INTERNET GIANT Google will put an end to private Google Profiles at the end of July, raising some concerns over privacy in its latest social networking experiment Google+.
Google announced that it will be changing how it displays profiles by the end of the month, as it believes that private profiles defeat the purpose of profiles in the first place, which is to help people find their friends and connect with them.
So, from August onwards all Google Profiles will be public. This does not mean that existing private profiles will be changed to public - rather, they will be deleted, leaving only the public ones behind.
This is a wise move by Google, as it prevents a major privacy outcry from people claiming they weren't aware of the changes. Users can also delete their profiles now in anticipation of the change, but it's not really necessary, as Google will do it for you.
The change is most likely linked with Google's recent launch of Google+, which is completely integrated with Google Profiles. Google is really pushing its social network and having private profiles makes it more difficult for it to compete with Facebook.
However, the privacy issues might worry some users who prefer to leave their profiles private, particularly when compared to the options, albeit buried, to completely hide your Facebook profile. The difference between the two, of course, is that Google rules in the search market, and it cannot give search results for private listings.
This move is in almost direct contrast with significant efforts in Google+ to improve privacy compared to Facebook, such as allowing limited sharing through Circles, better transparancy of who you're sharing with, the ability to easily hide profile details, and the option to delete your profile and take all of your data with you.
However, the privacy implications of Google's decision are not as bad as they first appear, because the public profiles can be limited to only displaying your name and gender, with all other details made private or available to friends only. It seems that Google mainly wants users to be able to find each other, as opposed to exposing everyone's details like Facebook often does.
This decision likely also ties in with the recent disabling of Google Realtime, which pulls feeds from various social networks. While Google+ has an option to disable search visibility, Google obviously wants people to be able to find public Google+ posts on Realtime, like they were previously able to do with tweets.
It's very early days yet for Google+, but one of the pivotal questions facing Google is whether or not its approach to privacy will help it avoid the same problems that Facebook encountered. The answer to that will be one of the deciding factors in how successful Google+ becomes. µ