What do Google execs know about Google+ privacy that you don't?

What do Google execs know about Google+ privacy that you don't?

Summary: Google's hot new social service has one useful but hard-to-find privacy feature that is disabled by default. How do I know? Simple: I looked at the Google+ profiles of top Google execs and engineers. Here's how you can have the same privacy settings they use.

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I finally made it into Google+, the new Facebook-like social service from Google that’s in “limited field trials” right now.

It has at least one useful but hard-to-find privacy feature that is disabled by default. How did I stumble across this setting? Simple: I looked at the Google+ profiles of top Google executives and engineers. Every single one of them has changed this default setting.

You can see the evidence for yourself by visiting a new website, SocialStatistics, that serves as a leader board for the new service. Does anything jump out at you from this chart?

Hmmm. The list of top 10 users, as ranked by the number of people following them, includes the two Google co-founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, along with Senior VP of Engineering Vic Gundotra, who runs the Google+ project. Google Engineer Matt Cutts is at #6 on that list.

Those four high-level Google execs and employees are all listed as having 0 Friends, whereas everyone else in the top 10 has lots of friends. Mark Zuckerberg has added 69 people to his Google Circles. Leo LaPorte has 330 friends, Bradley Horowitz has 748, and Robert Scoble has, as expected, thousands of “friends” after only four days.

If you go through the rest of the list, 12 of the top 50 Google+ members have 0 friends (the percentage is even lower if you look in the top 100). And more than half of those zero-friend people are high-level Google employees or company insiders like Gina Trapani.

What they’ve done is perfectly reasonable. In fact, once I saw this, I dug into the Google+ interface to see how they did it and made the same change to my own settings. Here’s the secret:

1. Go to your Google Profile and click Edit Profile.

2. Click the little globe icon to the right of the list of people in your circles.

   That opens the dialog box shown here.

3. Clear the top check box to hide your circles completely, OR click Your Circles under Who Can See This? if you want to restrict access to this list to people who are in your circles. (I suspect this is what Page, Brin, et al. have done.) The globe changes to an empty circle.

4. Click Save to accept the changes and then click Done Editing to hide the privacy icon again.

There, you’ve just hidden the list of people you’ve chosen to follow on Google+.

My question is: If this setting is one that everyone on Google seems to feel is important for their privacy, why isn’t it the default for the rest of us?

Topics: Legal, Apps, Google, Social Enterprise

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61 comments
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  • RE: What do Google execs know about Google privacy that you don't?

    I agree with your thinking, and this is good info, but I have to wonder: are certain things somehow "broken" for GooFolk because they are on the inside, and/or were alpha testers? Have you contacted any of them? It's possible that things have changed significantly since the system went live internally at Google, for trial by employees and developers. (I'm trying to be gracious and open minded, though I want to suspect that they have other motivations.)
    ColinABQ
    • It really doesn't matter

      @ColinABQ

      The fact that this setting is so well hidden is the big problem for me. After many privacy gaffes, Facebook finally consolidated all its privacy settings on a single page, using the word "Privacy." Google looks like they're going to scatter the UI all over the place.
      Ed Bott
      • RE: What do Google execs know about Google privacy that you don't?

        @Ed Bott
        Point taken. Let's hope it takes less time for Google to consolidate such settings than it did Facebook.
        ColinABQ
      • RE: What do Google execs know about Google privacy that you don't?

        @Ed Bott "If this setting is one that everyone on Google seems to feel is important for their privacy, why isn?t it the default for the rest of us?"...That should be obvious, they don't think your privacy is that important to you...if you don't go looking, how important is it to you? (Beside which, you signed up for their service)
        You seem to be a bit surprised with this...good work though...
        Transporter25
      • For now, this decision on Google's part looks purely in their 'Be evil' ...

        @Ed Bott: ... motto. Hopefully they will fix it.
        DDERSSS
      • RE: What do Google execs know about Google privacy that you don't?

        @Ed Bott Not really, the edit profile feature allows you to build seperate profiles for the public view and each individual circles, in a visual way. <br>To me it make sense.

