13 July 2011

double-plus Goog

I am a dinosaur. Not because of my weak, enfeebled and barely manipulative arms nor the furtive look that passes over my eyes as I stalk the last morsel of food on someone else's plate, ready to snatch it away the moment they are distracted by, let's say, someone squawking and bellowing while rising aggressively from their chair, fanning their napkins around their ears like an improvised neck-frill (which may or may not have happened in Dali's of Blackrock last night). Nope, I am a dinosaur because of my apparently outmoded and outdated attitudes towards online privacy, attitudes which at any moment will be swept away by an asteroid of Social Sharing if our online masters were to have their way.

The latest extinction level event to come hurtling my way is the Orwellian sounding Google Plus, or Google+ as it is apparently written by those whose lives are lived too fast to bother with typing out words. Google+ is the latest in a growing line of attempts by the search giant to create a social network and cash in on all that internet money that is to be made by interposing one's self between two or more people trying to communicate directly with each other. And unlike Google's previous attempts at social media like Dodgeball, Jaiku, Buzz or Wave, Google+ will almost definitely revolutionize the way an internet company interposes itself between you and your friends, and will almost certainly do so in a way that is less creepy and intrusive than Facebook.

Yup, almost definitely.

Learning almost nothing from my disastrous experiences with Buzz, I happily accepted the proffered invitation and spent the next two hours running around the internets trying to undo all the damage this simple act had done. It may help the sense of dramatic tension here to mentally picture me waving napkin neck-frills and squawking loudly while standing on my desk.

To be fair to Google, they have learned a little from the great Buzz fiasco of 2010. As you create your account they only suggest folks from your gmail contacts to be your friends, rather then automatically spamming everyone with your latest drunken bar photo of a cat/house/slice-of-toast that looks like a European dictator. As you probably know by now (if you read about the internets) with Google+ you have a high degree of control over who you share things with, placing contacts into different groups called Circles, and deciding with each post which Circle to share things with; I thought it made sense to create nine Circles, ranging from Limbo, Lust and Gluttony through to Fraud and Treachery, but had difficulty assigning my contacts to only one Circle at a time.

There are other features of Google+, like multi-user video chat and suggested RSS feeds, but the service that most people will use is the basic "I can't believe its not Facebook/Twitter/MySpace/Friendster/etc/etc" of status-updates and shared items that Google+ calls your Stream, and the key selling point here is that each item/update you share is only seen by those people in the Circle you've chosen to share it with.

So far so good, and Google seems have addressed some of the privacy concerns people had not only about their own disastrous launch of Buzz but also with the service Google+ is mainly meant to compete with, Facebook. The trouble is, and you only discover this after you've signed up, Google has drunk the "everybody on the internets must use their real name" Kool-Aid and is forcing it down the throats of everyone who wants to use their new service.

Google+ is based around your Google Profile, a public "about me" product that has been around for a few years tied to various Google services. The original idea was to find a way to index individuals in their search results, ie if someone was to search for you the first result would be your Google profile, then followed by whatever else the organic search results pulled up. If, like me, your first Google product was Gmail and you signed up to it using your real name, then your Profile would have also listed your real name by default, but at launch Profile allowed you to use a nickname (like "Unkie Dave") instead rather than your full name. Soon, however, it restricted you to using your real name only, but allowed you to just display your first name, and now finally it is only allowing you to use your full name which must be publicly displayed. Signing up to Google+ changes your Profile across almost all Google products that you may use, so for example my Picasaweb albums, linked to this blog, instantly started broadcasting my full name, and according to some reports this change will be extended soon to all Google products, including Blogger.

Yes, the simple retort is that nobody is forcing me to use these services, I can always stop using them or take my online business elsewhere, but I have too many years invested in some of these products and too much data stored with them to make such a migration easy. And that is what Google is counting on.

So the next few hours after signing up to Google+ were spent trying to figure out how to remove my real name from everywhere it was now appearing. Google helpfully suggests that if you have privacy concerns over this new policy, you can set up a new Google account with a new first and last name, and migrate all the services that you don't want associated with your real name to that new account. The other way, which I opted for, is to change the name on your Profile, which affects all Google products including Gmail, and then (assuming you still want your gmail to be sent from your real name) under 'Accounts and Import' in your Gmail settings you can edit the 'Send Mail As' settings to make your real name as the default setting. So now, hopefully, all my Google products except Gmail list Unkie Dave as their happy owner, and my clients are firewalled from my online wrath and ire.

This is where I feel at my most Jurassic, the fact that I still use a pseudonym while blogging, and would like to continue to do so, thank you very much. I came of age on the internets back in the early 1990s, and the concept of online anonymity is something that runs deep in my veins. I don't like the idea of my every thought and rant being instantly available to my clients, future employers, officers of the law and other ne'er-do-wells. I have many friends who are teachers and academics and feel the same about their students having too much access to their online lives.

But it seems that as each new wave of 'openness' and 'transparency' is forced upon us, the cries of the outraged grow quieter and quieter, and I am left with the inevitable conclusion that the majority of web-users simply don't care about online privacy. For those who only encountered the internets in the age of Web 2.0 (ie anyone under the age of 20 or over the age of 50) it would seem that there is no distinction between their online and offline lives, they have always used a public internet where the new badge of honour is how much of your life you can broadcast to complete strangers.

Since hierarchical society first emerged governments have tried to gather as much information about the citizenry as possible, telling us that those with nothing to hide have nothing to fear, and these attempts have been fought tooth and nail by individuals and civil liberties groups of all colours and creeds. And yet in the space of ten years Western society has been reshaped by the online technologies and services that we use to the extent that we collectively post and upload more information about our private lives and thoughts than even the most oppressive police state of the last millennium could only dream about capturing.

The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world to add him as their Friend.


And on that note, I have a few invites for Google+ if anybody wants one. The service only works for folks with an @gmail.com or @googlemail.com email address at the moment, and a low prioritization of personal privacy. Give me a shout if that sounds like you.



At 3:44 pm, Blogger tjbaldwin said...

If you still have invite I would really like to try it out. hereliestj @ gmail .com. Thanks in advance.


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