Have you read the article about the woman who decided to hide her pregnancy from “big data?” ThinkProgress has the most complete recap of her story and it’s well worth your time. Even if you don’t read it, I’d like you to take a moment and consider what it would take to keep a secret from the big data gatherers out there. Think about all the things you do, every day, that provide information to trackers on the web, or your phone, or through your financial institutions.
As you can probably tell, her story made me think about what it would take to de-Google my life.
I’ve had an ongoing love-hate relationship with Google for many years now. They’ve shut down or neglected services I depended on, but the biggest complaint I’ve had is the way in which I was treated on Google+ and Google’s statements on their names policy. Eric Schmidt claimed that Google+ required real names because people behaved better when they were forced to present their true identity. Cory Doctorow tore that argument to bits with this piece in The Guardian, as did Judith Donath in Wired. However, the most damning indictment of Schmidt’s claims came from Google+’s chief architect, Yonatan Zunger. Zunger, speaking about the updated names policy, announced:
“Our name check is therefore looking, not for things that don’t look like ‘your’ name, but for things which don’t look like names, period. In fact, we do not give a damn whether the name posted is ‘your’ name or not…“
(emphasis very much mine)
This isn’t a small break from Schmidt’s claim; this is a policy which is the polar opposite of what Schmidt said about Google+. If the intent is to encourage good behavior by requiring people to show their ID at the door, then telling people to use any name they want so long as it looks plausible completely undermines that rationale. It’s even worse than allowing ridiculous, obviously fake names as it doesn’t give the reader any indication that a person may be someone other than who they are claiming to be. Zunger’s admission was that Google+ was strictly a marketing play and the insistence that the names policy was about the community was a fib.
Long story short, it’s now a trust issue.
So, it’s time to separate myself from Google and Google+. That’s not quite as easy as it sounds….