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Privacy experts praise Google+ rollout so far

By Juan Carlos Perez
July 8, 2011 04:18 PM ET

IDG News Service - After major privacy failures in its Buzz and Street View services, Google has hit the right notes with its deliberate, measured roll out of its new Google+ social networking site, according to privacy experts.

By making Google+ available to a very limited set of initial testers, Google is showing that it learned its lesson from the privacy fiasco that followed the sudden, widespread launch of its Twitter-like Buzz service, which earned the company boos and lawsuits from end users, and investigations and fines from government agencies for unilaterally and publicly disclosing previously hidden Gmail connections.

The conservative approach to Google+'s availability is allowing Google to gather valuable feedback and patch bugs, including privacy holes, before making the site available to a mass audience, when glitches would have exponential consequences, experts said in e-mail interviews.

It is a welcome sign from a company that has also caught heat from privacy advocates and government watchdogs due to its now ended but years-long, unintended capture of e-mails, passwords and Web traffic from unprotected WiFi networks by the cars that take its Street View maps photos.

"I think it is very smart of Google to restrict Plus to a 'limited field trial' -- they aren't even calling it a beta. Google made a misstep with the roll out of Buzz. They've already avoided that mistake with Plus with this limited release. And because it's so exclusive, tech savvy individuals are fighting to get in -- just the type of folks that you want as beta testers," said Sean Sullivan, an F-Secure security adviser.

"Clearly there are some bugs to be fixed. I think Google will do so quickly," he added.

John Simpson, a consumer advocate at Consumer Watchdog, echoed the opinion. "It's difficult to analyze Google+'s features because I do not have access to the project [but] if they are sincerely attempting to solve issues before opening it up to the general public, that's a good thing. Perhaps Google executives have learned something from their past blunders," he said.

Peter Eckersley, a senior staff technologist for the Electronic Frontier Foundation. said Google has shown that it understands the value of being "loud and clear" about stamping out privacy bugs in its user interfaces with a limited launch period. "We'll have to see what Plus looks like in a few months time in order to give it a fully critical privacy review," Eckersley said.

In the meantime, it's important for people to understand that, even if Google+ delivers on all of its privacy-protection features, there are areas that aren't covered by it or by any other social networking service, he said.

Reprinted with permission from IDG.net. Story copyright 2014 International Data Group. All rights reserved.
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