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Tableau Software charges for its premium software and technologies to visualize data in interactive charts, with security protections for confidential information.

The company’s free Tableau Public service is different. As its name implies, Tableau Public is designed to be used with public data. It’s popular among journalists, bloggers and others. Tableau cautions Tableau Public users that the data visualizations — a.ka. “vizes” — that they save using Tableau Public (including drafts) are not private.

A prototype Tableau Public author profile page, showing the user’s ‘vizes’

However, up to this point, Tableau Public projects have been “hidden by obscurity” in many cases, creating a feeling of pseudo-privacy. They don’t show up in public search results, and the company says someone would be hard-pressed to find a particular visualization unless it was embedded or shared by the user.

That will soon change with the upcoming launch of a new Tableau Public author profile feature. The new profile pages will list the Tableau Public workbooks saved by each user. People will find the author profile pages via links on individual visualizations.

Users will still be able to “hide” a specific workbook from their profiles, effectively returning the project to that “hidden by obscurity” state. But unless the user takes that step to hide a project, the project will be visible on the profile page by default. In other words, the listing is opt-out, not opt-in.

Journalists who use Tableau Public especially need to take note, lest their big scoops get scooped up by their competitors or spied by someone else prior to publication.

In advance of the author profile launch, Tableau has been contacting Tableau Public users and journalism organizations to alert them to the change, and the need to hide or delete specific projects that they don’t want to be discovered.

“The last thing we want to do is blindside people and expose something they’ve been working on,” explained Ellie Fields, Tableau senior director of product management.

In a message to GeekWire this week, one reader expressed concern about the Tableau Public change, comparing it to Google making private messages or documents public. The reader also questioned the effectiveness of the “hidden by obscurity” approach.

Fields said the comparison to Google isn’t correct, given the intention for Tableau Public to be used with public data, and published to the web (in contrast with the privacy of the company’s paid products such as Tableau Desktop). She said the company hasn’t encountered problems with people finding Tableau Public projects that were hidden.

She added that the process of hiding projects will be simple and quick for Tableau Public users. The change doesn’t affect users of the company’s paid products. She said the company decided for an opt-out approach, rather than opt-in, because of Tableau Public’s focus on public data, and the company’s goal to make ‘vizes’ more discoverable.

Tableau Software made its initial public offering of stock last week, which promises to put more of a spotlight on the Seattle-based company on issues large and small.

[Note: Tableau Software is one of GeekWire’s annual sponsors.]

Tableau Public user MaryJo Webster, a reporter and data journalist with the St. Paul Pioneer Press, offered this take on the Tableau Public author profile pages in response to my email inquiry.

I think the only way this will be valuable for a journalist is if they want to reference it when trying to seek a new job — basically use it as part of their portfolio. I don’t see it as a privacy concern since they are making it possible to hide a visualization and since we journalists generally create these things for publication anyway. If someone doesn’t want to have a profile, I’m assuming they could hide all of their visualizations and not put up a photo or biographical information, essentially making their Author Profile empty.

It is a bit annoying that a viz is automatically put up there, rather than allowing the user to choose which ones to put up (opt in, rather than opt out). All of us have drafts that we don’t want published right away. I’ve got one viz that I update each month with data that I get under embargo. I usually update the viz in a draft mode, then make it live when the embargo is lifted. This will be one extra step I’ll have to take to ensure it doesn’t go out on my author profile.

More information on the Tableau Public author profile feature is available in this Tableau blog post.

The company writes in the post, “At launch, your profile page will include all of the workbooks you have saved to the web, including drafts and other workbooks you may not want others to see. You can see the workbooks that will be shown at launch by logging in to the ‘Manage Your Workbooks’ page. If there is sensitive data in these workbooks, you may want to consider deleting them from your account, or be ready to login and hide them right away.”

Here’s a video showing the Tableau Public author profile feature.

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