[caption id="attachment_6361" align="aligncenter" width="618"] Google+: not a total ghost town, apparently.[/caption] Google+ features 135 million users active in its stream, Google senior vice president Vic Gundotra claimed in a Dec. 6 corporate blog posting. While that number (if accurate) lags well behind Facebook, which boasts a billion subscribers, it’s a sign that Google’s social network is not, contrary to rumor, a ghost town. Referring to Google+ as “the fastest-growing network thingy ever,” Gundotra wrote that more than 500 million people had “upgraded” to the platform of integrated Google services that includes the social network. Of that total, around 235 million actively engage with the Google+ features baked into those services: using Hangout video chats in Gmail, +1’ing apps (the equivalent of Facebook’s “Like” button) in the Google Play hub, connecting with friends via search, and so on. Around 135 million are active in just the Google+ activity stream. Gundotra quoted those statistics as preface to announcing two new Google+ upgrades: Google+ Communities, which allow users to gather around common interests such as cooking and astronomy, and Snapseed, an Instagram-like app for mobile devices. Snapseed offers image filters such as “vintage”—because it’s not a photo of your cat unless it looks like someone shot it on color film from 1978—as well as an editing toolbox. While Google positions the integration of Gmail and other platforms with Google+ as a good thing, privacy advocates have argued strenuously against the spreading of user data across multiple services. At the beginning of 2012, for example, the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) sent a letter to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) asking the latter to investigate Google’s “Search, plus your world,” which injected user data from Google+ into search results pages. Under a previous agreement with the FTC, Google undergoes independent privacy audits every two years. Whatever the policy implications of that integration, Google evidently feels such a strategy is necessary to combat Facebook, which cuts for itself a considerable slice of the online-advertising pie. The question is whether Google can encourage its users to engage more actively with its services in the context of Google+, which may take a whole new level of strategy and effort.   Image: Google