cannot opt out of having their information
found through Google search.
The FTC will almost
certainly look into Search, plus your world, per EPIC's request.
The bigger question is how Google
will respond. Will it curb its investment in the product, or point the finger
at Facebook and Twitter, which Google argues will not open their massive data
feeds to Google's crawlers.