Facebook PR fallout: Google’s Social Circle warrants another look

google social Facebook committed the ultimate treachery and was outed yesterday for trying to plant a Google smear campaign. PR firm Burson-Marsteller was working with the social network, and admitted it had been attempting to create a media scandal regarding Google’s social networking plans and how it is obtaining and distributing user information. As we all now know, the entire thing backfired and Facebook is left looking utterly sleazy.

In the midst of simultaneously ridiculing and feigning shock (what? A highly competitive and mutli-million dollar company is capable of such underhanded tactics?!) at the whole mess, it seems like consumers have completely turned a blind eye to the very issue Facebook was trying to bring attention to – Google’s Social Circle.

Not much has been said about the product, and while it’s less controversial than Facebook and the reportedly scummy PR firm wanted us to believe, it does warrant a little attention. The Daily Beast, which originally broke the story, describes Social Circle as a tool “which lets people with Gmail accounts see information not only about their friends but also about the friends of their friends, which Google calls ‘secondary connections.’” This used to be the case with Facebook: When the site first launched–way back when it was exclusively available to college kids–you were free to peruse the profile of friends and their friends and the friends of their friends – so on and so forth. But as the site grew, so did its privacy options, and now users are able to restrict access to their profiles to (generally) their desired degree. Social Circle hasn’t been around terribly long, launching last year, so it seems possible it’s in a similar early stage before its larger debut and hasn’t fine-tuned its privacy options, or made them as clear as need be – something Facebook has had plenty of experience with as it’s grown. The difference is that when Facebook began, it was brand new; Google’s been around, it already has a massive user base and loads of user data to expose, things Facebook didn’t have in its infancy.

You’ve may have already investigated Social Circle and its accompanying information, but we thought it was worth another look and a few reminders. It’s important to know that if you have a Google profile, any Internet account you log into with your Gmail address is available to your contacts and their contacts. This means Facebook, Twitter, Google Reader, blogs, LinkedIn, photo albums…the list goes on and on. And we can think of a few situations in which this is problematic: Say you have a personal blog or photo album tied to your Gmail account you aren’t comfortable with work contacts accessing. If these work contacts are tied to your Gmail account and you have a Google Profile, those accounts are currently visible.

secondary connections

So how do you find out exactly what you’re sharing? Go directly to Social Circle; this will automatically pull up the “social connections” tab. This shows all of your contacts and their various web accounts tied to Gmail. Click on “social content” and look under the header “content from links that appear on your Google profile (2).” Here you will see what exactly is viewable. How or if you can make any of this inaccessible to secondary contacts isn’t clear yet; all that Google will say to clarify is: “You don’t control secondary connections directly. The only way to remove them is to remove the connecting friend(s).”

social circle social content

In its descriptions of these features, Google uses a lot of “mays,” i.e.: “Your public content may appear in their social search results,” and “[your public content] may be associated with your name as it appears on your Google account.” It’s obvious Google hasn’t fully launched its social service, which is probably why so much of this information and how to alter it is buried (for instance you can delete contacts, but getting there isn’t the most intuitive process). Again, none of this is altogether terribly surprising or worrisome – people who simply think they are using Google for e-mail purposes should just refresh themselves on everything they are potentially sharing by using that account as their login for other websites.

Now clearly, Facebook’s methods were wrong – highly questionable at best – and assuredly self-motivated. That said, you’re a fool if you think the big players of the corporate world don’t engage in this type of behavior. We don’t even care to imagine the sheer number of rumors and leaks in the tech world (both true and false) that are completely calculated maneuvers. But it’s still important to know where your information is and how easily accessible it is, and while Facebook is often found guilty of oversharing your more personal content, Social Circle is worth at least a glance.

Photography

After controversial video, China bans ‘Leica’ on social media

A video that referenced Tiananmen Square got the name of the camera company Leica banned from the social media platform Weibo. Leica says the video wasn't an officially sanctioned promotion.
Social Media

Facebook says it unintentionally uploaded email contacts of 1.5 million users

Facebook says that over the last two years it unintentionally uploaded the email contacts of 1.5 million users as they signed up to the social networking service. The process has ended and the email addresses are being deleted.
Smart Home

Oh, Zuck, no! Facebook rumored to be creating a voice assistant to rival Alexa

Facebook hasn't been a big player in the smart speaker market, but that may be changing: The social media giant is reportedly working on a digital assistant to compete against Alexa and others.
Gaming

Pro Super Smash Bros. Ultimate players react to Joker gameplay reveal

Joker's gameplay in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate was revealed and professional players are sharing their thoughts on social media. We also reached out to a pro player to get her first impressions and fears based on what she's seen.
Social Media

Twitter’s experimental Twttr app is even more popular than the real thing

Twttr, the new app that lets regular Twitter users test new features, is proving more popular than the main app, according to the company. The revelation suggests some of the innovations may land for all Twitter users soon.
Social Media

Messenger and Facebook, together again? Facebook tests integrating chats

Longing for the old days where Facebook and Messenger were one app? Facebook is testing an integrated chat option. While Messenger remains more feature-rich, the test brings some chat functionality back into the Facebook app.
Social Media

Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp went down worldwide for 2 hours this morning

Chaos erupted on the internet this morning, as Facebook, Instagram, and Whatsapp all went down from 6:30 a.m. to approximately 9 a.m. Thousands of users were unable to access the sites or send or receive Whatsapp messages.
Social Media

How to download Instagram Stories on iOS, Android, and desktop

Curious about how to save someone's Instagram Story to your phone? Lucky for you, it can be done -- but it does take a few extra steps. Here's what you need to know to save Instagram Stories on both iOS and Android.
Mobile

Skype screen sharing for mobile will let you share your swipes on dating apps

Skype is prepping the launch of screen sharing for mobile so you can share your swipes on dating apps, shop with buddies, or, perhaps, show a PowerPoint presentation to coworkers. It's in beta just now, but anyone can try it.
Social Media

Facebook toys with mixing Stories and News Feed into one swipeable carousel

Facebook's News Feed could look a lot like Stories if a prototype the social media giant is working on rolls out to users. The design change mixes Stories and News Feed posts into a full-screen slideshow that users swipe left to navigate.
Social Media

No more moon showers as Facebook Messenger’s dark mode gets official rollout

Facebook Messenger launched a dark mode last month, but to activate it you had to message the crescent moon to someone. Now it's been rolled out officially, and it can be accessed in a far more sensible way — via settings.
News

Twitter has revealed a launch date for its handy hide replies features

Twitter has revealed a launch date for a feature that lets users hide replies to their tweets. The hope is that it will help the original poster filter out offensive or irrelevant content from conversation threads.
Digital Trends Live

Digital Trends Live: Facebook data security, Ubisoft helps Notre Dame, and more

Join DT Live as we discuss Facebook security issues, Ubisoft's plan to help rebuild Notre Dame, and more. We are also joined by Emily Teteut of Snap the Gap, Jennifer Sendrow of New York Public Radio, and DJ and producer Zeke Thomas.
Photography

Photography News: Instagram’s disappearing likes, the best photos of the year

In this week's Photography News, see why Instagram is testing a version that excludes the number of likes a post gets. Also, see the impressive winners from two photography contests and the latest features coming to the Fujifilm X-T3.