Google+ saw its first privacy hiccup during the new social network’s beta testing, a notable slip as user privacy protection continues to be a hot-button issue.
The Mountain View, Calif.-based company, which launched its Google+ site on Tuesday, found a major privacy glitch within 24 hours — friends could inadvertently spread private information throughout the web.
Google+, which allows users to create “Circles,” or groups of friends, co-workers and family, shares updates, photos and check-ins with them. Users who want to share a new bit of information can select circles to broadcast to, creating a more centralized group than those offered on sites like Facebook and Twitter.
However, Google’s photo “resharing” feature, which accompanies each post, could have shared pictures with strangers, theoretically, making its way across the Internet.
Users can prevent the glitch by disabling the reshare option in a drop-down menu, but first-time users may not know this option exists. Google+ doesn’t offer an option to disable the feature entirely, and once the photo is in cyber-space, there is no way to get it back.
Google+ is still in beta testing, but news of a glitch like this may hurt the endeavor before it even hits the open market. If users cannot fully trust a company to keep their information private, they could be reluctant to sign up for the service in the first place, especially as privacy on social networking sites like Facebook remain highly scrutinized.
Social networking is one of the few tech fields that Google has yet to conquer, and the Internet giant has high hopes for Google+ to succeed after failing with efforts like Buzz and Orkut. Earlier this month, Google chairman Eric Schmidt admitted his failure to embrace the platform, saying he “screwed up.”
“I clearly knew I had to do something and I failed to do it,” Schmidt said, adding the company tried to partner with Facebook in its early days, but the social network chose Microsoft instead.
Google’s privacy hiccup echoes the increasing scrutiny over social media privacy. Recently, the U.S. government focused on strengthening user privacy on social networks, and how these networks protect user information.
In February, the U.S. Congress questioned Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, asking for details on the company’s plans to share user’s private information with third-party application developers.
Last month, Congress again questioned Facebook over a security hole in the site that exposed user data. Congress demanded Zuckerberg to explain how many users were affected and how long the vulnerability existed, as well as the company’s plans to inform users of the leak.
Google is finally making the jump it believes it must to strengthen its presence on the Internet. But a privacy flaw like the one found on Google+ suggests the company may be treating the social space as a sprint rather than a marathon in its attempt to catch up to Facebook — and may face the same level of criticism and scrutiny as its rival.