Felipe Hoffa writes: One week ago Google Reader's team decided showing your private data to all your GMail contacts. No need to opt-in, no way to opt-out. Complaints haven't been answered. Some users share their problems, including one family that won't be able to enjoy this Christmas due to this "feature". Will this start happening with all Google products?
Felipe Hoffa writes: "As each day Google hoards more of your data there is an implicit deal that makes this possible: You give Google your private data, and they will keep it private. That deal would fail miserably is someday Google decided unilaterally to share your data with more people, for example, with all your Gmail contacts. Many people fear that this might happen someday, but they don't need to wait anymore as it has already happened.
It all started on Friday, December 14. Towards the end of the day Google announced a new feature of their feed reader product: They were going to show all your "shared" items to all your Gmail contacts, starting now. No need to opt-in, no way to opt-out. If you didn't react fast all the info you previously shared with your chosen parties could be viewable by everyone you had exchanged e-mails with using Gmail.
When Google Reader's team came back on Monday, they found more than 70 complaints in their public forum (you can check the whole thread). Given Google's fine reputation dealing with their users privacy (they really need this reputation to make their platform possible) people were expecting a quick fix and some kind of apollogy, but the official response was appalling. As one user said "wow. this is a politician's answer....i.e. answers that don't address our specific questions/complaints".
More than one week has passed, and there still is no acceptable stop to this private data leak caused by the new Google Reader "feature".
Some of the complaints users have posted:
Dec 14: "This is the worst "feature" you have ever introduced."
Dec 14: "I think the basic mistake here, as Modulo has noted, is that the people on my contact list are not necessarily my "friends"."
Dec 15: "This "feature" sucks big-time. How do I turn it off?"
Dec 15: "This is a terrible idea, and a violation of privacy, and it contradicts your own documentation". "Please don't turn the best feed reader on the web into the shittiest social network on the web."
Dec 15: "I WAS using the shared feed for myself as a way to backup important RSS feeds, not to share with people I hardly know who happen to be in my address book."
Dec 15: "Our problem with the feature isn't the feature itself, but that they automatically changed from an opt-in feature to an opt-out feature that you can't disable"
Dec 15: "Please fix this and let us OPT IN to who we want to share with. PLEASE. Don't make me leave my Google apps!!"
Dec 15: "I have parents, relatives, business associates, all who use gmail, in my contact list, and the only way to not share with them is to remove the contact? That's INSANE."
Dec 15: "It was quite a shock this morning when I opened Google Reader only to be told that my "friends" could see what feed I'm subscribed to."
Dec 15: "That forces me to either remove the contact or clear my shared list which feels like two opposite ends of the spectrum."
Dec 15: "Google Reader is a pleasure to use — PLEASE don't trash it with these adolescent networking gimmicks."
Dec 15: "This feels like a decision made by some 23 year old Google employee who thinks everyone wants to be on the latest social networking craze that all of his friends like."
Dec 15: "For the last year I have used my obfuscated share URL for sharing market research with a small handful of trusted colleagues. I have over 700 shared items which represent one of the most thorough catalogues of discourse about a very particular market in my industry. Its absolutely intolerable to me that now all of my industry contacts (competitors) who are also gmail contacts will be able to mine this information as well as piece together fragments of other initiatives I've been considering."
Dec 16: "Aside from all of the other reasons that people have already listed as to why this is a horrible feature and gross invasion of privacy, the most egregious thing I've seen is that all of my contacts were now able to see my full first and last name — despite the fact that I hid my last name in my gmail account — because I used both when I signed up for my google account."
Dec 17: "Up until now, I have used the share feature to share things with a select group of friends. This implementation, giving me the option to either remove all my shared items (over 2000!) or share those items with ALL my contacts is terrible!"
Dec 17: "Was Google jealous of all that publicity Facebook got with the Beacon fiasco or something?"
Dec 17: "It just shouldn't be shoved down anyone's throat. I'd rather selectively browse my Friends' feeds than be automatically inundated with them, and it should be an active choice to push these feeds to groups of people in the first place. This feature was introduced in a rather ham-handed fashion, and you seem to be alienating quite a few people."
Dec 17: "I ask Google: what was the point of the obfuscated URL in the first place? Haven't you completely negated that point by this implementation?"
Dec 17: "I DO NOT want people in my old company seeing what news items are being shared in my new company."
Dec 17: "Making this feature an all or nothing option isn't in the best interest of people who've used this feature in their own individual ways over the years. It forces us to use this only as google has decided we should and that sucks."
Dec 17: "The old system was very simple to use, adding a button to share with Google Talk contacts faster might have been nice. But total broadcasting whether you want to or not...that's just wrong."
Dec 17: "Prior to this new rollout it was EXPLICIT that the share URLs were obfuscated and that there was a reasonable degree of privacy — security through obscurity. Google explicitly warned against sharing these PRIVATE urls with untrusted parties."
Dec 17: "This is a very urgent need in order to regain confidence in Google Reader's respect for privacy."
