Is Google Plus Cool or Scary? Or Both?


Google Outside: Snowcapped

Today I stumbled over this video about why Google+ is so wonderful we should all jump in the pool, after all the water is fine, and we are probably all wet already anyway.

What is Google+ (Google Plus) and do I need it?

The part that concerned me the most was the end, where they point out that most of us already have Google accounts and use a number of Google services already. I love Google, I depend on them, and a number of other cloud-based services. But that ending reminds me more than anything of, “Resistance is futile. You will be assimilated.” Uh. Um. That makes me really … uncomfortable.

At the same time, the integration of Google+ with the other Google services is one of my favorite things about using it. I can manage my site activity for Google+ without actually having to open a separate web page or actually go to the site. I love Google+, I love using it, I love having it be an intimate part of my daily life. And the integration with other Google services? It’s very convenient.

On the other hand, I am coming back to this famous Jefferson quotation about convenience.

“I would rather be exposed to the inconveniences attending too much liberty than to those attending too small a degree of it.” Thomas Jefferson, to Archibald Stewart (23 December 1791)

A couple days ago I stumbled over this other piece about Google.

Google Deletes Last 7 Years Of User’s Digital Life, Shrugs
http://consumerist.com/2011/07/google-deletes-last-7-years-of-users-digital-life-shrugs.html

This is about the deletion of all Google accounts of @thomasmonopoly (see this). The piece ends with the very important and apt statement:

“Dylan isn’t the only one this has happened to. We hear often from readers locked out of their Gmail accounts for no clear reason, and it happened to one of my friends while she was job hunting. The account is still shut down, more than a year later. As more and more of our lives migrate to various clouds, remember: that can all be taken from you in a few errant keystrokes or a glitch. Make your own backups when you can.”

One of my favorite things about Google+ is that Google just started allowing people to easily and seamlessly export their data. EXPORT!!! As in I can back everything up on my own disks, my own drives! This is IMPORTANT! Wow.

Google Takeout: http://www.google.com/takeout

Google Operating System (blog): Google Takeout: http://googlesystem.blogspot.com/2011/06/google-takeout.html

I truly wish that all social media services offered transparent ways for people to back up all of their own data. Until they do, I try to either backup it up as I enter the data, enter the data into multiple similar services at the same time, or minimize use of the service. On the other hand, when a service really does its job well, and makes things very simple, effective, and (sigh) convenient … I tend to use them irregardless of the risks. I suspect many of us do so.

A week or so earlier, this piece appeared somewhere in my many streams of information.

The Google takeover started today in Google Places despite focus on Google Plus: http://www.techi.com/2011/07/google-places-reviews/

Again, it is the ending that is most relevant to this thread of thought.

“Google wants us to do more than search on Google. … They want sheep. They want to tag us and herd us in a direction. Again, this sounds like some evil plan. It very well may be, but it’s unlikely that they have evil in their hearts while doing these things. The end result may bring us all together in a unified online world where we share and gain information pertinent to us and our current situations in real-time and with accurate results.”

I don’t see how we can have one without the other. This is like a teetertotter. If we want the power and affordances that come with openness and transparency, then we agree to give up a certain amount of privacy. When it gets scary is when someone else can delete “us” (our content) without our consent. That is the reverse of transparency, isn’t it? Now what if someone discovers how to “delete” the world, so to speak? Do we really want that information being transparent? How do we manage people who don’t play well with others, or who are psychologically imbalanced? If we assume everyone is smart and sane and well intentioned, then things work, sort of (albeit probably a bit of a bumpy ride).

Teetertotter

A tricky part of all this is the public versus private / corporate versus government aspects. Who controls the content? Who controls the identity? Who has access? Who says when access goes away? If accounts weren’t disappearing, I’d be less worried. My son doesn’t do much with Google, but instead has his emotional life all in a basket from a different provider (think “games” and “role-play”). This provider has pulled the plug on my son’s accounts multiple times. He has never really understood why. The service doesn’t respond to my inquiries as a parent on behalf of my child. It’s all rather murky and muddy.

The person I know who has done the clearest and cleanest thinking on issues of transparency is David Brin. His book, The Transparent Society, remains one of my all time favorites.

“Our society has one great knack above all others — one that no other ever managed — that of holding the mighty accountable. Although elites of all kinds still have many advantages over commonfolk, never before have citizens been so empowered. And history shows that this didn’t happen by blinding the mighty — a futile endeavor that has never worked. It happened by insisting that everybody get to see. By citizens demanding the power to know.”
David Brin: The Transparent Society: http://www.davidbrin.com/transparent.htm

Frankly, the problem with account deletion sounds rather the same whether it is Google, or Twitter, or Facebook, or Flickr, or some children’s gaming network. I’ve been told this happens in order to protect the rest of us from evil trolls and griefers and spammers (oh my). It is as if the old Quaker idea of community shunning has been transferred into global online spaces, with the decisions being made not by a caring community, but by algorithms and corporations. The idea that this is to protect us from (inconvenient spammers) is probably true to a certain extent, but I don’t hear the complaints from spammers. I hear complaints and full fledged grief from real people, some of whom are people I know and have known for a while.

My Google+ Profile has been suspended because I'm using my Second Life avatar identity

I’ve known Opensource for years in Second Life. He’s come on a few of my tours. He’s a very ethical and responsible individual. He’s quite intelligent and shares valuable and insightful thoughts on a regular basis. I don’t know him by his real name, and I don’t care what his real name is. If he was on Google+ as his real name, I wouldn’t have a clue that it was him. He raises the issue in his Twitter stream that it is inappropriate to force children or legal minors to use their real life names in online environments. Very true. I discourage my child from using his real name, and I don’t share his aliases with friends or family. Another view on the real name requirement came from a healthcare provider I know who manages a support group for battered wives who are in shelters hiding from their abusers. These women’s lives are literally in danger, and they have absolutely no business using their real names. A requirement to do so either excludes them from access to needed emotional support and resources, or places them at risk.

Back to Opensource. He tried to explain things to Google, to get his account opened back up. Did it work? Nope!

My Google+ Profile is still suspended: now Google says "it represents a business"

As you can see, there are a lot of issues. None of this is clear or straightforward. Least of all, who is in charge here, how they got to be the one in charge, and what they are planning. How do we get US to be the ones “in charge”?

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2 responses to “Is Google Plus Cool or Scary? Or Both?

  1. Melissa (DrSnit)

    Wow. I have often shied away from “the inconvenience” of more difficult systems and been a sheep and *gasp* an end user. great post.

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