Google’s personalised search: Your world…or is it?

Google+ continued to defy its critics by growing 55% in the US in December compared to November according to Experian Hitwise.

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It’s no wonder the social network is growing at such a rate, considering that during the holidays all sorts of new Android devices landed with Google+ preloaded. Users were asked, upon switching on their phones, if they wanted to link or create a Google+ account and this links nicely with the idea that Google+ is about knowing your identity and being able to give users customised results.

Yesterday, Google announced that it is incorporating Google+ data into its iconic searchbar and this affirms that the user’s identity is going to be the key to getting the best search results for that particular user. Detractors are labelling this as a “cheap shot” by Google to increase its Plus numbers, especially since it advertised the service on their homepage — something rarely done; and Twitter has gone onto say that the move is concerning because it promotes Google+ content over the normal results.

Twitter hardly has room to talk though, as it didn’t renew 2011’s “Firehose” deal and Amit Singhal, a Google fellow, has told Danny Sullivan that:

“Facebook and Twitter and other services, basically, their terms of service don’t allow us to crawl them deeply and store things. Google+ is the only [network] that provides such a persistent service, of course, going forward, if others were willing to change, we’d look at designing things to see how it would work.”

Privacy advocates are probably getting the heebie-jeebies based on the assumption that the private and identity based search results are public, but that is not the case. Each user’s results are based on what they’ve shared either publically, or on Google+ and Google isn’t making data available that wasn’t available before, either on Google itself or on Plus. Danny Sullivan makes a good point when he says that we can treat this as Google merely adding another source to Universal Search.

The “Your World” update explains why Google made the move to encrypt its data with an SSL connection for users that are logged in with their Google accounts and ensures that privacy is maintained. With that said, pundits aren’t impressed that the service is opt-out and not opt-in and there is a worry that previously forgotten historical data (remember when you got drunk at University?) is going to be pushed back into the user and their friend’s social timelines.

Google is also pushing into other verticals and its using its vast search user figures in order to do it; it recently launched a flights aggregator that will have companies like Kayak in a spin. This movement has led to a massive antitrust swell that is building in the light of these changes, the argument being that Google is using its vast search engine user figures to promote Google+ and whatever is associated with it. For example, when users search for “music” — there will be an automatic promotion of artists who have a page on Google+. Google’s argument could be that Plus is merely a part of Google search, and we will have to wait until the courts interpret this in the coming months.

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