Users Want Options

By Don Reisinger  |  Posted 2010-04-21 Print this article Print

5. It doesn't have to be absolute

All this talk of privacy might seem to imply that Google must, at all times, protect every last inch of its users' privacy. That just isn't true. Google should work hard to protect the privacy of its users as much as possible. But it also shouldn't go overboard. Yes, privacy is important and users will expect it. But there is a point when users are willing to forgo some privacy for the sake of using a product. Consider social networks, like Facebook or MySpace, or location-based tools like Foursquare. They have been successful because of the free flow of information. Privacy doesn't mean Google needs to keep all of a user's information indefinitely hidden from the rest of the world.

6. Privacy must win in a battle with information

When running a social network, a company needs to find the right balance between privacy and making information available. Since having more information be available to other users will increase engagement, companies like Facebook, MySpace and now Google want users to share as much as possible. At the same time, forcing users to share information they might not feel comfortable sending out on the Web isn't a smart idea either. Facebook has struck a good balance in this area; Google needs to do the same.

7. Give users options

Facebook was able to strike the right balance between information availability and privacy by giving users far more control over their personal privacy than any other social network on the market. After being criticized by privacy watchdogs over some missteps, Facebook delivered outstanding privacy controls. Users can decide how much of their information can be shared and with whom. Google has done a better job of giving users options with Buzz, but considering how popular Facebook's tool has been, maybe the search giant should consider offering similarly extensive controls.

8. Honesty is important

The last thing Google should do is become misleading in its handling of privacy. Web users don't respect companies that make promises about privacy but don't follow through. Google needs to remember that. So far, the search giant has done a good job of handling the privacy concerns users have and it has been honest along the way. But sometimes Web companies get caught in the trap of promising something and never truly delivering it. Google cannot become one of those companies. Honesty about how it will (and won't) protect user privacy is extremely important.

9. Your mantra means something

When Google first came up with the slogan, "Don't be evil," it was nothing more than a way to rally troops. But that slogan now means something to Web users around the world. Because users know Google shouldn't "be evil," they expect the company to make the right moves every time. Admittedly, that's impossible. At the same time, Google can't lose sight of the fact that that is what people expect. The company needs to make a concerted effort to prove to the world that although it has had some privacy missteps in the past, it is staying true to its motto and will do everything it can to not be evil. If its actions reflect that, Google will find its user base even more loyal than before.

10. Think before you act

Google's privacy problems in the past couple years have seemingly shown that the company isn't thinking before releasing a product. Google should have known better than to display a user's most contacted friends when Buzz launched. It should also have known that users would want better control over privacy. It seemed like Google wanted to rush Buzz out, rather than take a step back, evaluate what needed to be done to appeal to users and then do it before it was released. Instead, Buzz was released before it was ready and was forced to face the critics.

Think before you act, Google. It might not be convenient, but it's the smart move.

Don Reisinger is a freelance technology columnist. He started writing about technology for Ziff-Davis' Since then, he has written extremely popular columns for, Computerworld, InformationWeek, and others. He has appeared numerous times on national television to share his expertise with viewers. You can follow his every move at

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