Skip to main content

New Google Search Feature Already Ruffling Legal Feathers

If you haven't noticed already, Google has introduced Search plus Your World. It's optional, but when activated, it pulls in extra "personal" search results like photos, posts, and more provided by you and your friends. It gets even more personal if you're signed into a Google+ account, pulling up additional results and profiles related to those you follow.

"Personal results are marked with a [blue person] icon so you know they're just for you," Google explains. "Because these results are personal and private, you'll need to be signed in to Google to see them."

But now Twitter seems to be a little upset over Google's new feature. As it stands now, Twitter doesn't grant Google's algorithmic crawlers full access to the domain. Because of this, the new search results do not include tweets/Twitter posts.

Yet Twitter has reportedly complained about the lack of tweets, alleging that Twitter is where news breaks, and that Twitter users are hurt by the lack of Search plus Your World support. Twitter lawyer Alex Macgillivray even went one step further and provided an example. By searching for the "@wwe" Twitter user, Google's new search results lead to the official site of the WWE Universe. An "objective" web search would have pulled up the Twitter account instead.

Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), has also stepped into the controversy, claiming that his group may actually file a complaint with the FTC due to privacy and antitrust concerns. EPIC was the one who snitched on Google which resulted in a mandatory audit of the search engine giant's privacy practices every other year by the FTC.

"We believe this is something that the FTC needs to look at," Rotenberg said. "Google is an entrenched player trying to fight off its challenger Facebook by using its market dominance in a separate sector. I think that should trouble people."

In an interview earlier this week, Google's Amit Singhal said that the company has worked hard to make the new personalized search feature private and secure. Google is also supposedly open to including information from the likes of Twitter, Facebook and other social networks. Yet Google search results don't include Twitter feeds now because the company stopped paying for the privilege over the summer.

Still, could this turn into another Google Buzz privacy disaster? "Although data from a user’s Google+ contacts is not displayed publicly, Google's changes make the personal data of users more accessible," EPIC said in a note on his website.

Have you activated Google plus Your World? If so, do you think it presents a genuine risk to your privacy? Let us know in the comments below.