Search giant fights charges of favoritism and breach of privacy

Google’s popularity revolves around its ability to let surfers find the right webpages. With the advent of social web, wherein users can check vast amounts of data largely off-limits to the former, its dominance has come into question. In its desperate bid to catch up to Facebook, the company is trying to amalgamate the best facets of both search and social.

Facebook, the social networking giant, with over 800 million users, is far ahead of Google that remains a laggard in the domain of social networking. However, it’s trying to bring into play its dominance in search to support its own fervent bid to challenge its chief competitor. As we have already reported, Google has termed the just rolled out new feature as ‘Search Plus Your World’ to produce customized search results. One gets the option of viewing results that are tailored to specific interests and connections, say, a friend’s recommendation for a movie courtesy Google Plus. An official posted by a Google Fellow, Amit Singhal elaborates:

“Google Search is more about finding the best possible results, which sometimes means user’s personal content shared or to find your own things online, the people whom you know and also things that they have shared with you, or even those you might want to know – all this from a search box. This forms the basis of Google’s new search related feature that understands not only online content, but also those who use it, their preferences and relationships in form of personal results, which enable you to find information just for you, such as Google+ photos and posts that only you will be able to see on your results page.”

Twitter has already complained of the new search feature, adding personal content from Google Plus to a user’s search results. On its part, Google claims that it has taken steps towards making the new search feature absolutely private and secure, and also that the company is not averse to including data from social networks like Facebook and Twitter, albeit in such a way that the overall user experience is not affected and that they remain in charge of what they actually see from whom instead of some third party.

Google contends that the search engine does show some material from Flickr, Twitter and other sites when users linked their personal accounts to Google profiles. The aim is to help them locate relevant information from their social connections, irrespective of the site it’s on, Google states, adding it doesn’t presently have access to crawl the content fully on certain sites, so it is not in a position to highlight all that information.

Understandably, critics are wary of the move in terms of consumer privacy. According to them, although data from Google+ contacts of a user does not get displayed publicly, the changes do make the personal information more accessible. Of course, the effect may not be that widespread since Google+ has just about 40 million users. It remains to be seen how the company deals with the charges of favoring its own properties in search results.