Google Reader Exploit

I’m listening to Steve Gillmor’s News Gang from March 13th and a large part of what they are talking about is one of Steve’s recent hot button issues. He calls it the “Google Reader Shared Items exploit”. Basically, when you use Google Reader and you share items, they can be seen by your “friends” in a list of “your friends shared items.” Steve has a problem with the very loose methodology Google uses to determine who is a friend, which is inferred algorithmically and not anything you can do explicitly. He and Mary Hodder seem to be worked up about it and Chris Saad doesn’t think it is a big deal. I’m with you, Chris Saad. I sure don’t understand the problem when you take an item from your feed and mark it “Shared” that it gets shared with arbitrary people. It seem reasonable to me that doing so shares to a group that might be up to as big as the internet. I mean, I have the dang widget sitting in my sidebar. For those people who have an issue with it, what I wonder is who they think they are sharing with and what they thought would happen when they hit that check box?

This does not mean that I endorse Google data policies broadly. They kind of scare the hell out of me. I spent years of not logging in to Google for any reason because I was worried they would track my searches. Once I started using Reader and staying logged in all day I bought a few shares of stock. My rationale was that if I can’t tame the tiger, maybe I can at least ride it a little.

Update: I’m pretty sure now that Steve Gillmor is wrong about how friends are inferred. I have heard him say that it comes from emailing people but I pulled up the Settings -> Friends page and set it beside my list of GTalk friends and every single person on my Reader friends list was a GTalk buddy. In other words, I think you have to take the explicit action of making them an IM buddy before you see their shared items. That doesn’t change my initial post, in that sharing is sharing and if you don’t want to broadcast your interest in a topic you probably ought not to be sharing it.

6 Replies to “Google Reader Exploit”

  1. It was back for me a few days ago, but hopefully no longer.

    I’m not sure what the Exploit is that is being complained about. The way I read it and I could be wrong, but he’s complaining that items that you are sharing with your friends are being seen by the friends that you shared them with. Is this right or did I read the explanation totally wrong?

  2. Derek, Steve doesn’t like the way Google infers who is a “friend.” Steve explained that if someone emails you and you mail them back saying “Why did you send this? I don’t know who you are.” that is enough to trigger the relationship. I’m not sure if that is true, because it seems to me the only people I see those things from are people I have added as buddies in GTalk.

    Either way, he’s saying you can share items and then have them go to a larger group than you expect. I’m saying that personally I expected the group that would see that I have shared any given item has an upper boundary of EVERYBODY. I don’t understand the concept of wanting to share it but not widely. Mary Hodder was talking about people with medical conditions leaking that information. Umm, DON’T SHARE THOSE THINGS. You can star it for yourself without sharing, so do that if you don’t want to disseminate your interest in the subject.

  3. “This does not mean that I endorse Google data policies broadly. They kind of scare the hell out of me. I spent years of not logging in to Google for any reason because I was worried they would track my searches. Once I started using Reader and staying logged in all day I bought a few shares of stock. My rationale was that if I can’t tame the tiger, maybe I can at least ride it a little.”

    Sounds to me like you’re doing the Google exploiting instead. 😉

    And Dave, you should by now know when “pundits” are baiting the public with “OMFG! The sky is falling!” privacy bullshit. This is one of them.

  4. Hey Dave
    Was just listening to Newsgang from yesterday. Have all your gReader issues sorted themselves out now? You’re right that you need to accept a chat invite to be added to the Friends in gReader, otherwise I’d be getting yours from the Friends section, not as an RSS feed.

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