Did Google Go Too Far Mixing Social And Search?

This morning Google (NSDQ: GOOG) unfurled a pretty new search feature that lets users receive personalized results based on their own friends or photos. The feature called ‘Search Plus Your Web‘ is an all-in-one search engine and social network — but some are far from happy about this. [Updated with Google statement]

The most prominent early critic was Alex Macgillivray, Twitter’s head lawyer and a former Google staffer. “Bad day for the Internet,” he tweeted, adding that search would be warped.

Next up to bat was MG Siegler, an influential tech blogger who labeled the few feature Antitrust+ and warned that Google’s push to exercise its search muscle in other fields would provoke the US Senate, many of whose members want to nail the company to the wall in the first place.

Late this afternoon, a New York Times (NYSE: NYT) blog quoted others joining the bash-Google party, including a New York University law professor. The good professor warned on Twitter that “Today is a good day to turn off Google+ and delete your Google Profile. I just did.”

So, it it that bad? Well, yes and no. Some of the criticism should be taken with a grain of salt.

Twitter, for instance, has been in a love-in of late with Facebook, Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT) and other Google competitors over who gets to share its rich collection of data. At the same time, Google and Twitter broke off relations this summer. This means Macgillivray’s tweet may have been a strategic jab more than a substantive one.

And the law professor the Times quotes extensively is James Grimmelmann, a long-time Google critic and sometime-Microsoft surrogate. The software giant has paid Grimmelmann in the past to collect complaints about Google.

Some of the criticism over Google’s new social search feature can be discounted, then, as competitive carping. But not all of it. Mark Lemley, a Google ally and the country’s leading patent scholar, told the Times that the feature would add to growing concerns over Google. Meanwhile, influential search blogger Danny Sullivan praised the feature but also expressed reservation about the search giant’s decision to make its new feature opt-out rather than opt-in.

The public and media are still digesting the new feature so it remains to be seen whether today was the crest of the objections or if they will build in coming days. After all, Facebook’s timeline elicited squawking at first but quickly became just another part of the tech landscape.

Another intriguing question is whether the blow-back is catching Google off-guard. The company has been burned by privacy missteps in the past (see Buzz) so it is unlikely that they unrolled Search Plus Your World without first gauging the public relations risk. It’s possible that Google, which is growing alarmed at Facebook’s growing pile of online ad revenue, simply decided that it had no choice but to make a bold move to challenge the social network’s dominance.

UPDATE: In a statement posted this evening on, well, Google+, the company wrote: “We are a bit surprised by Twitter’s comments about Search plus Your World, because they chose not to renew their agreement with us last summer (http://goo.gl/chKwi), and since then we have observed their rel=nofollow instructions.”