As Google continues to blend its search engine expertise with its social networking initiatives, it is raising privacy issues for users of the new platform Google+. For example, if you’ve written an article or blog post for a company and you have a Google+ profile, a Google search will produce the article and, next to it, the picture attached to your account.
"Blending personal data with professional data can be troubling," said John Fairley, director of Web services and social media for Walker Sands Communications, a marketing firm. "Your Google+ profile picture of you in Halloween costume could be shown next to a company blog post in Google search results."
Google is aggregating data sources and putting them together in ways that consumers may not be aware of, Fairley and other social media experts say. "Google's big push for 2011 is to become more social, so moves such as this are likely to creep into all of Google's offerings," Fairley said.
Personal activities promoted through social media could have an impact on the reputation of a publicly traded company, Fairley added. Even if a user left an employer, cached results would still show the user's Google+ image next to a company’s name.
Search results that display an image next to a link will incur more clicks from Web surfers, which is important for search engine optimization, Fairley noted. But if your Google+ profile picture wasn’t intended for all eyes, the effect can be harmful, he said.
"Images can show up without someone explicitly looking for information about a company, so it can cause a lot of problems for the company and the Google+ user if they aren’t careful," Fairley said.
Social media expert Joshua Kubicki, senior director of corporate and legal practices at LexisNexis Applied Discovery, told TechNewsDaily that Google pushed personal information to search-results pages before now.
"This raises similar concerns as adding items to an Amazon Wish List," Kubicki said. "The items in your wish list can show up in Google results under your name for anyone to see."
Google+ users can avoid this by opting out of linking their page to a company blog or site. For example, by logging into Google+ and visiting the "profile and privacy" section, the user can set up restrictions to a profile's search visibility.