We may use the name you provide for your Google Profile across all of the services we offer that require a Google Account. In addition, we may replace past names associated with your Google Account so that you are represented consistently across all our services. If other users already have your email, or other information that identifies you, we may show them your publicly visible Google Profile information, such as your name and photo. [emphasis added]
Essentially, as of March 1st, Google can change your identity and expose your details to others without asking you. And there’s nothing you can do about it.
No opt-out. No recourse other than to stop using Google services entirely.
Google has made clear they would prefer everyone use a single online identity, which they control. Two years ago, Eric Schmidt, Google’s CEO at the time, during a panel at Techonomy stated:
“The only way to manage this is true transparency and no anonymity,” Schmidt said. “In a world of asynchronous threats, it is too dangerous for there not to be some way to identify you. We need a [verified] name service for people. Governments will demand it.”
Governments demanding everyone have a single, verified online identity has dangerous consequences. Google voluntarily forcing people into a single, verified online identity before governments demand it is just plain evil.
A Multitude of Dangers
Centralized online identities can be fraught with perils.
Recently rumors tell of the problems of using the same Apple ID across all your devices. A husband gives his wife an iPhone and his kids an iPad, both tied to the same identity. One day he decides to send his wife sexy texts, forgetting that it gets sent to all devices tied to that identity. Suddenly their kids are reading about the sex life of their parents.
Compared to the problems Google’s new policy could create, this is mild.
Imagine your photo appearing to the customer support representative you e-mail for tech support. Racism, sexism and other assumptions based on your appearance can quickly color their response to you. So much for the pseudonymity of a generic e-mail address.
Ever tried online dating? Do you want to show your full name and photo to every single person you contact? What about selling online through eBay or Craigslist? Sometimes all you want to give out is your e-mail, not your full name and photo.
Google Doesn’t Get Pseudonyms
Google has consistently shown a complete disregard for the value of multiple identities. On Monday, in an anemic capitulation to those, like myself, who have been boycotting Google+ due to their Real Names Policy, Google finally allowed pseudonyms. But only if they have a “meaningful following” online or can otherwise verify the identity through newspaper articles or official documentation.
That’s pretty weak. And useless for people who decide to adopt a new stage name, participate in a new community pseudonymously or protect their privacy online through a separate identity. It relegates Google+ to a second-tier network. Only register on Google+ after you’ve already created and developed an online presence elsewhere.
The real reason Google hasn’t had as much pushback about their Real Names Policy, is that no one cares about Google+. Tech friends of mine who were big proponents of Google+, but used pseudonyms online, wrote it off last summer. And word got around that if you had even a smidgen of an odd name that you used within your community, you might as well not even bother.
Google Profits From A Single Identity
Google can claim a single identity helps improve the user experience. But what it really does is help Google increase profits.
Moving to a single identity, Google can show me ads related to my work while I’m relaxing at home watching YouTube videos. Personally, I don’t want ads targeting my professional identity when I’m trying to relax at home in my personal space–that’s an invasion of my personal time. I want to relax and not think about work. I suspect you do too. Yet soon, Google won’t let us.
If Google truly wanted to improve the user experience, they would make multiple account sign-on work across all their services, so it would be easier to maintain separate work and personal identities. Google would allow pseudonyms so we can express different sides of ourselves to different communities. They would understand that supporting the expression of ourselves in different contexts through multiple identities, enhances, rather than detracts, from the user experience.
In the nym wars about the Google+ Real Names policy, I found it easy to boycott Google+. All my personal friends were on Facebook and no one wanted to migrate to Google+ since many were performers who used their stage names on Facebook. All my professional friends were on LinkedIn or Twitter. And celebrities I wanted to follow usually cross-posted to another service.
But as Google expands its war against pseudonyms, multiple identities and privacy, I have to ask myself, is it time to find another provider for my services and limit my usage of Google?