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Google Makes Search Really, Really Personal

By Richard Adhikari
Jan 10, 2012 11:55 AM PT

Google has expanded its search engine to include personal results, profiles and Google+ pages related to a given search.

Google Makes Search Really, Really Personal

The new search capability, called "Search Plus Your World," was announced Tuesday.

A search can now turn up relevant Google+ posts and photos from the searcher's friends as well as the searcher's own private photos. It can bring up the profile of the person being searched for and take the searcher to communities of people discussing that topic on Google+.

Everything's encrypted with the Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) protocol, which Google recently began using to encrypt Gmail.

The expanded search feature is being rolled out to Google users. Those who don't want it must opt out.

"From an ethical perspective, Google should have asked users' permission, but like most services that track online user activities, the norm is [to be] opted in by default," Darren Hayes, CIS program chair at Pace University, told TechNewsWorld.

Google did not respond to requests for comment for this story.

About Search Plus Your World

Google added three new features to its search engine: Personal Results, Profiles in Search and People and Pages.

Personal Results turns up Google+ photos and posts -- those that belong to the searcher and those shared with the searcher -- in response to a search.

The results will include links shared by the searcher's friends as well as private photos from Google+ and Picasa.

"Profiles in Search" lets users find their friends or people they might want to follow. For example, typing in the first few letters of a friend's name will turn up a personalized profile prediction. Selecting that profile will take the searcher to a results page for the person they're searching for. This results page will include information from their Google+ profile and related Web results.

Searchers can also locate profile autocomplete predictions for prominent people from Google+. If they're signed-in Google+ users, they can add those prominent people to their circle from the search results page.

"People and Pages" lets searchers find profiles and Google+ pages related to a topic or area of interest and follow those people or communities by connecting with them on Google+.

Results from searchers conducted with Search Plus Your World will be clearly marked as public, limited or only for the searcher. Further, people whose names turn up in search results will have their Google+ circles marked, or the results will indicate that they're suggested connections.

User Privacy, Security and Control

Results of searches conducted on Search Plus Your World will be protected with SSL, although that standard is being replaced by Transport Layer Security, an IETF standard, in the Web community at large.

The results will also display a toggle on the upper right that will let users see what results that are not personalized will look like. Users can make this toggle the default in their search settings, and have separate controls in those settings for other contextual signals, including location and language.

Is Personalized Search a Good Thing?

Though personalized search results may raise privacy red flags among certain critics, "they're not sharing any more information about you than is available otherwise," Justin Brookman, director of the consumer privacy project at the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT), told TechNewsWorld.

"This isn't giving permissions to view something that has been kept private; it's only surfacing things that are already public," Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group, pointed out.

"That means other strangers can find them as well, with existing tools," Enderle told TechNewsWorld. "This just makes it easier for folks you have friended."

On the other hand, "we have different types of contacts connecting with us using the same social media service like Facebook -- family, friends and business colleagues," Pace University's Hayes commented. "This is not always a healthy mix. There should be a separation between your work life and your personal life."

Still, we have to move with the times, and "if you are concerned that people you don't want to follow you will, then radio, TV, Twitter and Google+ probably aren't good tools for you," Enderle said.

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Which of these tech companies has the greatest *positive* impact on society?