Six Pixels of Separation - The Blog
January 2, 2008 8:29 PM

Google Reader Shared Items Are Not Private... They Never Were

I was listening to, For Immediate Release - The Hobson & Holtz Report - Podcast #305: December 27, 2007, today (it's one of my personal favourites) and the hosts - Shel Holtz and Neville Hobson - had a One Minute News Item on Google Reader. Right before the holiday break, Google deployed a new online social networking feature in Google Reader that enabled anyone you're connected with via Gmail or Google Talk to see your Shared Items. This definitely caused an uproar in the online community.

Google Reader Shared Items (for those not in the know) is a feature in Google Reader where you can "Share" any news item. This creates a unified publicly accessible URL where any individual can subscribe to your Shared Items list. You can view mine here: Mitch Joel - Google Reader - Shared Items. I love this feature for many reasons (and one of the main ones is Search Engine Optimization).

Google could have definitely avoided some of the backlash by:

1. Telling people about this new feature prior to launching it.

2. Not making it an opt-out feature, but rather an opt-in.

While these are cardinal rules to break, I don't really understand the main complaints about this new feature that I'm hearing. According to For Immediate Release some people at a newspaper were using this function to share potential story ideas and now former employees would see this information, or a battered women might be sharing links on the topic but fearful that her husband might now see this.

If you were using Google Reader Shared Items for this, you were using it wrong... and don't blame Google.

Google Reader Shared Items is one feature in a feed reader, it's not an online social bookmarking tool like (where you can use password protection or secure tags).

In Google Reader you can do two things:

1. You can Add Star - which saves it for you privately.

2. You can Share Item - which aggregates all of your Shared Items on a publicly accessible URL.

Don't be upset at Google for infringing on your privacy - because there is no privacy in a publicly accessible link. If privacy is what you're looking for, you should find a more secure, less public, solution.

Google has some workarounds here: Managing Your Shared Items.

It has always been clear that any and all Shared Items are available on a publicly accessible link - there was never any privacy to it. I recently Blogged about everything Google knows about you here: The Google Complex. If you're going to get upset about what Google knows, and how they're using that information, take a read but don't get all flustered about one feature in one application that was created with the sole purpose of having the results public.

By Mitch Joel