Google sparked controversy on Tuesday with the announcement of a major search update that includes content from its budding social network, Google+. The announcement, posted on Google’s blog, includes the following comment from Google Fellow Amit Singhal: “Search is still limited to a universe of webpages created publicly, mostly by people you’ve never met. Today, we’re changing that by bringing your world, rich with people and information, into search.”
The new search capability, which Google calls “Search plus Your World,” will introduce three new features that put its social component—and information from your network—front and center. They include the following:
Personal results. This will feature information from your Google+ photos and posts—both your own and those shared specifically with you—that only you will be able to see on your results page when logged into your Google account.
Profiles in search. You’ll see this both in autocomplete and results, which will display people you’re close to or might be interested in following.
When you search for a friend’s name—or just the first few letters of it—Google will display a personalized profile prediction in autocomplete. Selecting that friend will take you his or her results page, which will include information from the Google+ profile and Web results that might be related to them.
People and pages. Google says this feature will help you find people’s profiles and Google+ pages related to a specific topic or area of interest, and enable you to follow them with a few clicks.
For example, if you search for a topic such as sports, you might see people who discuss this topic frequently on Google+. You can then connect with them on Google+.
Experts are already raising antitrust concerns because with these changes, information from Google+ can appear higher in search results than information from other websites.
Here are four things you need to know about Google’s new social search, including privacy options and how you can personalize it.
1. No one can see your private content.
Google’s new Personal Results feature lets you search all your own content, as well as content shared with you by your friends. Results can include webpages, Google+ posts and photos—both uploaded to Google+ or Picasa—but they’re visible only to you, unless you’ve shared them.
When you perform a search, you can check the visibility of a piece of content by looking at the link that appears beside each result. For photo results, just hover over the photo. Each will be marked either “Public,” “Limited,” or “Only you.”
To change the settings of your photo albums or posts, click Edit on your Photos and Posts pages to update your preferences.
If, for example, you uploaded a photo album and shared it with three of your closest friends, only they can see these pictures in their own personal results page.
2. You don’t have to see personal results.
If you’re logged into your Google account, you’ll always see personal results. There are two ways to bypass this, though. First, you can log out of your account, then perform a search. Or, you can turn off personal results altogether.
To turn off personal results, navigate to the top-right of your search results page and click the globe icon. This will prevent you from viewing personal results. Click the person icon to enable it.
If you’re not seeing personal results and you want to, check to see whether you’re using SSL search—your network administrator may have blocked it. Other possible reasons: You’re using Google in a language other than English, your browser is outdated, or you’re searching with a filtering option other than “Everything” or “Images.”
3. You can manage the Google+ content that appears in search results.
If someone’s content is consistently appearing in your personal results, there are a few things you can do to prevent it.
First, you can remove that person from your Circles. Do this by clicking the Circles icon in your Google+ account and finding that person’s name. Then, click “Remove” at the top of the window.
You can also choose to ignore that person, which can be done from the “People who have added you” tab while editing your circles.
Lastly, you can block that individual person, which means he or she will be unable to contact you or view your Google+ profile. You can also do this from the edit screen of your Circles page.
4. You don’t have to appear in autocomplete lists.
By default, your Google profile will appear in Google search results. If you don’t want your Google profile to appear in anyone’s autocomplete list, you can choose not to have your profile indexed by search engines.
To do this, sign in to your Google+ account, then click “Edit profile.” On the “About” tab, click the “Profile discovery” section. Then, uncheck “Help others discover my profile in search results” if you want to prevent search engines from indexing your profile. Then click “Save.”
Do note, however, that anyone who has your profile URL will still be able to view it. And even if you edit the Profile discovery section it could take a while for the change to appear across various search engines.