The internet is twittering (in more ways than one) about Google’s latest online service – Google Plus. More commonly written Google+ the new service is Google’s attempt to stab at the heart of Facebook and win back precious users’ eyes, and more importantly, social networks.
Google+ offers some enticing advantages over Facebook, such as asynchronous following (you can follow/friend someone without them following you back – this is a key component of Twitter as well), an excellent in-browser video-conference solution for up to 10 participants called Google Hangout and, of course, seamless integration with other Google services.
But the most important feature offered by Google+ is one that most consumers won’t ever notice yet is critical to the health and security of our data on social networks and the internet at large: Data Liberation.
Google achieves true data liberation through its service Google Takeout. Everything that you post to Google+, Google Buzz, and Picasa can be downloaded, backed up or taken elsewhere. This shows a certain fearlessness to Google’s strategy – Facebook wouldn’t dare allow you to download content posted to their website in one fell swoop. Facebook believes that content belongs to them, but Google takes the same approach it always has: Google services are a platform for your data and if you leave you can take it with you. Yes, Google still retains rights to re-use your content and photos uploaded to Google+ (as outlined in the Terms of Service) just like Facebook. The difference is that Google gives you a convenient and official way to get all that data back and take it elsewhere if you wish. You’ll get your Facebook content back only by using third-part apps, saving individual images or copy-pasting text.
Google isn’t the paragon of the internet and no one should be disillusioned into thinking they don’t stand to profit from our eyeballs and social data, but unlike Facebook Google is taking a principled stance on data portability, even if their stance on data ownership isn’t much better than Facebook’s.