Google search gets more personal, raises hackles


“This is going to open up a whole new avenue in search,” said Ben Gomes, a Google fellow.

Google isn’t the first to do this. Bing has been mining some of the preferences and other information shared on Facebook since May. But Google’s emphasis on more personal results figures to attract more attention because its search engine is so dominant. It handles about two-thirds of the Internet search requests made in the U.S. while Bing processes less than one-third, including the activity that it comes through a partnership with Yahoo Inc.

Facebook, though, has greater insights into personal tastes. That’s because its nearly 8-year-old social network boasts more than 800 million users who share more than 1.5 billion photos alone each week. In October, Google said Plus had more than 40 million users. Google hasn’t updated the information since then, although some external studies have estimated Plus began the new year with 60 million to 70 million users.

The search changes Some of Google’s changes may help prod more people into joining Plus.

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As part of Tuesday’s expansion, the profile pictures of Plus accountholders will appear in the drop-down suggestions on Google’s search box. So when typing in “Mary,” you may see those named Mary in your circle along with those Google believes you’d find interesting.

Searches on general topics such as “music” and “sports,” will generate suggestions on people and companies that have Plus accounts. Sullivan considers this be unfair because some people might not have Plus accounts, or share more interesting information on their Twitter page.

While Google is hoping the addition of more personal results will make its search engine even more useful, the changes also could spook some people as they realize how much information is being compiled about them. Google tried to minimize privacy concerns by recently switching to technology that encrypts all its search results to protect the information from slipping out.

Previous privacy missteps by both Google and Facebook resulted in both companies entering into settlements with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission. The FTC agreements require Google and Facebook to submit to external audits of their privacy practices every other year.

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