Google and Facebook’s ‘Arms Race’ and Your Internet Security: The Social Media Privacy Report

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Even though on the surface Google and Facebook produce very different types of products, the two technology powerhouses have been pegged in competition against one another. The minds behind both of these companies are certainly brilliant, and as this tech “Arms Race” heats up, both are trying to out do one another. This means cooler and more innovative technology for users. However, as Google and Facebook ramp it up, are they forgetting about protecting your Internet privacy and online security?

Google Buzz Introduced With No Privacy Policy

In February, 2010, Google launched its Buzz social network in its gmail platform in efforts to compete with Facebook and Twitter by adding an element of social media engagement and sharing to its webmail client. The inherent misstep that Google took was that it automatically enrolled gmail users into the Buzz network without their consent, and thus publicly exposed private user data and information. Any contacts that a gmail user had ever emailed, whether they were family, friends, co-workers or even complete strangers, were allowed access to that user’s information via Buzz.

Many users were, to say the least, not pleased with Google’s violation of Internet privacy and online security. Thus a lawsuit was brought against the company’s social networking tool, and in early November 2010, the search engine conglomerate announced a settlement of $8.5 million in the Buzz lawsuit.

Gmail users might have gotten too excited when this settlement was announced via email, thinking they would get a cut of this chunk of change. However, the sum is being allocated to a “Common Fund” that will help build organizations that will focus on educating users on the importance of Internet protection and privacy. The settlement is up for final approval on January 31, 2011. During the course of these proceedings Google has made many changes to Buzz, including adding the ability to opt out of the service, and allowing users to decide which of their email contacts they will interact with on the network.

Facebook Messaging and Internet Safety Repercussions

Just as Google wanted in on the social networking action, it appears that Facebook desires the same for email. In mid-November, Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg announced that his social network has developed and is set to launch a new and modern messaging system to all users. At a press event in San Francisco, Zuckerberg said that more than four billion messages are sent through Facebook on a single day and he also said that most high school students believe email is too slow of a form of communication.

Facebook is giving a system to its users that will slowly be rolled out over the next couple of months. This system will feature seamless messaging and the syncing of various platforms (traditional email, Facebook messages, instant messaging, chat, and SMS messages) into one unified social inbox which would be under a facebook.com email address.

While many critics have said the design of the system may rival that of gmail, there have been other experts who have expressed concerns for user privacy and security. From the start, it must be said that there are some privacy settings built in, such as the ability to block incoming messages from people not on a trusted list. However, the aggregation of various communications in one place is a little scary. Experts at Mashable and NakedSecuirty believe that the social network, which is already the fourth largest online phishing target, will become an even larger one for scammers using malignant apps and tools such as Firesheep.

Another fear is that while all email clients store the history of your messages, Facebook, with this new messaging tool, will now have a database and archive of all your social communications; if this information were to be hacked or fall into the wrong hands it could be misused and have a severe impact on user privacy and security.

From these examples it seems as though the competition between Google and Facebook might have serious implications for users and their web protection. When Buzz launched in February, did you use it? Do you still use it now? What do you think about the settlement? And in regards to Facebook Messaging, do you believe this seamless system is the answer? Or do you think Facebook has gone too far in its compilation of your data and private information?

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Jillian Ryan

Jillian Ryan is PRIVATE WiFi's Director, Brand Communications and Social Strategy. With a passion for writing, the web, and fast-paced information exchanged via social networks, Jillian is also concerned about the ramifications of putting your life details and personal data into cyberspace. Follow her on Twitter: @Writing_Jillian.