Today’s Google Doodle features a selection of cakes and candles so it must be someone’s birthday, or perhaps a celebration of whoever invented icing sugar, marzipan or whatever else is plonked on top of birthday cakes. You won’t be able to see it, though. I moved the cursor over the image….
…. and it’s MY birthday!
Spooky? Not really. I told Google my birthday when I set up my Google+ account. Unless it has changed since I set up my profile, Google requires you to enter a birthday and I decided to tell the truth. Yes, I have sold my soul to Google+. If all you do on Google is search I usually recommend that you resist being forced into Google+ for as long as possible, but that is becoming increasingly difficult. I decided to succumb because I am freelance and need to market my services to as many people as possible. Google+ dangles many carrots in front of people like me, such as author verification, so it makes sense to do it.
What does concern me is that a fun Google Doodle could blur the boundaries between personal and public information even more than is happening already. Google personalises your search results according to past browsing activity and includes information from your Google+ circles, even if that information is restricted to people within a circle. If you are carrying out a search on behalf of someone else can you share that information? I would not, but it could be argued that if you want to keep something private or semi-private then don’t post it to Google+. Google, though, is clearly experimenting with pulling together private and public information on your search screen. I signed up to a field trial last year that added results from Gmail, Drive and Google+ (Google search to get more personal http://www.rba.co.uk/wordpress/2012/10/19/google-search-to-get-more-personal/). The personal results were to the right of the usual listing and clearly labelled. But what if everything is combined into a single list? How easy will it be to differentiate between private and public?
You have told Google your birthday and have allowed that to be shared with others, or have you? You can keep it private, but when Google presents you with your own doodle it may encourage a feeling that you are safe and secure. It suggests that everything you see on subsequent screens can be shared.
To quote Alastor ‘Mad-Eye’ Moody (Harry Potter): “Constant vigilance!”