        An also how do you know if it is default for the high level execs. It possible it was the same for them but they and there PR people had months to play around with the service and set it up exactly how they wanted to.
        Knowles2
      • RE: What do Google execs know about Google privacy that you don't?

        @Ed Bott It's not well hidden or hidden at all. It's intuitive because it operates like any of the other privacy controls. Same icon, same location (in situ on your profile)...

        Maybe they could make it more obvious by making it one of the setup steps.
        snoop0x7b
      • RE: What do Google execs know about Google privacy that you don't?

        @Ed Bott
        Nice find Ed, since you've finally gotten on Google+, would you consider passing out an invite to me, please? I've been totally google since 2005 and even was a tester for the CR-48 chromebook, been trying to get on, any chance ?
        iamanerd
      • RE: What do Google execs know about Google privacy that you don't?

        @iamanerd If I had your email address, I'd try inviting you.
        BIGELLOW
      • RE: What do Google execs know about Google privacy that you don't?

        @Ed Bott What I think that all the social media websites are only collecting information about people, they are creating communities and provide all this data to agencies.
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        lorisinclair
  • I barely trust Facebook...

    ...for anything privacy related. Why should I trust yet another company with the mantra of "index everything"?
    GoodThings2Life
    • Trust

      @GoodThings2Life
      You have no more reason to distrust Google than you do for any other concern that you choose to store information on the Internet.

      Privacy and security concerns apply to everyone.
      Dietrich T. Schmitz, *~* Your Linux Advocate
      • Of course you do. They built this entirely to make money off your social

        graph. theyre not "just another site that lets you store information". Theyre mining it, indexing it, and selling it. And they have a pathetic history of carelessness about allowing others to see it. They completely suck at privacy because its not a priority at all for them.
        Johnny Vegas
      • RE: What do Google execs know about Google privacy that you don't?

        @Johnny Vegas They're not selling it, they're selling the use of it. Google does all of the data mining and target matching... There's a huge difference. You choose to share it with google, and google shares it with no one because the advertisers never know who you are.
        snoop0x7b
      • RE: What do Google execs know about Google privacy that you don't?

        @Dietrich T. Schmitz, *~* Your Linux Advocate I dont trust any social website, they all are a source of cellecting data.
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    • RE: What do Google execs know about Google privacy that you don't?

      @GoodThings2Life I don't trust facebook at all - everytime you click on 'like' around the web, they warn you that if you continue, they will give your details (pretty much ALL of them) to some third party or other - so I never continue. We already know that Google's +1 has no such risks attached. FB has 'we will share everything with our sponsors' as the default for ALL their gimmicks; Google has advertiser, not sponsors, and they don't get all my life on a plate.
      Heenan73
      • RE: What do Google execs know about Google privacy that you don't?

        @Heenan73
        You forgot another difference: facebook is violating their own TOS to prevent people from getting a list of their own friends. With google your data is yours and they support all sorts of ways to get that data and use it how you need to.
        mschauber
  • Good Catch Ed !

    But as this is still in "trials" (not BETA because everything at Google is in a perpetual BETA), things will no doubt change. Hopefully they learned a lesson from the heat Facebook has taken and will make Privacy easy - but then again - this is Google where Personal Privacy is considered an oxymoron.
    jpr75_z
  • Stop trying to create privacy hysteria...

    This is NOT a 'hidden' privacy setting... If you click your name and choose 'Privacy', It's the 5th setting down. I found this option within FIVE MINUTES because as a concerned HUMAN, I check privacy settings first. Stop trying to make it sound like you've found something that Google is trying to hide. This is tanamount to Yellow Journalism.
    countz3r0
    • Ahem

      @countz3r0

      If yuo click your name and choose Profile And Privacy from the menu, the first thing you see is this:

      "Google+ builds privacy settings in context where you share or edit information."

      And the setting in question, confusingly entitled "Edit Network Visibility," takes you to the same setting dialog I described.

      It's well hidden.
      Ed Bott