Really, Google: Turn off Reader sharing and re-do it right!

Google has addressed the privacy issues raised by many users of its Google Reader product, and offered a confusing technique that adds its own problems as a way to make certain feeds both “private” and “public”.

Still unaddressed (and still pumping out items) is the core problem Google created when it arbitrarily decided to add your shared items feed to the Reader subscription list of your GTalk “friends”.

Show some leadership, Google!

Turn the Reader “sharing” feature off completely, and re-engineer it from the ground up, then test it in opt-in betas. Or are you not a Web 2.0 company after all?

The core of the problem is not that my shared items are public, but that Google unilaterally added my public RSS feed to the subscription lists of any of my GTalk contacts who also use Reader. My “friends” didn’t ask to subscribe to my feed, and I didn’t invite them either.

In case you have been preoccupied with holiday festivities and mercifully missed the dustup, here’s a brief review:

1. On December 14, Google turned on the “sharing” feature.

2. Almost immediately (first post on the Google Reader Group was 15 minutes later), users began complaining about “unintentional sharing”.

3. Felipe Hoffa’s journal entry “Google Reader shares private data, ruins Chrsitmas” is Slash-Dotted, expanding the controversy.

4. Blog illuminati offered opinions ranging from “How to Share Items in Google Reader and Still Keep Them Private” from Steve Rubel, to Robert Scoble’s plea for tighter privacy controls in “Google Reader needs GPC”, to lots of “Just What Part of Sharing Don’t You Understand” posts that said the flap was overblown (Tech-Ex and Louis Gray).

5. Google responds to what it mildly calls “a lot of helpful feedback” with suggestions on how to use the privacy options for each shared item tag. Instead of offering an opt-out to sharing your feed with GTalk contact, Google with a straight face suggests: “To remove a friend from your list, delete them from your Gmail contacts”.

The core of the problem is not that my shared items are public (although obscured by an encoded url), but that Google unilaterally added my public RSS feed to the subscription lists of any of my GTalk contacts who also use Reader. My “friends” didn’t ask to subscribe to my feed, and I didn’t invite them either.

So, Google, here is my free advice on how to fix “sharing”:

1. Let me use use XFN or “relationship” labels to define my closeness to individuals in my GTalk and GMail contact list. My address book may be my “social network”, as Steve Rubel says, but not everyone in it is my “friend”.

2. Let me choose which relationship levels have access to my Reader feed (and future “life streams” you suddenly publish).

3. And finally, let me publish my shared Reader items at a public url, but let me tell you who can view them: Everyone, all my contacts, all my contacts at a certain relationship level, or no one.

A rewritten Google Reader with these “sharing” features would gain every user’s respect.

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  • About Gary Burge

    I am an experieced web programmer, techno-activist, romantic idealist, who never quite left the sixties, even though I became quite successful in the Internet space.

    My business philosphy is different now than when I toiled in the bigco world. About a decade ago I experienced a life-altering epiphany: I was sacrificing my personal life and health to feed a corporate monster.

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