Google+ privacy: Create circles by what you post not who is in them

Google+ privacy for what you post is controlled by sharing with limited circles or specific individuals. Even though I wrote that you only need one Google+ circle, if you don’t intend to make all your posts public you will likely need additional circles. (You may also want additional circles to control how you read posts on Google+, but I will save those considerations for another post.)

Many people create Google+ circles based on who is in them: family, co-workers, high school friends. Although this may make sense for how you want to see other people’s posts these categories are not very useful when it comes to using circles as Google+ privacy controls. When you think of family, do you really always want to share the same information with your cousin, your sibling and your mom? Among co-workers, do you share the same things among team members, peers in your department and our boss? And unless you are organizing the class reunion, grouping everyone from high school into one circle isn’t very useful.

Another approach, which mimics the default Facebook lists, is to create Google+ circles based on qualitative classifications for your relationships: close friends vs. friends vs. acquaintances. Although some people may fall clearly into one of these categories your relationships with other people may not be so easily categorized. Even though the other person will not see what circle you put them in you may feel some guilt in giving someone on the cusp the lesser “acquaintance” label. On the other hand, if you promote that person to “friend” you may accidentally share things that you don’t want them to see.

If you can’t clearly remember who is in what circle you can’t effectively use your circles to control your Google+ privacy. 

Perhaps you want to let people know that you are actively looking for a new job in case they have any leads. You don’t, however, want your current co-workers to know, so you share the post only with your “friends” circle. Whoops! You forgot that you put one of your co-workers in your “friends” circle because she wanted to see pictures of your baby.  I hope she can keep a secret.

For use in controlling Google+ privacy it is better to create circles by what you post to them not who is in them.

The Google+ circles you use for sharing should be named for what you will share with them, such as

  • baby photos,
  • local news,
  • general snark, or
  • amateur erotica.

People can be in more than one Google+ circle as appropriate, but by naming and using Google+ circles in this way you know exactly what you are giving someone access to see when you add them to a particular circle. Managing Google+ privacy in this way greatly prevents accidentally sharing a post with someone.

For even more certainty you can skip sharing with a circle at all.  Click the “x” in the box for Public or whatever circles are appearing by default in your sharing box, then type “+” and a person’s name to add one or more individuals to a post. The advantage of this is the post will always be limited to a specific list of people whereas if you add someone to a circle later they will see all the previous posts shared with that circle, which may include things you wouldn’t have shared if that person had been included all along.

Of course, as with Facebook, even your Google+ privacy practices still mean that you have to trust the people you are sharing with not to disclose your information. Regardless of how much you limit the audience for your post I highly recommend never sharing something online that would cause severe damage to your relationships, career or non-incarcerated status if made public.

This is part of a series of posts to help people get started with Google+. Prior posts include:

My next Google+ post will be about how to use circles to manage how you see other people’s posts. I’ll also be posting more about Google+ privacy controls. Make sure you don’t miss a post by typing your email address in the box below and click the “Create Subscription” button. You won’t get spam, your email won’t be shared and you can opt out at any time.

You can also keep in touch with me on TwitterFacebook and, of course, Google+.

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