It might be the most talked about checkmark ever.
Google has this thing called shared endorsements, which has to do with how you get recommendations from your friends on Google products. So for example, a friend singing the praises of a new album on the Google Play music store, or a 5-star review for that hot restaurant you've been dying to try.
Last week, Google printed these words next to a checkmark: "Based upon my activity, Google may show my name and profile photo in shared endorsements that appear in ads."
And it blew up the Internet. Just as when other platforms started mixing the words name, profile and ads, Google users wanted to make sure they weren't lending their face to sell products. And because that feature is checked by default, there was a mad rush to make sure everyone knew how to uncheck it.
First things first. You can uncheck it. Easily. Here's how.
•Sign into your Google Plus account. Go here: https://plus.google.com/settings/endorsements
•Scroll down to the bottom
•Uncheck. (Note: Some people have reported the box was already unchecked. If you want it unchecked, make sure you don't accomplish the opposite.)
•Take a few deep breaths.
Now that you have checked or unchecked, you need to understand what it is you just did. Despite everything you'd read online, this is the fine print that matters most: This setting is for shared endorsements only in ads. Earlier, I mentioned a recommendation on an album in the Google Play music store. This checkmark toggle would not affect that recommendation because it's not in an ad. You'd have to use other privacy tools to change the visibility setting of what people can see and can't see in your every day Google use. I recommend reading the information on this page for starters.
Speaking of privacy settings, Facebook's announcement that it is retiring an older one also has people ready to close their Facebook accounts. This one is actually a pretty big one and there's little you can do to change it.
Last year, Facebook said it was going to phase out an older setting called "Who can look up your Timeline by name?" If you didn't use it, Facebook removed it last year for you. If you are using it, you'll get a reminder about it being phased out.
If you used the setting, you could be invisible in Facebook search. Without the setting, the only way to remain invisible is to block someone.
To test this, I decided to search for an old girlfriend who never showed up in Facebook search. Clearly, this is someone who used the setting. I've always been curious what she's up to now, as we haven't spoken in about 20 years.
Now, her name pops right up. I still couldn't write on her wall — her privacy settings didn't permit that. But I could message her privately. Of course, because I'm not a friend, my message would likely end up in the "other" inbox, which I wrote about back in September. I chose not to reach out, but as a social media professional I was pretty surprised at how big of a difference that setting made.
Facebook says the best way to control what information is available about you is to concentrate on individual settings. In other words, choose the audience of each individual thing. So maybe don't choose the public setting for your day at the beach photos and opt for friends only or a custom list instead.
While that's all well and good, there's a difference between being invisible in search and relying on individual settings. What if the person you don't want to find out is doing bad things and you forget? You didn't have to be as concerned about that the old way. Now you do. That said, there's value in being more careful on social media and not pinning your safety on one setting.
So use both of these changes to your advantage. There has never been a better time to check and recheck your privacy settings on all your social media platforms. And once you do, share wisely.
What questions do you have about social media? Tweet them to @scottkleinberg. He might select yours for use in a future column.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun