According to GlobalWebIndex estimates, Google Plus is growing at a rapid pace and is now the second largest social network on the planet, behind only Facebook. The Internet analytics company reported back in May that there are 359 million users active on the platform, a 33 percent increase from June 2012.
Despite the recent fanfare from different publications, analytic firms and other media about the success of the network, it does have privacy and security issues that can’t be neglected.
The threats regarding privacy and security
Yvo Desmedt and Shah Mahmood from University College London did a preliminary analysis of the social network’s privacy, stating several issues that users should be concerned about.
For example, when a user shares a picture, the metadata of the photo is also shared by Google+. This translates into the location where the image was taken, the time and date as well as the camera used to take the photo. The sources say that this information can be used in court cases, and such information infringes on the privacy of users.
Also, the ‘About’ section asks users to enter information such as the current and previous location, the university where they studied, the maiden name of mother etc. This is the exact information that is required for identity theft.
Circles are another problem when it comes to privacy. The network lets you categorize Google+ peers into different circles--following, friends, family and acquaintances--but doesn’t provide any way to filter out any of them. This means that when a post is shared among circles, it’s visible to all the four groups, and adding the extended circles option makes it visible to users who are visible in the circles of your circle groups.
Furthermore, some tests carried out by Websense Security Labs reveal that Google+ profiles are vulnerable to spam, implying that anyone with a profile can add you to his/her circles, and you don’t get an option to approve or deny the request like on Facebook. This leaves the entire profile vulnerable to spam and the damage can extend to social media profiles outside Google+.
While the end solution against privacy and security threats lies in the hands of Google+ developers, there are workarounds that can be performed to minimize the threats.
1. Internet security
Reliable security software can provide protection against threats on Google+, blocking out spam and preventing identity theft. Some of the modern offerings provide the option to limit the visibility of personal data and teach users to manage their privacy settings in order to minimize the vulnerability of their profiles.
2. Restrict visibility of your profile
The globe icon written beside profile information is an indication that the data is available to anyone around the globe. But this can be restricted through the following steps:
· Go to the Accounts page and select ‘profile and privacy’.
· Now in the Google Profiles section, select ‘edit visibility on profile’. On the next page, click on the information that you want to restrict access to.
· Select ‘circles’ from the drop down menu in front of each item and then choose ‘save’.
· The last step is to select ‘done editing’ from the top bar on the screen.
3. Export important data
Exporting data is important to keep a backup of your account activity. You can download photos, profile information, contacts and stream data on your PC by going to the Google+ bar and clicking on your email and name. From there, select Account settings – Data liberation – Download your Data.