Why Google's New Social Search Can Leave You Naked and Exposed

It's taken me a while to catch up with Google's Social Search but the dangers of the new service has hit me over the head this weekend with a thud.  It happened after reading this post about managing your online reputation by Emergent by Design.  Having worked in the People Data business, my stomach dropped a little, and I immediately logged in to my Google account to check it out for myself.   What I found when clicking My Social Circle link was a listing of the people I'm connected to in the Second Degree, as well as the person through whom I'm linked to them.

At first glance this doesn't seem like such a bad idea, except if you don't realize what this means, it really is.

LinkedIn already does this linking.  Through Twitter you can ferret this information out.  Facebook is a huge example of this kind of linking in operation.  But the problem I have with Google getting into the game is that the rules have been established only after we've been playing for a very long while, and with many of their various toys.  Use Google Reader?  Twitter?  Flickr?  Picasso?  Blogger?  If you've added those elements to your Google Profile, everyone you've connected to through those platforms is now not only searchable but so are their connections.  That single degree is a huge leap.  Networks you thought were closed or at least confined to a certain group have now been exposed to your other networks.

Google Profile should have come with a warning label, and I'm going to give you a caveat, which is this:  My professional background includes working as an analyst for a data mining company.  One of the technologies worked on was all about linking people by degrees of separation, up to 36.  I can tell you that after 6 degrees the data is essentially useless, and some might argue that the same holds true for 5 or 6.  But two degrees is optimum for finding interesting relationships, some of which may be misleading.  For an intelligence analyst trained to ferret through this data, it's not an issue.  But if your Google-Profiled future employer or mother-in-law is doing searches on you, be prepared for exposing years of linking to people you'd forgotten about.  And be prepared for the possibility that their interests, blog posts, photos, and the like can, in some cases, be displayed to those doing the searching for your information.

Pay close attention to the man in the video.  There's a reason why he's talking about why opting in means you're making a "very clear choice that you're comfortable with the world knowing that information".

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