Privacy concerns with Google +

 By Tony Bradley


Back on Day 15 I examined Google+ privacy and found a couple things that seemed to be suspicious or give me some reason for concern.

I spoke with someone at Google, though, to clear up a few things about Google+ privacy, so for today’s 30 Days With Google+ post I want to clarify my understanding of Google+ privacy.

There are two main concerns I had regarding Google+ privacy–granting permissions in Google+ Games, and the broad scope of the terms of service (ToS) required just to use Google+. 

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Google+ Games Privacy


My issue with Google+ Games is that when I try to play a game I have to first agree to grant the game and its developer various permissions to access and use information from my Google+ Profile–including my Circles. The Google representative that I spoke with explained that it is not as insidious as I was interpreting it.


I wrote on Day 14 about trying to play the game Dragon Age Legends, but choosing not to when I found out that I had to first agree to grant Bioware (the game developer) permission to access my Google+ account, email address, and the list of people in my Circles–ordered based on my interactions with them across Google as a whole.

The Google representative I spoke to explained that despite the ominous wording of the permissions pop-up, the access I would be granting to Bioware is not as nefarious as it might sound. He sent me a link to a Google site that describes the Games privacy policies in more detail. That site explains the different permissions a developer might request, and how that permission might be used:

• Name, profile URL, and photo: Typically used to create your game profile, personalize the game for you, and help your friends find you.


• Country, language, and timezone: Typically used to tailor the game you’re playing to your location and language.


• Gender and birthdate: Typically used to customize text that refers to you.


• E-mail address: A game may want to directly send you game notifications, updates and special offers.


• Ordered list of your people in your circles: Google gives the developer an ordered list of people from your circles. This tells the game developer the people you are most likely to want to engage with in the game. The order is based on your interactions across Google. This information could be used by the game to present you with people to play the game with, including to invite to the game, and to send gifts and messages.


I agree that having the permissions explained makes it a little less ominous. However, I still maintain that some of these things should at least be optional. What if I don’t want the developer to send me game notifications or updates to my email? What if I just want to play the game without subjecting my friends to invites, gifts, or messages?


And, while the information regarding the people in my Circles is limited to presenting the developer with an ordered list–apparently based on the relevance of the contacts–it still states that the order is based on my interactions with these contacts across Google which implies some degree of Big Brother monitoring all of my Google activity to score my relationships with the people in my Circles.

Google Terms of Service


On Day 15 I quoted an excerpt from the Google ToS that seems to suggest that once you share something with Google all bets are off and Google can essentially do what it wants with that content. My Google representative explained that my perception is perhaps a bit overly paranoid.


What I was told is that the terms defined in Section 11 of the Google ToS are designed to give Google the legal authority to post your content on Google services. Basically, these permissions grant Google the permission it needs to take the content you send to Google and share it with your Circles on Google+, and to be able to comply with legal and technical requirements in sharing that information in different countries around the world.


Granted, the first part of Section 11.1–before the part I quoted on Day 15–states, “You retain copyright and any other rights you already hold in Content which you submit, post or display on or through, the Services.”


I am still a bit leery of this one, though.The last part of Section 11.1 claims that it enables Google to use my content to display, distribute, and promote the Google services. Section 11.2 adds that Google has the right to share my content with other companies, organizations, and individuals Google has a relationship with.


If that part in Section 11.1 stopped at “display” and “distribute” it would fit with what I was told by Google. However, I still don’t agree that Google needs me to grant permission to use my content to “promote” Google services. As for the part in Section 11.2, I can come up with some interpretations where this seems acceptable, but the wording also seems broad and vague enough that I am not really comfortable granting the permission.


It is worth noting, however, that these are the Google terms of service–not just Google+. Actually, when I clicked on the Google+ Privacy Policy it was just a big, blank square–so that ambiguity is open to interpretation. The bottom line, though, is that since I am already using other Google products and services I already agreed to these terms and it’s a little late to start nitpicking them now.


Tony Bradley is a writer for PC World (US)

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