Facebook has been notorious for the degree of frankness its platform presents to its applications.Ever since Google's latest social platform, Google+, began limited testing in late June, the question among both prospective developers and prospective members has been, how will it compare to Facebook with respect to privacy? Although Facebook has taken incremental steps to help its users protect the data they may intentionally or inadvertently share with other people directly,
Google has been particularly careful about demonstrating its concern for protecting its members' personally identifiable information (PII), and an update late Friday to its engineering director, David Glazer's Google+ stream was no exception. Giving the first technical details about the forthcoming Google+ Games platform - the first apps platform for Google's new social network - Glazer said end-user information would only be obtained through direct user consent.
"There are methods to request the data we ask end-user permission to access," Glazer wrote in introducing a very short list. That list states that apps may acquire the member's "basic profile information," and can access the list of other people in that member's circles who may be interested in joining the game. Though the exact definition of "basic profile information" has yet to be nailed down, the most likely interpretation is that it should contain only the data that members deem available to "Anyone on the Web," which is Google+'s phrase for all members inside and outside of circles. "Circles" are members whose streams a member has chosen to receive, and at present, those members do not have to directly consent to have their streams be received by others.
Glazer's public demonstration of his company's commitment comes in the wake of recently re-introduced privacy legislation in the U.S. Senate by Sens. John McCain (R - Ariz.) and John Kerry (D - Mass.). The Commercial Privacy Bill of Rights Act of 2011, if it becomes law, would force all Internet service and content providers to give users immediate notice of when and why their PII is being collected, as well as notice of any change in policy regarding the use of their personal data. The Act would also compel developers to "incorporat[e] necessary development processes and practices throughout the product life cycle that are designed to safeguard the personally identifiable information that is covered information of individuals based on (A) the reasonable expectations of such individuals regarding privacy; and (B) the relevant threats that need to be guarded against in meeting those expectations."
Recently, Facebook has made subtle adjustments to its developers' policies, some of went largely unnoticed for several weeks. One such amendment prohibits developers from making deals with Facebook gamers, paying them in virtual Facebook Credits in exchange for interactions with third parties, such as watching a commercial. Explicitly, the change prohibits developers from paying users in virtual credits for PII, especially if it comes from someone else.
But also, Facebook made this little amendment, in Section I, Paragraph 11: "Apps on Facebook may not integrate, link to, promote, distribute, or redirect to any app on any other competing social platform." This just days before the Google+ Games announcement featured Zynga, by far Facebook's most valuable games contributor.
The "simplicity" demonstrated for the Google+ apps platform thus far comes in contrast to the company's previous efforts in platform development. In 2009, Google Wave - a now-defunct system for instantaneous messaging between both people and apps - was promoted using Google Web Toolkit, a free environment that utilized AJAX, Java APIs, and Google Widgets. GWT, which is still supported by Google, remains perceived today as a key foundation for HTML5 development, especially with its support for HTML5 Local Storage APIs - giving apps limited access to the client's file system.
By stark contrast, Google+ Games' announcement last Thursday put the spotlight on games that had already made considerable headway on other platforms, including Wooga's Diamond Dash; and Rovio Mobile's recent cultural phenomenon Angry Birds, which premiered in 2009 for iOS, and has since expanded to iOS, Android, and Facebook.
A question for you: Does the platform independence that Google has demonstrated so far for its Google+ apps make you feel more or less inclined to develop apps and/or games for Google+?