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.