Internet Giant Google has been the subject of a recent suit filed by the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) as it alleges that Google’s recently launched Search Plus feature violates users’ privacy and unfairly favors Google products over competition.
When Google launched the new “Search Plus” weeks ago, competing social networks Facebook and Twitter immediately claimed that it unfairly favored Google+ as it integrates photos and posts from Google+ into their search results while deliberately ignoring similar relevant posts from both Facebook and Twitter.
According to Google CEO Larry Page, Google+, which is a rival social network of both Facebook and Twitter, has now reached 90 million users in a very short time which is enough to ring alarm bells for its competitors especially if it can be proven that they are manipulating the results of their search results, hence the filing of the new anti-trust case which is actually just an expansion of an on-going anti-trust case already filed against Google since a year ago and touted as the largest anti-trust case since the 1990’s.
The huge uptake for Google+ in such a short time however has been attributed by some observers to the fact that Google is basically forcing the service to new users through its various networks of Google affiliated services. For example, when a new user signs up for a new gmail account, he will also be required to fill up a Google profile and join Google+.
Google defends this recent change to their registration process however by saying that they were due for a refresh as they haven’t actually changed or updated their registration process in the past seven years. Additionally, the recent change was designed to have a more consistent sign-up flow for all Google products in an effort to create a more intuitive Google-wide user experience.
Besides, Google maintains that even though a Google+ account is automatically created for all new users, it is actually very easy to delete the Google+ profile by just going to the accounts setting page.
In relation to the recent FTC investigation, Google spokesman Adam Kovacevich has this to say:
“The laws are designed to help consumers benefit from innovation, not to help competitors. We believe that our improvements to search will benefit consumers by better surfacing social content, and the great thing about the openness of the Internet is that if users don’t like our service, they can easily switch to another site.”
In a related development, Google is also trying to counter the negative publicity that may be generated by the ongoing case by embarking on a comprehensive PR/marketing campaign called “Good to Know” which promotes the importance of protecting personal data online. In line with this campaign, they are expected to spend tens of millions of dollars for various print, TV and above the line advertising to promote privacy and online security.
This initiative could be a multi-pronged approach for Google as they will not only be salvaging the brand image of Google, while reassuring the public with regards to their fears concerning invasion of privacy and threats to online security, but they will also be trying to sway popular opinion in a bid to avoid any possible regulation.
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