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Thoughts on Google+: I fucked up. So has Google (medium.com)
43 points by chuhnk on Nov 29, 2014 | hide | past | web | favorite | 15 comments



This article fills me with horror. I completely disagree with the ideas about privacy. I don't want companies to track me. I don't want a single digital identity. I don't want a future where online tracking is an unquestioned norm.

We need to be more critical of companies that track us. We should be scrutinising their practices more closely, and yet the author asks us to drop our objections and consider the benefits of tracking. These companies aren't open about their data collection practices, so why should we be more open or trustworthy towards them? The information they collect about us gives them far, far more than just an advertising profile about our likes and interests, but they're not going to mention that are they?

Let's consider Google for example. If you have a Google account, Google has your name, date-of-birth, gender, and (possibly) mobile phone number. Couple that with the searches and sites you visit and that is some very personal and private information about you.

Yet, in their privacy policy [1], Google fails to mention:

- whether the data they collect about you is anonymised (and what they anonymise)

- how long they keep your data for

- whether the data they collect about you is disasscociated from your identity. This is important when you consider how personal and revealing your online activity can be when it's tied to your identity.

- who sees your data at Google. GMail automates scanning of your emails. Does this hold true for all the other data they hold about you? After all, your activity across the web is arguably just as personal and private.

Why does Google not provide this information in their privacy policy? Why are people ok with this? I challenge anyone to explain why, if you were collecting personal information from your users, you would purposely omit the information above from your privacy policy.

Google seems to view privacy in one dimension only: security. Yes, you can't have privacy without security, but security does not equal privacy.

Let's not forget that Google can track you across smartphones, tablets, and laptops. Their tracking reach now even extends to school kids with the introduction of Google Classroom. They are collecting an absolutely gargantuan volume of data.

WAKE UP! shouts Chris Messina in his article. Yes, let's wake up and stop giving these companies a free pass when it comes to matters of privacy and data collection.

[1] https://www.google.co.uk/intl/en/policies/privacy/


> Why does Google not provide this information in their privacy policy?

Most likely because they prefer the policy to stay at a length that it's feasible to read. Unlike the questions which are answered there, which put upper limits on things, the questions you've listed are ones that would require significantly more detailed answers to have any value, since the answer will often vary across products and circumstances, and there are a lot of Google products (not to mention even more circumstances).


"Most likely because they prefer the policy to stay at a length that it's feasible to read"

I don't see how telling users how long you retain their data (to take one example) is going to lengthen a privacy policy very much. But even if it does, it's poor practice to omit important privacy information just to keep a privacy policy a certain length. One could argue that the sheer length of a privacy policy is an indication of just how much data a company collects. (The less data they collect, the less they have to say in their privacy policy.)


Hmm, you clearly didn't catch my drift, which I'll accept blame for — my piece rambles on a bit uncontrollably.

My point was to rethink privacy from the perspective of what we as individuals stand to gain by gathering this data. I then asked: who would you trust to gather and store this information, on your behalf? For most people, they wouldn't be able to answer that question — for others, especially technologically privileged individuals / open source libertarians — the answer would be "myself".

Aside from logging in with your username and password, you have few if any opportunities when using apps today to stream your data exhaust into a data vault of your choosing. Rare is the app maker that allows you to export a dump of your data, rarer still is one that openly shares the data it has about you with you.

Curiously, Facebook actually a lot of functionality in this regard through its App Settings page (https://www.facebook.com/settings?tab=applications). Google Takeout (https://www.google.com/settings/takeout) provides a lot of your data for export, but no one seems to have really built any tools for the individual to take advantage of this trove of information for personal benefit.

What I hear you arguing for is the end of user tracking. Indeed, there are plenty of tools that you can outfit yourself with to that end (Tor, Ghostery, Adblock, Do-not-track, Incognito Mode, and many more). But ultimately you as representative of a class of internet consumer are an outlier. There are for more people on the internet and in the world who unknowingly consent to data collection and then have little upside in the collection of that data. It is those people that Google cares the most about as customers (perhaps in addition to advertisers), and those who are most in the dark about "the privacy boogey man" about which you know plenty, but about which they know nothing but confusion and fear.

