Some Problems with Google+ that Need Airing.

Cory Doctrow does a good job taking apart the Googleplex for what is, at its heart, a question of ownership on the internet. Who owns your identity? You? The Government? Google? I will quote him at length:

Google argues that people behave better when they use their real names. Google also states it is offering an identity service, not a social network, and therefore needs to know who you are and, thirdly, that no one is forcing you to use Google Plus.

However valid the first two points may be, they are eclipsed by the monumental intellectual dishonesty of that last one – no one’s holding a gun to your head, so shut up if you don’t like it.

Because when Google’s chairman, Eric Schmidt, told NPR’s Andy Carvin, “G+ is completely optional. No one is forcing you to use it”, he implied the only time a service should come under critical scrutiny is when it is mandatory.

He takes to task that the only time we have the right to complain about something is if we are forced to do it. Doctrow points out just how stupid that comment is – especially when you consider Google’s own dependence on people ranking things even if they are not “consuming” them.

So when Google trots out a market-centric model of identity standardization it is really disguising a set of highly problematic assumptions about who we should be which is neither its place to decide nor is it an unproblematic trade between equals.

Google suggests that our internet use is a series of fair trades: I’ll give you the management of my identity if you give me easy social experiences and easy logins across multiple services.

But for the trade to be fair, the user has to know what she’s giving up: has to appreciate the total cost, over time, of irrevocably – because parts of your G+ use are likely immortal in Google’s databases – surrendering to Google Real Name Theory of the Everything.

And therein lies the problem. Databases are useful, but they can also lie in their own ways. Who I am at 18 is not who I am at 35. But the immortal me in the Googleplex may suggest otherwise and that is troubling because I have no control over how that identity is then used. If I decide to withdraw my identity, what remains is a ghost in the machine that I cannot fully expunge. It is not mine. Maybe it never was, but I should be able to present myself how I want to. That means my “real” name, my “real” self is what I say it is, not what Google, or any one else, says it is. Are any of us the sum of our health cards, drivers licenses or credit records? No. So why should it be any other way with the Goog?

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