Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) and Facebook have engaged in a low-key war of words, following the controversial launch of Google’s “Search, plus your world” personal search feature Jan. 10.
Search, plus your world has roiled the technology industry like no product since Google Buzz, the social conversation service the company replaced with its Google+ social network. That product forms the crux of the personal search service, which injects posts and pictures from users’ Google+ accounts into their search results.
However, it eschews such content from Facebook and Twitter. Google’s failure to treat third-party sources equal to Google+ in search results has the media, Twitter and the Electronic Privacy Information Center complaining that Google is unfairly using its search engine to pump up Google+. EPIC complained to the FTC that Google is skewering user privacy just to keep up with Facebook.
Google has said publicly that Facebook and Twitter declined to provide them adequate data for its personal search service. Facebook has declined to weigh in on the record. Yet a source familiar with the company’s negotiations with Google claimed that senior executives at Google insisted all information would need to be public and available to all.
“The only reason Facebook has a Bing integration and not a Google integration is that Bing agreed to terms for protecting user privacy that Google would not,” the source told search expert and Federated Media publisher John Battelle Jan. 12. Battelle, who wrote the seminal book, “The Search,” has well-placed sources at both companies.
Google disagreed with this characterization on the record.
“We want to set the record straight,” Rachel Whetstone, senior vice president of communications at Google, said in a statement emailed to eWEEK. “In 2009, we were negotiating with Facebook over access to its data, as has been reported. To claim that we couldn’t reach an agreement because Google wanted to make private data publicly available is simply untrue.”
A source familiar with negotiations on Google’s side of the table told Battelle Facebook insisted that Google agree to not use publicly available Facebook information, or information already readily available to search engines, to build out a “social service.” That request came in conjunction with getting Google to agree not to use Facebook’s fire hose feed, or private data to build a social service.
To wit, Google claims Facebook didn’t want Google to use any of its information, public or private, to build a Facebook rival, such as Google+. This brings the argument full circle and envelops it in a cloud of irony.
Google tried to get access to Facebook data over two years ago, but the shrewdly suspicious company played its hand very carefully so as not to crack the door for Google to compete with it using Facebook’s data. Battelle opined:
“Asking Google to not leverage that data in anything that might constitute a “social service” is anathema to a company who claims its mission to crawl all publicly available information, organize it, and make it available. It’s one thing to ask that Google not use Facebook’s own social graph and private data to build new social services-after all, the social graph is Facebook’s crown jewels. But it’s quite another thing to ask Google to ignore other public information completely.“
So here we are, with the media, Twitter and EPIC calling for blood. Gizmodo and others have claimed the new personal search feature infuses Google.com with cluttered results, and are switching to Microsoft’s Bing. Facebook engineers are cheering these complainants on in the background, according to AllThingsDigital.
EPIC, which spurred the Federal Trade Commission to impose privacy audits on Google for the next 20 years after the botched Buzz experiment violated user privacy, could spur another investigation of Google.
Recall that the FTC is the same regulatory agency that is already looking into whether Google beat down Yelp, TripAdvisor, Expedia and others in its search results. Expect the FTC at the behest of EPIC and the media circus to take a hard look at Google’s new Search, plus your world service.