Dec 17: "I find the "social networkization" of Google's services unattractive, and unfortunately, I can't really opt-out of them."
Dec 17: "Can you imagine surprise when someone decides to share NSFW item, for example? No way to disable this feature completely and no way to pre-opt-out."
Dec 17: "Why are there "friends" showing up on my list who I've neither chatted with in GTalk nor are in my Gmail contacts list? When I google the email address in question, it shows up on all sorts of spam blogs. "
Dec 17: "That is patently false. I have NEVER used Google Talk. I use Gmail for email only. Everyone on my Gmail contacts list who also uses Google Reader — none of whom I have ever chatted with — was on my Friends list, "
Dec 18: "You may not care about my feedback. I've already left Reader."
Dec 18: "It is discouraging that they try to clear up misconceptions about the new feature without really addressing our problem with it."
Dec 18: "Your choice of tactics to mollify the anger over this choice with soft words rather than decisive action to fix the problem is now the second mistake that has been made in this growing fiasco."
Dec 18: "What's even more annoying, is someone popped up as a "friend" today, who isn't even in my contact list. How the hell did THAT happen? I moderate an online community and I don't particularly want people I've had to remove from that community all of a sudden popping up on my reader feeds and the like. This is a terrible, terrible feature."
Dec 18: "I don't have much else to add other than to say that the Google response to this is utterly dissatisfying."
Dec 18: "I'm complaining because the articles I shared with my wife are now shared with my entire contact list, with no warning. In fact, this is precisely the worst sort of violation of privacy."
Dec 18: "I can almost see how they'd negligently fail to see the problems that this feature would cause. But now, after a huge outcry, their failure to fix the problem is reckless and unprofessional."
Dec 18: "This is not true. My "friends" list includes contacts I have never chatted with and have subsequently blocked and/or removed."
Dec 18: "It seems clear that by making things "public" by any definition, you are giving Google the option of choosing to publish it for you, to whomever they want (including your own contacts)."
Dec 18: "So, the recommendation from Google is to stop using Reader the way we each of us have decided was useful to us and to start using it the Google-Approved way?"
Dec 19: "Please please pretty please make this an opt-in feature as well! I think it's pretty apparent that a lot of us who use the sharing feature have adapted it for our own purposes, and what you've done has simply broken how we work."
Dec 19: "Making something public is not the same as publishing it. Publishing it is not the same as publicizing it. You've jumped a whole lot of people right to a stage they hadn't ever volunteered for. "
Dec 19: "I have to admit... I removed someone from my Gmail contacts list as suggested, but they still appear as a "friend" in Google Reader. This is not yet working as documented."
Dec 19: "Also, I just found out that when I migrated my shared history to the new tag for my bf, all the (1000+) items showed up as new. Annoying!"
Dec 19: "I have an anonymous blog that benefits from posting shared articles, but now I have to remove them because there seems to be no way to disable this. "
Dec 19: "It really makes me sad how you are handling this situation." "This problem is solvable. I'm just counting how many days it will take for someone to acknowledge a mistake has been done."
Dec 20: "Isn't it a bit ironic that they are publicizing this as a way they are protecting our privacy in one service, and yet it was taken away from us in Google Reader without any warning? "
Dec 20: "This feature is ill conceived and ruins normal usage. Please disable it as soon as possible. "
Dec 20: "Please take into account that not everyone uses google talk and do not force those of us who do not to use it to opt out."
Dec 20: "At this point, the response from Google makes us feel as though we're talking to a child who insists that LA LA LA LA I CAN'T HEAR YOU! "
Dec 20: "I feel like I'm talking to a wall here. This whole thing is a horrible mess."
Dec 21: "no wait, that doesn't address our concerns at all. can we speak with your manager or something? you clearly aren't addressing our concerns at all, and this has become comical."
Dec 22: "Trust takes a hell of a lot of effort to build and very little effort to piss away. By not giving us that checkbox you have pissed away a large amount of trust that I and the other unsatisfied people here had."
Dec 22: "Generally, when you have a group of angry people complaining about having their privacy violated it's probably not a good idea to dismiss them as "a small subset" to their faces."
Dec 22: "I've just joined this group to post to this thread. I'm sure others have too. Consider the fact that almost every post in the ~150 replies you have received *does not like* the feature. I'd call that a fair representation."
Google's response has included:
Dec 17: "There's a "clear your shared items" link on the Settings > Friends page if you urgently need to remove the items you've shared in the past."
Dec 18: "We just added a new option for those of you wishing to rearrange your sharing habits in light of the new features."
Dec 19: "Additionally, please note that blocking a person in Google Talk doesn't remove them from your Reader friends list. They'll need to be actually deleted for this to happen."
Dec 20: Nothing
Dec 21: "This should help with the issue of unrecognized nicknames."
Dec 21: "Let me reiterate: If you're uncomfortable sharing items, you can unshare everything in a single click"
And one last user, that gives the title to this post:
Dec 22: "This is going to sound like hyperbole, but this new feature has actually RUINED CHRISTMAS for my family!""