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Google’s privacy faux pas with Reader

In its attempts to add social elements to products, is Google pulling a Facebook?

Google Reader has allowed people to share items they are interested in with others since 2006 with hyperlinks, clips on blogs and storing them on a public page that you had to know the URL for to see.

Last week, Google tweaked Google Reader so that your shared items are automatically made available to your Google Talk contacts.

But, as anyone who uses instant messaging knows, not all of your IM contacts are friends. Many are acquaintances or people you barely know and with whom you may not want to share a reading list.

Recently, Facebook was forced to modify its new Beacon ad targeting service that notifies friends in your network when you buy things on sites of Facebook partners. Facebook made that an opt-in feature, however, after consumer groups and Facebook members complained the service violated people’s privacy.

Google, too, has been crucified in the blogosphere over its Google Reader change, with bloggers saying the Google Talk contact sharing feature should be opt in, not opt out.

To calm the masses, Google posted an item on the Google Reader Blog that explains the company’s reasoning behind the change and tells how to clear the shared-items list and how to tag items to share with a limited number of people.

“We’d hoped that making it easier to share with the people you chat with often would be useful and interesting, but we underestimated the number of users who were using the Share button to send stories to a limited number of people,” the blog says.

Danny Sullivan, editor of the Search Engine Land blog, writes: “Frankly, a better solution would be to dump the friends sharing feature until it comes back in a new form, where you specifically and deliberately create a list of contacts that you do want to share material with.”

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