Given the modern scale of Facebook—deals with Ticketmaster, moving to a huge new campus, and everybody you know using it—it’s hard to imagine the company moving fast enough to mimic the features of the social network Google launched just two months ago.
But anyone who’s spent 10 minutes inside Google+ will see quite a few similarities to what’s coming to their Facebook account. Controls to change exactly who gets to see what on status updates, wall posts, and profiles are the easiest targets for crying copycat. Dig in, though, and you’ll notice details, like the ability to test out your new settings with a "View profile as" button, and a change of sharing settings from "Everyone" to "Public."
Still, copying isn’t quite a crime, at least until the lawyers show up. So which social network handles privacy-plus sharing better: Google+ or the newly concerned Facebook? Let’s break it down and declare the winners:
Status Updates: Google+, Unless You’re Lazy or Majorly Extroverted Facebook owns up to the fact that choosing who could see each post required a visit to "a settings page a few clicks away," but the new controls for choosing who can see "This job is killing me" are in a button just below the text entry box. "Public," "Friends," and "Custom" are the default options, and Facebook says other options—co-workers, Friend Lists, and Groups you’ve joined—are coming. But Facebook will also remind you that people tagged in your post, and their friends, can see the post, and that mobile apps that don’t support Facebook’s new controls will default to the standard privacy of showing everyone you’re friends with. And while you can now change the privacy of a Facebook post after the fact, without deleting and re-posting it, that’s not a new feature, that’s a flaw that should have been fixed long ago.
Facebook’s privacy kinda works, then, if you can easily carve your social circles into friends, co-workers, and a few lists that you carve out far in advance. Google+ offers those same kind of basic groups in "circles," but it’s far easier to create new circles of specific people: Tuesday Lunch Club, Volleyball, College, Former Law Firm, and so on. When you’re posting anything on Google+, you can choose between "Public," "My circles," "Extended circles" (which allows friend-of-a-friend viewing), or type a few letters of specific circles, or people, to share with. That way, the friendly secretary at your old job, and everyone at your new job, can see you take a swipe at a dumb move by your former firm, but not the higher-ups you stayed "friends" with for just-in-case purposes. Even the Navy thinks it's a good platform for secure-ish sharing.
Photos: Facebook if Everyone You Know Is There, Google+ If Not Want to get pictures of your kids over to relatives, or snaps of your amazingly authentic wood-grilled Neapolitan pizza to your foodie friends? Facebook is still the place where they’re most likely to see them, whether you specifically send them, tag them, or just let them go up. On Google+, where membership is still kinda-sorta invite-only, there’s less chance they’ll see them in their stream. You can manually share your photos through Google’s linked Picasa Web Albums service, and the photo tools themselves are much better on Google+, but Facebook is where you can share photos quickly to the most people.
On a pure privacy front, Google+ certainly has the edge. Facebook has finally improved the most aggravating aspect of their photo system—the ability of just about anyone to tag you in any photo, and have it show up on your wall for nearly anyone to see, at least until you decide otherwise. Now you can block automatic tagging and review potential embarrassments in a "pending posts" section of your profile (according to Gawker), and when you pull down a tag, you can also send along a request to pull down the photo, or block that person entirely. Google+ automatically limits the tagging of your mug to people in your circles, but allows you to scale your exposure wider or smaller.
Location Check-ins: Neither, Go with Foursquare Facebook is phasing out Places, the location-based mobile check-in service it launched just a year ago behind a wave of hype. That’s likely due in part to location-based usership not being as big as it might have seemed, and not a huge deal to businesses at all. But really, Facebook says, it’s just rolling the mobile-only Places features into a more free-form tagging system. Now you can use tags in posts and photos to say that you’re planning to hit up Intelligentsia Coffee while you’re in L.A., that you’re currently there, or that the Black Cat Espresso still blows your mind, one week later.
In terms of privacy, this means that your friends can now tag and share with your boss how freaking blitzed you were at Awful Al’s the night before your big presentation at any time, unless you dig deep into the settings. Google+ check-ins work on the same kind of tagging system, just with more upfront options on which circles you share a location-based check-in with. Really, though, if you want to record your at-the-moment location for posterity, or to casually invite social-media-savvy friends to join you, you’re better off using the dedicated services of Foursquare. You approve friends one by one, you always choose whether to share your location with Twitter, Facebook, or other Foursquare users, and you create a fairly search-friendly list of places you’ve been without overwhelming friends.
Foursquare’s privacy model is so obvious and specific, it almost seems old-school. Facebook and Google+ are leaning toward that model, but trying to do a lot more all at once—so you’re never quite free to ignore your settings.
[Image: Flickr user Steve Rhodes]