Gravity's Rainbow

botany, shoes, books, and justice

Google Plus

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I was really excited about the possibilities of Google+.  I really enjoy using it – so much smarter and more useful and fun than facebook. I was disappointed early on when the privacy controls on my profile weren’t as fine grained as I’d like – I wanted to include a link to my blog, but only visible to members of certain circles. But all links on a Google profile page have the same access settings, so I’d have to give the same set of people access to both my research website and my blog. Not cool; it’s ok if my boss sees my research website, but not ok if she sees my blog. But Google+ is just getting started, so I cut them some slack.  I submitted some feedback and thought there was a good chance Google would make a change.

I’d also hoped for Google+ to have privacy and access controls good enough to let me link my identity as Sarcozona with my real identity, at least behind the scenes – or at least make it so I could switch between the two easily. Circles seemed built for this sort of thing.

In my Google+ fantasy land, every field – including the name – would have multiple versions, or multiple, linked profiles would be permitted. I’d have my real name in the first and Sarcozona in the second. Anyone searching Sarcozona would then see my ‘Sarcozona’ profile and anyone searching my real name would see a version of my profile associated with my real name. I’d get to choose which circles see me as Sarcozona, which see me as my real name, and which see a merged version.

I figured that even if my particular version of this fantasy didn’t come true, Google+ would find a clever way to help people integrate their online identities through their service.

But then some people who’d set up Google+ accounts with their pseudonyms suddenly found themselves unable to access any google services, including their email. There was no warning and the appeals process was slow and confusing. Even worse, once these people’s accounts were suspended, they were unable to liberate their data. The idea that I’d always have the ability to extract my data from Google is why I’ve felt so safe using Google services: if something went wrong, I could leave with my emails, contacts, documents, etc. Now I know that if something goes wrong that might not be an option. That is terrifying. Huge amounts of my life are on Google servers. Losing access to that data would be more painful and inconvenient than my house burning down.

It’s not uncommon or wrong for people to have multiple online identities. I don’t understand why Google is handling the pseudonym issue so badly; you’d think the advertising potential for having access to everyone’s real and pseudonymous identities would be enormous.

I started using Google+ thinking it would be the answer to my social media prayers. Now I’m considering moving away from using any Google services – as much as I dread the extra work leaving will entail.

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2 Comments

  1. Robert Scoble originally shared this post:
    I talked with Google VP +Vic Gundotra tonight (disclaimer, he used to be my boss at Microsoft). He is reading everything we have written about names, and such. Both pro and con.

    He says he is making some tough choices and that he will be judged over time how those choices turn out.

    He says that he is trying to make sure a positive tone gets set here. Like when a restaurant doesn’t allow people who aren’t wearing shirts to enter.

    He says it isn’t about real names. He says he isn’t using his legal name here. He says, instead, it is about having common names and removing people who spell their names in weird ways, like using upside-down characters, or who are using obviously fake names, like “god” or worse.

    He says they have made some mistakes while doing the first pass at this and they are learning. He also says the team will change how they communicate with people. IE, let them know what they are doing wrong, etc.

    I pushed him to make more of the changes, like give us a good appeals process, etc.

    He also says they are working on ways to handle pseudonyms, but that will be a while before the team can turn on those features (everyone is working hard on a raft of different things and can’t just react overnight to community needs).

    After running through his reasoning, mostly to have a nicer, more personal, community, I feel even stronger that Google is on the right track here even though I feel they weren’t fair or smart in how they spun up these new rules, but Vic convinced me to hang in there and watch their decisions over the next few weeks.

    I am on board and it will be interesting to watch Vic and his team. Me? I am having a ton of fun here and that is most of what counts.

  2. I have been de-Googling my life since 2009, when I came across something similar. A friend had his blog deleted, without warning, and the appeals’ process was actually obstructive. (You can read more of that here.) I see from the Google forums that nothing on that front has changed, and I severely doubt if anything will change when it comes to Plus.

    Since I began de-Googling, I’ve noticed a lot of other problems with Google. Buzz’s débâcles have been covered elsewhere. But even on my Google account, which had a private profile, and no Gmail, I still managed to get a Buzz account without my consent. From February 2011 I have had to delete a Buzz follower nearly every day—and that’s without having a public profile!

    I found out (and this was confirmed by the NAI after my own investigation and reporting) that despite opting out of Google Ads Preferences Manager, Google could still track our advertising preferences. Google may have been lying to people about opting out for nearly two years. And now I’m trying to work out just why Google has held on to one blog’s data without my consent, as well as my private information in Adsense, even though I quit Blogger early in 2010, and Adsense even earlier. In both cases, these actions violate Google’s own terms and conditions; on Blogger, I’ve since received contradicting answers from two employees, both of whom have ceased responding to my enquiries.

    This is a company that is callous with privacy and has little respect for users. Plus, and the recent deletions and suspensions, have merely exposed what a lot of us have known for years. Given that Google is a corporation, and its responsibility is primarily to its shareholders, then I am sure it cannot be faulted if we were to say that Google is looking out for Google.

    The image, however, of a benevolent Californian company is rather inaccurate—it may have a few good services (I remain a fan of Google News) but you should not feel comfortable with Google holding on to their data. I would seriously advise you to make periodic back-ups, especially while you still have access to data liberation under Plus.

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