The search engine giant not only has Twitter crying foul after the announcement of its Google Plus update – it may also have the FTC on its tail.
Twitter is just one of the angry parties claiming that Google’s merging of its social network G+ with regular search engine results is abusing its power. The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), an Internet watchdog group that focuses public attention on privacy issues, sent a letter complaining to the FTC last week.
In the letter, EPIC noted that the Google’s choice to display personal user data such as pictures and posts gathered from Google Plus in its regular search results was a clear abuse of its power. EPIC’s executive director Marc Rotenberg gave an example of the alleged abuse in the letter. Rotenberg noted that, “the right-hand display of notable business and Google+ users replaces highly-visible advertising space, even for consumers who have no Google+ accounts and are not logged in to Google.”
The letter went on to complain that Google users have the ability to opt out of viewing personalized search results, but they have no way of opting out of their personal information showing to other people who do a Google search. Further, EPIC points out, this is all happening on the heels of pubic claims that Google distorts its search results by giving preferential treatment to its own content over other social media websites.
What is Twitter saying about this change? When Google made the official announcement about Search plus Your World last week, Twitter immediately backlashed by issuing a press release in which they called the search giant’s new plan “bad for people.” Alex Macgillivray, Twitter’s general counsel, publically discussed what he believed best illustrated the unfairness of the new Google feature. When Macgillivray typed “@WWE” into the search bar, Google’s search results did not even display the WWE Twitter page.
Search Plus is quickly becoming the go-to Internet villain. In fact, Lifehacker posted an article right after the announcement of the new feature. It detailed how users can hide Search Plus information from their regular search results. Internet marketing blog owners are rapidly following suit, and it seems to be trending the same way for users as well. Many are resistant to become G+ users, so the success of Google’s fledgling social network remains to be seen.
The FTC already investigated whether Google was breaching privacy laws when it introduced Google Buzz in 2010. If you remember anything about the Google Buzz fiasco, you already know that this isn’t their first rodeo. The FTC forced the mega-company to sign a consent order to end their Google Buzz investigation in 2010.
Rotenberg said that EPIC believes users should have the ability to opt into the features of Google’s Your World instead of being forced to opt out just to get the extra G+ content off the screen. Rotenberg noted that Google Plus search is shaping up to be curiously similar to the Buzz disaster, so it remains to be seem how this will all work out for Google in the end.