Google Plus, Privacy Minus

I started using Google Plus a few weeks ago.   I really liked it, and started following some of the hordes of other librarians already on it right away.  I was excited by its collaborative possibilities, and ready for an alternative to Facebook.    Probably one of the best things about Google Plus (for now, anyway) is the total lack of any commercial entities.

Recently some things have happened which make me question my decision.

G+ accounts suspended without good reason
Recently I’ve started seeing stories like this one about how Google Plus is deleting accounts “en masse” without disclosing specific reasons for doing so.

Loss of all Google Services
This story in particular caught my attention.  It is an open letter from a student who was denied access to all of Google’s services, supposedly due to a violation in Terms of Service (this was never explained).  In the process, he lost lots of data and had his life disrupted.  Needless to say, he is now embittered against Google, and who can blame him?  Also, what’s to stop this from happening to someone else?  What would you do if this happened to you?

A  colleague of mine describes the security concerns inherent in using cloud services this way:  “If you keep your stuff at someone else’s house, don’t be surprised when they move.”  Or, in this case, when they change the locks.

Public vs. Private Accounts
I’ve also heard that accounts that aren’t set to Public will be automatically deleted on July 31st.  I disagree but, after all, it is their product.

Below is an excerpt from Google Plus help section (emphasis mine):

“The purpose of Google Profiles is to enable you to manage your online identity. Today, nearly all Google Profiles are public. We believe that using Google Profiles to help people find and connect with you online is how the product is best used. Private profiles don’t allow this, so we have decided to require all profiles to be public.

Keep in mind that your full name and gender are the only required information that will be displayed on your profile; you’ll be able to edit or remove any other information that you don’t want to share.

If you currently have a private profile but you do not wish to make your profile public, you can delete your profile. Or, you can simply do nothing. All private profiles will be deleted after July 31, 2011.”

Pseudonym Ban
Google+ is also banning pseudonyms.  This concerns me because I don’t feel comfortable using my full name on the Internet, and try to avoid it when possible. Others are concerned about disclosing their identity online, because they have been stalked or otherwise abused.  Why should their safety be compromised?
Here is an excerpt from Google’s policy:

“On Google products such as Blogger and Picasa, users can use three types of identities: pseudonymous ( activity tied to a made up name) , identified (activity tied to your real name), and unidentified (activity tied to neither).”

On Google Plus, however, users have only one option: identified.

Skud at infotropism has some excellent posts on this topic.  She even surveyed over 100 people who had their Google Plus accounts suspended for name-related reasons. Many of them had excellent reasons for not using their full names, including government employment, incidents with stalkers, backstabbing colleagues, online harassment, and many more.

Now what?
I really like Google + so far.  And I do use other Google features, such as Gmail, Google Reader, and Google Docs.

But I’m not so sure that I’m OK using the products of a company that…

A)…kicks people off of its service without any warning or way to access their information. Even YouTube will give you several warnings.

and

B)…hasn’t addressed valid concerns about user safety and privacy.

I totally get that G+ is a social network, designed to help people connect with others.  But…privacy and safety are not black and white.

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One thought on “Google Plus, Privacy Minus

  1. GREAT post! Lots to think about! I don’t really have time for yet another social network/online activity, but was giving Google+ a try. I’m concerned now that if I stay on Google+, I could get locked out of my really important stuff on Blogger. HMM, may be time to export my blogs to WordPress if only to have a backup site. Thanks for the heads up!

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