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Should We Be Concerned About Google's New 'Search, Plus Your World'?

"It's unfair to other services and it's unfair to people."

On Tuesday, we reported Google launched a search function -- Google, plus Your World -- which incorporates information from Google+ into your regular web searches. Almost immediately after Google began automatically rolling out this feature, there was criticism.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center is saying it may file a letter of complaint to the Federal Trade Commission because, although the new search function allows users to opt out of having personal information show up in their results, it doens't give users the ability to "opt out of having their information found through Google search" by others.

Search Plus Your World Toggle

The LA Times blog has more from EPIC's Executive Director Marc Rotenberg:

"Google is an entrenched player trying to fight off its challenger Facebook by using its market dominance in a separate sector," Rotenberg said. "I think that should trouble people."

Critics also say the move raises alarm bells for consumer privacy.

"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.

Twitter has taken issue with the search function as well, issuing this strong statement yesterday:

For years, people have relied on Google to deliver the most relevant results anytime they wanted to find something on the Internet.

Often, they want to know more about world events and breaking news. Twitter has emerged as a vital source of this real-time information, with more than 100 million users sending 250 million Tweets every day on virtually every topic. As we’ve seen time and time again, news breaks first on Twitter; as a result, Twitter accounts and Tweets are often the most relevant results.

We’re concerned that as a result of Google’s changes, finding this information will be much harder for everyone. We think that’s bad for people, publishers, news organizations and Twitter users.

Tech Crunch's Josh Constine points to an example used by Google itself to show how finding what you really want could become harder with this new search function:

Take Google’s own example. Before the changes, if I search for “Trey Ratcliff”, his Google+ profile is the 5th result. If I type in “Trey Ra”, Trey Ratcliff’s Wikipedia entry appears in the typeahead. As shown above after the changes, just typing in “Trey R” will surface his profile in the typeahead, and may push out his Wiki page. Personalization is fine, but the juiced Google+ profile results are too aggressive. They could push people to opt out of personalization entirely (in your Google Search settings), try Bing, or coerce businesses into focusing on G+.

Sure, there are use cases where this could be helpful, like if I’m actively trying to find the Google+ profile of someone with a common name that I’m connected to through friends. But honestly, if that’s specifically what I’m looking for I would have just searched within Google+.

Google Search Plus Your World

The Federal Trade Commission, attorneys general in six states, and the European Commission are looking into complaints alleging Google has been unfairly exploiting its dominance in Internet search to promote its other services while ignoring or downplaying pertinent information about its rivals.

The exclusive Plus recommendations in Google's search results are "exactly the kind of thing that the antitrust people are screaming about," said Danny Sullivan, an industry expert who has been following Google since the 1990s and is now editor of SearchEngineLand.com. "This is very un-Google like. It's unfair to other services and it's unfair to people."

Sullivan's criticism is especially striking because he has generally defended other search features that highlight Google's own services.

In its announcement yesterday, Google stated that privacy and transparency measures were taken into account with Search, plus Your World. First, when a user is logged into their Google+ account for these types of searches to take place, it is secured by SSL encryption. Google also provides a toggle for users to choose to eliminate any personal results from their search. Google describes the efforts it made as "unprecedented transparency and control over personal search results."

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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