Much of Google+’s appeal, upon its rollout several weeks ago, was that it would be a social media site that was free of the privacy issues that have sometimes plagued Facebook. Users weren’t going to have to worry about their data winding up in the hands of some unscrupulous marketer. Google (whose one-time corporate motto was “Don’t Be Evil”) would be the good shepherds of our data.
Well, that didn’t last long.
Rumblings among the technorati started soon after Google let it be known that it was not yet supporting business profiles. Companies that had already created profiles had them shut down—except that some didn’t…Google’s enforcement was rather selective, rousing a hue and cry of favoritism from tech bloggers. (Which seems to have had the desired effect—Google appears to have shut down all business profiles while also speeding up the rollout of fully-supported business pages sometime this fall.)
But the big issue has become, yes, you guessed it, a privacy issue. Google’s insistence on users signing up with their real names has led to a rash of complaints about being banned from not only Google+ but in some cases from all of Google’s account-based services.
While this is certainly Google’s prerogative, its enforcement has been questionable. Several people have been banned simply because they have unusual names. Noted tech engineer (and Wired cover girl) Limor Fried was one such victim. Kirrily “Skud” Robert (ironically a former Google employee) has also seen her account suspended. Nerdcore rapper Doctor Popular suffered a similar fate for using his nom-de-stage instead of his birth name, Brian Roberts.
The biggest horror story has been that of one Dylan M. (@ThomasMonopoly on Twitter). In a long open letter to Google, Dylan recounts getting locked out of his Google accounts (including 7 years of e-mails and photographs) without having violated any terms of service. He was given no warning, and his appeals and attempts to resolve the situation seemed to fall on deaf ears. That’s when he turned to Twitter.
His story was picked up by tech bloggers everywhere (after all, without Google+, what else would we have been able to write about over the last month?). Probably because of the uproar, things eventually got resolved for Dylan after Google’s VP of Social Vic Gundotra got personally involved—the problem was an automated bot had erroneously flagged one of Dylan’s photos as child pornography.
While Gundotra has said the real name issue is primarily about setting a positive tone for Google+, as reported here on Search Engine Watch, others have taken a more cynical view, such as this blogger. Gundotra, responding directly to Dylan’s situation, has also said that a more user-friendly process involving warnings and solutions will be instituted whenever account suspension arises.
All in all, the issues arising around Google+ raise interesting questions about privacy in the era of social media and cloud computing. What do you think, readers, is the requirement for real names a privacy issue? And who really has ownership of your data, you, or the sites that host it?