My question is how we enfranchise those individuals with the choice — either to not be tracked, be tracked by a party of their choosing, or to somehow do it for themselves so that they reap some of the gains of the data capital they are producing.


Thanks for responding.

I can see the value of interrogating your personal analytics. I guess how valuable that is depends on how much activity and content you have invested in these online services. And of course, some companies, as you say, would love for their online services to be your principal digital identity. (Which raises another question: do people want a single digital identity? Or do they prefer multiple, unconnected identities? Or even a single identity that isn't joined up with everthing they do online?)

"My question is how we enfranchise those individuals with the choice..."

A good question and I agree. For me, it's also about giving users the information to understand the implications of making that choice. This is particularly important (in my view) when your personal data is involved. That's one reason why I'm critical of Google. Privacy is important to me and they omit basic and (in my view) essential information about privacy in their privacy policy. This makes the privacy implications of using their services unclear. (And, yes, I realise this all comes down to levels of trust, the interpretation of privacy, the value of the service provided, and how much importance someone ascribes to privacy in the first place.)


Chris's point seems basically undisputable: tons of engineering talent but not enough vision to gain escape velocity from the massive gravitational pull of Google's wide-ranging needs across all its products.

Remember before you could be signed in with multiple accounts across all google services? Those were the (sucky) days.

I wish G+ were either exclusively focused on utilities (personalized search across services, unified privacy permissions, etc) OR useful/fun social features that could be developed outside the borg's massive scale expectations. Trying to do both seems impossible.


One of the things that is at least implicit in Chris' post is that software isn't what it used to be. The idea that "identity is the platform" can either be terrifying or empowering (maybe even both), but it is an idea that most people do not understand at all.

Today in order to get most software to work at all you need to agree to an impenetrable Terms of Service agreement and/or bargain away information and data that it is nearly impossible to understand the consequences of at the outset.

We do these things "freely", on the one hand, but we are more often than not very naive when we strike what have become almost daily Faustian bargains.

What's wrong with this picture is not simply that Google (or any other company) is unreliable or conflicted in their duties to be clear, transparent or good willed in their policies. The truth is, eve if they were, most of us aren't paying attention.

More and more, because of the growth and ubiquity of the always-on Internet and the pervasiveness of computing (and sensing), we live in a world in which the environment is made up of software.

The paradox of also living within legal regimes that are mostly still quite naive about the realities of ubiquitous connectivity and pervasive computation is that we are constantly being forced to enter into contracts, and make covenants and agreements that are literally impossible to understand.

Again, the bizarro world this has created is one in which software doesn't work unless you enter into a contract that there is every likelihood you will not even notice, let alone comprehend.

What to do?

There's not an easy answer to that question. We need to ask more questions for a start. We need to think about and create alternatives. We need to figure out how to protect ourselves and others from abuses of power. We need to acknowledge that software has become political, whether we like it or not.


Articulate and thought provoking. #SDH


Honestly, the only interaction with G+ I've had lately is wondering why the HECK it's ruining google cal.

"Why are events showing up on google cal that I've never heard of?" Turns out anyone who's in your circles on G+ can invite you to events and they who up on your google cal by default.

I was asked to upgrade google cal yesterday. I did, and all of a sudden there was a new calendar with TONS of birthdays spammed everyplace. Turns out now the birthdays on every person in your circles on G+ now show up in a calendar on G cal. You can't seem to delete it either only turn it off.


By its very definition, "Google Plus" is all about Google first, and whatever else after. The truth is that Google+ is essentially community support and interests for Google products and services.

When you live Google as Googlers do, it seems like a real social network. But outside that tiny box it's just a slightly over-designed forum.


Or a massively over-designed BBS ;-)


This guy curses too much in his post. Lame.


And thus my points aren't worth considering? Lame. :P


Yeah feel free to clean up your language. It comes off as unprofessional.


People on iOS don't use G+ much and this is the evidence :D

~60+ % of wolrds traffic still goes through PC




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