The EPIC Complaint Against Google’s New Search Plus

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Google Plus Your WorldThursday afternoon, the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) that requested regulators investigate Google’s “Search plus Your World.” The EPIC complaint alleges that the new Search Plus feature shows favoritism towards Google’s own social network and violates Google+ users’ privacy.

Marc Rotenberg, Epic’s Executive Director, said the following in an open letter to the FTC:

“Google’s changes implicate concerns over whether the company prioritizes its own content when returning search results. Incorporating results from Google+ into ordinary search results allows Google to promote its own social network by leveraging its dominance in the search engine market.”

In addition to the concerns related to brand favoritism, EPIC is concerned that the Search Plus update may violate the privacy of Google+ users.. The letter stated that the new feature makes users’ personal data more accessible and complains that Google+ users cannot currently opt out of having personal information found through Google search.

Google responded to the recent backlash regarding the update with the following statement:

“Our goal with search has always been to provide the most relevant results possible. That’s why for years we’ve been working on social search features to help you find the most relevant information from your social connections no matter what site it’s on. Search plus Your World doesn’t change who has access to content, it simply helps people rediscover information they already have access to. We’ve taken special care with our new features to provide robust security protections, transparency and control for our users.”

The new Search Plus feature automatically personalizes search results to include photos you or your connections have uploaded, relevant Google+ posts and comments, quickly find profiles, or discover related people and pages. Although EPIC, Twitter, and a variety of other companies have complained, Google is maintaining that the new feature increases the relevance of search results and does not violate users privacy – what do you think?

[Sources Include: EPIC, Google’s Official Blog, & Guardian]

David Angotti

David Angotti

After successfully founding and exiting an educational startup in 2009, I began helping companies with business development, search engine marketing (SEM), search engine optimization (SEO),... Read Full Bio
David Angotti
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  • ady berry

    The new search feature most definitely does NOT increase the relevance of search results. I can cite examples where posts and comments from 3 and 4 years previous have been pulled into the listings – along with personal websites and blog posts. How can presenting a searcher with their own content or out of date content be considered in any way relevant?

    Google is essentially telling companies to use Google+ in order to ensure that their business brand will be visible in the search listings. This functionality has been introduced by Google with only one thing in mind – to increase the position of their own social network to the detriment of both Twitter and Facebook.

    The fact that this feature is set to default only confirms my suspicions.

  • Dali Burgado

    I don’t think Google Plus Your World can provide relavance at this stage.

    i.e. when I Google

    “Spring Time Bulbs”

    I get nothing for personalized results, as no one in my circles is chatting about spring time bulbs.

    However, if I Google

    “mashable top 25 iphone apps”

    I get 20 personalized results. However, the conversations are all over the place, and does not help me find what mashable believes to be the top 25 iphone apps…

    Definitely a premature launch on Google’s behalf.


  • Curtis

    I agree wholeheartedly with ady berry – this whole push for “Google plus Your World” seems like nothing more then a heavy-handed “suggestion” that searchers, businesses, and individuals should sign-up for G+

  • Bo

    Good article. Here is my concern… Can the search engine pass what I searched for to the social network legally…? So that instead of (e.g.) “John had espresso at Starbucks” could it be “John’s recent searches” posted for all his friends to see?

  • Andy Piper

    My first thought was how do I turn this off so I can see results without my own stuff showing up!

  • Betty

    While private information is supposedly only visible to you and Google, others using your computer or passing by can see your information. I think it violates privacy rights because nobody agreed to be part of this. Google is using data they gather about users and doing this without their consent. And there is no way to opt out of this by default. The default is always “on” and when you close your browser, you have to re-opt out.

    We’re all becoming slaves to Google. It has proven that it can and will manipulate everything and everyone. And it won’t stop.

    This matter has very wide implications. Google takes money out of other people’s pockets and puts it into its own and much, much more:

  • Tally Ennen

    Google search is showing me arrested for a crime, I did not comment as well as other articles dating back
    to 1986 with no relevance. How do I get the article arrested removed? Does anyone know?

    This has harmed my character and caused me problems with my Life. Help!!