Google Social Graph API – the end of privacy on the web?


Brad Fitzpatrick gives an introduction to the Google Social Graph API. What is the Google Social Graph API? Well, according to the Google site:

“The Social Graph API makes information about the public connections between people more easily available. Developers can query this public information to offer their users dramatically streamlined ‘add friends’ functionality and other useful features.”

Which all sounds very innocent, and indeed in the video Brad gives an innocuous example about connecting friends on social networks.

Tony Hirst, at oUseful, takes a more critical look at the Google Social Graph API.

The Google Social Graph API is the first step to a truly social web, where all social connections are transparent, and all that you say and do online is potentially open for all to see. It’s potential and scope is much greater than Facebook Connect, in part because Google ‘owns’ so much of so many peoples’ digital lives.

This has huge personal, political and commercial implications. It doesn’t take much imagination to see how this could be, and is being, abused. Of course, there are benefits, transparency and a fixed online identity tends to make communities work better.

Like most people my online ‘indentities’ have developed over time. There are some places where my offline identity is transparent, there are others where I they aren’t. In general, I give as little info as I can get away with to most sites I use, however, turns out that this may have been in vain, as the aggregate data derived from tools like the Google Social Graph API tells a much richer story.

Consider an example, do you really want your boss knowing that you smoke cannabis in your spare time?

If you do, then you probably already go to some effort to hide this fact, using a different user name, etc. However, if your boss can work out from the Social Graph that stoner123 who posts on the High Times blog, is in fact you (because you share the same Facebook friends as the ones on the High Times blog and your Flickr Account), then you might be a bit concerned. (This example isn’t necessarily possible with the Google Social Graph API right now, but may well be in the near future.)

And that’s just the tip of a very big databerg looming up on society’s starboard bow.

As I mentioned before I can see the benefits from a truly social web, however, I’m not sure that they aren’t outweighed by the potential risks. Either way, I’d like to see much more debate on a subject which is probably so important it may ultimately have to be regulated Government – though Government in the UK has proven to be singularly clueless when it comes to new media regulation.

Of course they could just take the Chinese approach, where the Government has just decreed that all Chinese Internet users must use their own names when posting on news sites.

One thought on “Google Social Graph API – the end of privacy on the web?

  1. Tony Hirst says:

    Here’s an example of the Social Graph API in action – powering a visualisation that shows connections between people who have recently tweeted a particular term or hashtag:

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