Is Google Plus the Rumble in the Jungle?

If you don’t remember the Rumble in the Jungle, it was a boxing match between George Foreman and Muhammed Ali. Back in 1974 names like Foreman and Ali were as famous as companies like Google and Facebook are now. Google, like the older Ali, has been taking punches in the early rounds of the social networking bout, but is this the rope-a-dope strategy? Can Google score a later round victory with Google Plus? Currently Google Plus has landed a couple of punches that Facebook has noticed, but the reigning title holder is nowhere close to the ropes right now.ž

With Google Plus growing from virtually nothing to 10 million users in two weeks and reportedly on the verge of doubling that a week later it seems that Google is landing some significant punches. Skeptics will point out the failed Google Buzz, however unlike when Google hired the Keystone Kops to design, manage, and execute the Buzz launch, Google appears to have put a more seasoned professional in charge of the launch of Google Plus. The launch has not been without hiccups, such as running out of disk space, but nothing has been done to doom the roll-out as was the case with Buzz.

Despite a high satisfaction rate reported among Facebook users, this does not mean that users cannot or will not be swayed to a better platform. Google Plus clearly presents a far more honest and intuitive grouping mechanism that is much more reflective of real life in almost all respects. Google Plus will clearly continue to grow rapidly for a while, however ultimately Google has control of its destiny. Google will continue to be hammered over privacy issues until it cleans up its act.

Despite misconceptions that other major companies claim similar rights to content, Google’s claims of perpetual and irrevocable ownership of ALL content a user submits may be its Achilles heel and dynamically differentiates Google from most other services.

Currently, under the Google’s Terms of Service, any content you post is theirs. Here specifically is section 11.1 of the Google Terms of Service.

11.1 You retain copyright and any other rights you already hold in Content which you submit, post or display on or through, the Services. By submitting, posting or displaying the content you give Google a perpetual, irrevocable, worldwide, royalty-free, and non-exclusive license to reproduce, adapt, modify, translate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute any Content which you submit, post or display on or through, the Services. This license is for the sole purpose of enabling Google to display, distribute and promote the Services and may be revoked for certain Services as defined in the Additional Terms of those Services.

Understand that this appears to mean Google has the right to republish your email and even photos that they claim are uploaded to a private album. Google claims much broader ownership and acceptable use rights of your data than most, if not any other major online company. This is where Facebook can punish Google Plus.

Contrast Google’s wide open and unrestrained Terms of Service with Facebook’s terms.

Sharing Your Content and Information

You own all of the content and information you post on Facebook, and you can control how it is shared through your privacy and application settings. In addition:
1. For content that is covered by intellectual property rights, like photos and videos (“IP content”), you specifically give us the following permission, subject to your privacy and application settings: you grant us a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use any IP content that you post on or in connection with Facebook (“IP License”). This IP License ends when you delete your IP content or your account unless your content has been shared with others, and they have not deleted it.
2. When you delete IP content, it is deleted in a manner similar to emptying the recycle bin on a computer. However, you understand that removed content may persist in backup copies for a reasonable period of time (but will not be available to others).
3. When you use an application, your content and information is shared with the application. We require applications to respect your privacy, and your agreement with that application will control how the application can use, store, and transfer that content and information. (To learn more about Platform, read our Privacy Policy and Platform Page.)
4. When you publish content or information using the “everyone” setting, it means that you are allowing everyone, including people off of Facebook, to access and use that information, and to associate it with you (i.e., your name and profile picture).
5. We always appreciate your feedback or other suggestions about Facebook, but you understand that we may use them without any obligation to compensate you for them (just as you have no obligation to offer them).

Currently Facebook offers users far better assurances of data privacy than Google does and that may be a tough body blow to repeatedly endure.

Google has a shot with Google Plus, but like Ali did when he fought Foreman, Google is going to have to change their strategy to maintain momentum and be a real contender.

Randy Abrams
Director of Technical Education
Cyber Threat Analysis Center
ESET North America

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