The Danger in Google’s New Privacy Policy

Google announced a new privacy policy and terms of service today. Buried within, was this innocent sounding, but insidious language:

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.

According to Google’s privacy policy, they can display your photo to anyone who has information that identifies you. Does this mean Google can start displaying your name and photo along with your phone number as an enhanced version of Caller ID to everyone you call?

The point is: an e-mail address or phone number act as a pseudonym in cases where we don’t want to fully expose all our details. Google’s new privacy policy makes maintaining that pseudonymity when its appropriate a lot more difficult.

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.

Boycott Google?

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?

DuckDuckGo has become a compelling alternative to Google Search and in a quick search on Google (ironically enough), I found several articles on alternatives to Google services. With the new privacy policy taking effect on March 1st, now may be just the time to break free from the increasing privacy invasion of Google.

What are your thoughts on Google’s new privacy policy? Do you maintain multiple online identities?



  1. jamesisaMonster says:

    I have multiple online identities because I have multiple facets as a living, breathing, thinking human being. I dress differently when I go to work than when I’m on stage playing with a band; I carry myself a certain way depending on the social role I am currently acting out.

    I teach adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorder to adapt to different social settings by allowing specific situational expectations to inform behavior. The need for variance in expectations across manifold social arrangements arises out of necessity; the very structure of society is threatened when you start treating your boss like your house cat.

    Google appears to be having a mid-life crisis (implying that Google does indeed have a finite lifespan). Google may appear too pervasive to fail, but let us not forget the now archetypal decline of Roman civilization.

    Paradoxically, Google can be portrayed as playing both sides of the fence. Google wants us to be able to tell fart jokes to our college friends without our grandmother overhearing, yet wants an individual to maintain a unified image that is intended for all purposes. Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t that frist piece what Circles are all about? Is that not Google’s purported trump to all other social networking sites? Yet Google is now threatening to “show them your publicly visible Google Profile”?

    Are we then forced to adopt the most innocuous and nondescript profile possible, only divulging details about ourselves in the ostensibly safe-for-now far reaches of the online identity venue? How soon will this slippery slope make even our private emails a matter of public record?

    One must ask, what is Google’s motivation behind this? Are they attempting to combat against cyber crime? Misleading identities? Online predators? Social accountability? Could an online predator not function in the exact same capacity with a single universal identity? If the aforementioned motivations are accurate, would Google not have to verify identities by some other means than those currently in place?

    “ERROR 1298 – The SSN you entered is already in use by another member of the Google machine”

  2. rffny1 says:


  3. Pawel says:

    Welcome to the New World Order! I used to greatly respect Google and as an IT specialist, I have always advised and recommended everyone to use Google products. But after seeing how the internet is changing to please the New World Order elite, and how those great websites are giving up on liberty and freedom of speech, the first step I will take is to cancel my GMAIL account followed by spreading your well-written article to everyone I know. This is the only way to stop those brainwashed control freaks from imposing their sick minded believes that we all should live under one world order. I knew that something similar would happen sooner or later as the internet is the only place for free speech.

  4. DHD says:

    Google can go and get fooked.

  5. Lissa says:

    I’ve already been hit hard by this. Either one of my old (very old) accounts was compromised or, thank you mobile non-security, my phone and due to this I have lost countless hours/$$/years not going grey. The id theft is all the worse because Google will not let you merge accounts. Anyone have a decent explanation for that one?

    I’m now stuck with the titan task of untangling my online identity – made all the more difficult by the fact that some of my accounts/sites etc are no longer accessible to me etc and apparently I’ve also been stuck with a nasty redirecting invisible program that no one will believe me on… till I show them all the click-thrus showing up in my cache/history (yup, even with “private” etc all set, hiding IP address, etc.)

    Google, get it together.

  6. Alice says:

    Google knows everything.

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