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Over-personalized. Google, I need some space.

Google’s constantly being praised and criticized for its products and policies. This means it’s right where it should be, on the edge, always pushing the boundaries of technology and users’ comfort levels.  In general, I love Google products. “Googling” is probably my main go-to internet activity. What’s the population of Argentina? Google it. How many ounces in a pound? Google it. I’ve been using gmail for years. Picasa, YouTube, Google docs, even google+ a little bit.

However, this recent bleeding of services so that all Google products are connected and they are all personalized to me is too much, too fast. This goes much further than feeling as if my privacy is being invaded, because I actually don’t mind most of their privacy policy. What they’ve done by making everything hyper-personalized, is that I no longer know what data is private, shared, or completely public. This is highly anxiety-producing.

When I search [embarrassing key words here] and two pictures I took and three of my contacts’ profile thumbnails show up in the search it freaks me out!! I know that Google’s been personalizing and filtering searches for a long time, but I at least had the impression that my searches were private. And I especially had the impression that my photos and my contact lists were private. I even had a false comfort that my Google search results were more or less similar to others’ searches, and by googling my name I might get a sense of what others might see. Yes, Eli Pariser, I know that it was a false comfort, but it felt comfortable, nonetheless. Now, My google+ images that I have not shared with anyone come up in my Google searches and it feels as if they’ve been leaked, made public somehow. Just last night I tried to privately share photos from my friend’s bachelorette party on Picasa, and they automatically uploaded to google+, not Picasa. Maybe they weren’t shared with anyone, but it felt like they were. And I definitely don’t want them coming up in my searches without my control. It made me so uneasy that I deleted the album.

I need more control over what is shared or not, public or not. And I need visual cues that assure me that my stuff is either public or not. Let’s make some walls around what is mine, what is yours, and what is for the world. OK? Physical stuff, a house for example, is divided into public and private spaces. Guests know to stay in the public spaces (which may differ from one culture to the next). They don’t usually go digging through your underwear drawer the first time they come over, but they probably stay in the foyer and living room, for example.

My Google house needs major renovations. The load-bearing wall is crumbling, my bathroom is in the backyard, my closets are open for all to see. I don’t trust Google to keep different types of data separate.

Good news, this can be fixed! Let’s do some user research, some participatory design so that users help create the blueprints for their Google data houses, and let’s put the walls back up where they belong.

2 thoughts on “Over-personalized. Google, I need some space.

  1. I especially like the idea of a house with rooms for different types of activities (and levels of privacy). This, I think, is something that could be adopted by just about any online service. Make it clear when something is public or private. And, isn’t it about time to start worrying (for real this time) about privacy?

    Now about those bachelorette party pictures…

  2. I agree about this private/public issue. In the era where our employers and grandparents are our facebook friends, the reality is is that we need to censor ourselves. How can we do so without knowing what is public and what is private?

    As far as privacy goes…I don’t really care though I feel like I should. I’m pretty sure google knows at this very moment what brand of underwear I wear but I guess I am comfortable with that for now.

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