Category Archives: privacy

Google Plus - Social Network

Google Plus – Social Network

There is much speculation as to whether Google’s social network, Google Plus could be the next big thing in Social Media.  Last week we discussed Google’s naming strategy Here we will explore what people are saying about Google Plus.

Trial service

Google Plus launched with a trial service which only those invited to were able to join.  This created an illusion of exclusivity about the site, with invitations to join being highly coveted.  The site claims to have ‘temporarily exceeded’ capacity, having over 10 million users.

As a social network site to rival Facebook, it is one of Facebook’s strongest adversaries.

Google’s move into social media is a response to the challenge it faced as its position as the main method of accessing online information was compromised by Facebook and Twitter. The average U.S. Internet user spent 375 minutes on Facebook in May, and 231 on Google.

Better than other social networks?

As well as having similar features to other Social Networking sites such as Facebook, Google Plus has added a few extra unique features, such as what  Google calls Hangouts, Circles and Sparks in its demo.

The Circles feature allows users to place their friends and contacts into specific circles, like you would do ‘in real life’. Rather than grouping all contacts together, Google allows you to separate them into categories, such as family, work friends or those you go out drinking with.  So far Circles has been the most widely applauded feature of the service.

Vic Gundotra, the senior vice president for engineering at Google explained, ‘ Not all relationships are created equal’ adding that Google was trying to bring ‘the nuance and richness of real-life sharing to software’.

Recreating what happens in real life    

Google Plus has carried over this desire to recreate what happens in real life to some of its other features.

Hangouts allow friends to meet-up via the web. Essentially it is a method to video chat as a group. To ‘hangout’, all you have to do is click on the Hangout button and invite members from a specific group to join you.

Sparks allows users to create areas of interest and then share them with friends via Google Plus. Also this feature allows users to find other areas of interest based on current ones. Each topic will get its own Spark page where there will be links to related photos, articles etc. This feature taps into what social networking is all about: people sharing information, videos, and interests with others.

So far Google refers to its Social Media site as a ‘project’, implying that what’s on show, might only be the start. Only time will tell whether Google Plus’ launch success will continue.

Will Google Plus be the next big Social Networking site?

Despite the immediate success of  Google Plus, is it enough to attract 700 million users away from Facebook?  Will Facebook be forgotten like MySpace has been?

Privacy

Privacy has been a huge concern on Social Media sites. Facebook specifically has come under scrutiny over privacy concerns with apps such as Facebook Places.

When creating Google Plus, Google learned from its previous failures:  ‘We learned a lot in Buzz, and one of the things we learned is that there’s a real market opportunity for a product that addresses people’s concerns around privacy and how their information is shared’. Google’s decision to create a Social Networking site that takes these concerns into account will give it an edge over Facebook.

Facebook’s privacy settings are notoriously complicated and confusing, leaving users unaware they are sharing information with more people than they intended.  Additionally, many criticize Facebook’s misuse of personal information for advertising purposes.

Google Plus has a short, plain English Privacy Policy

In contrast, Google Plus’s privacy features are easier to use, and its privacy policy is significantly shorter, and easier to understand than Facebook’s.

One of the ways Google Plus has escaped many of the privacy issues that have plagued Facebook, is by introducing the Circles feature. ‘We believe online sharing is broken and even awkward. Our online tools are rigid. They force us into buckets — or into being completely public.”

Google hopes its Circle feature will help eliminate this problem. By allowing users to share their posts or photos with specific Circles, rather than with all their contacts, Google Plus solves one of the privacy problems that Facebook has encountered.

By placing friends into particular circles, posts or messages can either be made public, or directed at specific circles of friends. No longer will statuses, photos or wall posts reach the eyes of any and all friends or contacts. Facebook does have a similar feature, Lists, but this is a lot more effort to use and often goes unnoticed by Facebook users.

Given that Google Plus has addressed the one main complaint consistently leveled at Facebook, it’s positioned itself cleverly.

Is Google Plus too late?

However, one question many are asking, is whether Google Plus is too late to challenge Facebook with its 700 million active users in the US and UK.

Microsoft’s attempt to launch its own online search engine Bing proved incapable of competing with the well-established Google. Despite Google Plus having a number of good qualities, it too may be too late to compete.

Some point out that Google, with its one billion users, already has more numbers  than Facebook. What Google has done is played this to its advantage by creating a notifications box at the top right of all its sites. This means anyone using any of Google’s services, will be enticed into looking through notifications and friends posts on Google Plus, therefore gradually spending more time on Google products than on Facebook.

Disruptive technology

Experts of social networking trends say Google Plus is going to disrupt Facebook’s so far unhindered success.

Google Plus is still in its trial stage, and has yet to go on general release. Google Plus has a few new interesting features that Facebook lacks, as well as sorting out some privacy issues that have been concerning certain Facebook users. The site definitely has potential to prove a threat to Facebook, but the main question is whether there is enough to drive the vast number of users away from their current social networking site Facebook.

It will be interesting to see what happens, but more competition is bound to improve the lot of users.

New Rules on Cookies

All businesses using cookies in their websites will have to comply with new laws initiated by the EU’s ePrivacy Directive, failing which they risk payment of fines of up to £500,000.

Cookies are data files that enable tracking of a user’s online activities.

The deadline for introducing the new laws is 25th May, but the Government is being lenient initially.

The DCMS in its 87 page response document “Implementing the revised EU Electronic Communications Framework” stated: ‘we recognize the work on the technical solutions for cookie use will not be complete by the implementation deadline. It will take time for meaningful solutions to be developed’. So in the short term they do not expect the ICO to take enforcement action, while industry tries to meet the requirements of the new legislation.

So, what are the new laws?

Whereas previously the UK followed a policy of ‘opting out’, whereby you could decline the use of cookies, now these new laws require sites to explicitly get permission from the user before installing cookies on their Internet browsers.  What’s more web users must be put in a position to give informed consent.

The technological solutions being mooted refer to web browsers developing a system that will enable users to click on a button to give consent to ongoing permission to use cookies by default.  It has been said by some that the government is giving concessions to advertisers, as what is really being implemented is a diluted version of the EU laws. The laws have been diluted down due to web firms pushing for a system where browsing would not be constantly interrupted, fearing they would be responsible for getting permission from users every time they wanted to install a cookie.

The Government’s document urges businesses to “abide by the spirit of the revised Directive and develop best practice ahead of full implementation“ .  As Clare Walker puts it:  surely the Government is not suggesting that (aside from the two working parties mentioned in the document)  UK businesses  just work out for themselves what the rules mean in practice?