Don’t be Evil – Oops, too late

29 Aug

Or, Google doesn’t care if you think they’re creepy.

Close up on physical Google logo

Photo credit to halilgokdal

Google’s corporate policy is don’t be evil, but sometimes in their quest for power (um, I mean information, yeah, that’s it…), they sometimes lose sight of that.  Recently, Google’s come under a lot of fire for enforcing a real name policy on Google+.  (Basically, Google requires you to use your name that you go by in real life, not any sort of handle or screen name.  For more on the Google+ real policy and the debate behind it, read my earlier post “Publicness, Persistence, and the case against Real Name policies”.)

Hello my name is Bob happy trees

Photo credit to sashafatcat

In their enforcement of the real name policy, they’ve made a lot of mistakes: not accepting people’s actual real names because they didn’t fit into a common western name paradigm, disabling users’ accounts for violating the policy, not being flexible in borderline cases …  But, generally, they’ve acted pretty conciliatory about their actions.  The party line was: this is for users’ benefit, people want to be in an environment where they know who their talking to, etc.

Disembodied Eyeballs on White Cotton

Photo credit to CraftyGoat

Of course, everyone knew that was crap.  Google’s in the business of monetizing eyeballs.  And, the more of a complete profile of you and your eyesballs they can build, the higher a price they can charge for ads that they’ll put in front of those eyeballs.  But, Google wouldn’t admit to that.

Someone needs to go to remedial PR lessons

Then this happened:  Andy Carvin (from NPR) interviewed Google Chairman Erich Schmidt about the real name policy:

I’m at the Edinburgh Intl TV Festival and just got to ask a question to Google CEO Eric Schmidt regarding real names on G+. I asked him how Google justifies the policy given that real identities could put people at risk.

He replied by saying that G+ was build primarily as an identity service, so fundamentally, it depends on people using their real names if they’re going to build future products that leverage that information.

Regarding people who are concerned about their safety, he said G+ is completely optional. No one is forcing you to use it. It’s obvious for people at risk if they use their real names, they shouldn’t use G+. Regarding countries like Iran and Syria, people there have no expectation of privacy anyway due to their government’s own policies, which implies (to me, at least) that Schmidt thinks there’s no point of even trying to have a service that allows pseudonyms. Unfortunately, the way the Q&A was conducted, I wasn’t in a position to ask him a followup on this particular point.

He also said the internet would be better if we knew you were a real person rather than a dog or a fake person. Some people are just evil and we should be able to ID them and rank them downward.

These aren’t exact quotes, but I did my best to paraphrase the gist of what he was saying.

(With a sense of irony so bitter you can almost taste it, Mr. Carvin posted that to his G+.)

Who needs those pesky rights anyway?

The Matrix

Clearly this post required a picture from The Matrix. I'm not even going to apologize for the uber-dorkyness of it.

Mr. Schmidt’s perspective worries me on so many levels.  The big issue (for me, anyway) is the concept of G+ as an identity service – it’s not a way for you to manage your identity; it’s a way for Google to track your identity.  You use G+ to connect with friends, G-mail to send e-mails, Google Docs to do your work, Google Maps to find where you’re going, etc.  Soon you’re logged into Google all the time and they know everything about you.

TSA Agent putting on GlovesI’m pretty sure that most of us wouldn’t tolerate this from the government, so why do we take it from Google?  Sure, we have a choice to participate in any Google service, but we have a choice in a lot of things – we have a choice to fly.  Can you imagine if the TSA announced that if you wanted to fly, you had to use TSA monitored social networking, a TSA monitored e-mail address, TSA docs, and allow the TSA to track your movements?  There’d be outrage.  I don’t even want to picture the talking heads on Fox News.  But, you’d probably get the left and the right to agree on something… And that doesn’t happen too often.

The other part of Mr. Schmidt’s remarks that troubles me is the part about some people being evil and needing to be ranked downward.  When did it become the role of a private company to decide who was “evil” and what their punishment should be?  Sure, Google has an appeal process when they down rank you for “evil” behavior, but ultimately, its Google’s decision.  At Google’s sole discretion, you’re internet identity can almost entirely be wiped out.

erased by orangejack

erased written in chalk

All of this has me picturing some sort of dark anti-utopian movie in which the hero’s identity is wiped out because he stumbles onto a secret that “The Company” doesn’t want him to know.  Since “The Company” controls everything, he’s on the run, being picked up by trackers everywhere.  It would be a cross between The Matrix, Serenity, and Minority Report.  Oh, and obviously this would also need to involve lasers, just ’cause.

Questions of the day: What do you think, has Google gone too far?  Am I reading too much into Mr. Schmidt’s remarks?  Or, is this a real problem?  Would you be okay with TSA sponsored e-mail?


MaggieCakes is a blog about social media, marketing, culture, and what’s new on the internet written by me, Maggie O’Toole.  Every day (okay, I try for every day) I comb blogs and news outlets for the news about internet culture and social media to bring them to you (with my commentary, of course) here on MaggieCakes. Find anything interesting in the worlds of culture or social media that you’d like to see a post on? Leave a comment or send me an e-mail at 2maggieotoole@gmail.com.

2 Responses to “Don’t be Evil – Oops, too late”

  1. Morgan Mussell August 30, 2011 at 12:02 am #

    This post reminds me a lot of this Sat Night Live take on the TSA:

  2. georgettesullins August 30, 2011 at 5:56 am #

    I use my real name for my blog. So far I haven’t encountered any hindrance to doing otherwise. It heartens me to see your name on your site.
    Good points here. And thank you for ruminating among us. Continue to learn and consider a lot.

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