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New Google Reader feature ignites privacy debate

Google Reader sharedA few weeks ago Google launched a new feature that makes Google Reader a bit more social. Whenever you mark an item as "Shared," your Gmail/Google Talk contacts will be able to find that article by following a new "Friends' shared items" link in Google Reader.

Now here's the thing: Google Reader shared items have always been available to the public. But in order to find a shared item feed you need to enter a rather complicated string of characters in your web browser's URL bar. The result is that you're probably not going to find anyone's shared items unless they give you a link. Some people have made their shared items available to the public buy putting a link on their blog. Robert Scoble is famously almost as proud of his "link blog," as he is of his actual blog. But other readers assumed they had some level of privacy and only shared items with a handful of friends.

Now that anyone you've ever corresponded with over Google Talk can see your shared items, you might be a bit more careful of what you share. And some people aren't particularly pleased with that situation.

Is the new Google Reader shared items feature an invasion of privacy? We're going to go out on a limb here and say no. If you don't want the whole world to see your shared items, there's an easy answer: don't click the share button. But we can imagine plenty of situations where you would want to share some stories with the whole world and other stories with just a select group of people. Or where you might want to be able to differentiate between "friends," and family, colleagues or other people who might not find some of your shared items so amusing.

So while we don't think Google necessarily did anything wrong by adding this feature, we don't really understand why the feature is one size fits all. There's no option for users to opt out of having their items shared other than to stop sharing items at all. And there's no way to share your items with some friends, but not others.

What do you think? Is the new Google Reader friends' shared items feature a privacy violation or just a poorly implemented attempt to make RSS reading a more social experience?

Update: The author of the original article wrote in to let us know that it's moved. Same article, new URL.

[via Scobleizer]

Tags: google-reader, google-talk, link-blog, robert-scoble, shared-items, social