my journal
September 2016

Date: 2011-07-24 20:32
Security: Public
Tags:google+, names, pseudonymity, rants
Subject: Google+

I have a few posts that I need to make. But I'll start by talking about Google+.

Let me first just state for the record that I do not use Google+ nor am I ever likely to do so. I do not have a profile and I'm not going to sign up for it to look around.

With that said, I've been hearing a lot about it lately. People are calling it Google's answer to Facebook, although to be honest I'm not entirely sure why it exists. It's only going to fragment the social networking scene more and make each of them less useful than they'd otherwise be. And I see no reason to believe that Google are going to treat your data with any more respect than Facebook do. On the contrary, in fact - Facebook doesn't know what you search for, what you click on in search result pages, or what your email inbox contains. Google very possibly knows all three, among other things, and with the addition of social networking, where they know who your friends are, it becomes quite clear that the massive amount of data they hold about you is, quite frankly, terrifying.

Let me clarify that, because on the surface it sounds like knowing who your friends are isn't such a big thing. The thing is, you can get a *lot* of information about a person not from them themselves, but by the information their friends give about themselves. Interests, hobbies, sites you're interested in, the social circles/cliques you're in... even if you give no information about any of these on your profile page, there's a good chance that your friends will, and when aggregated, this information can actually pretty effectively show not only what you're interested in (for example), but *how* interested you are in it, simply by seeing how many times it crops up.

Obviously, it's not foolproof. A friend of mine, who reads this journal, finds that automated services which find out information using this sort of method always tends to think he's interested in Doctor Who - which he isn't, but a lot of his friends are. That said, it's still a pretty darn good way of finding out this information; the same person, when shown results from tools that I made (which also had Doctor Who as one of its items listed) said that the rest of the results were very accurate.

Okay, enough about blog sociology for now. Let's talk about Google+'s display names policy. The Google+ User Content and Conduct Policy has this to say on the subject:

13. Display Name

To help fight spam and prevent fake profiles, use the name your friends, family or co-workers usually call you. For example, if your full legal name is Charles Jones Jr. but you normally use Chuck Jones or Junior Jones, either of those would be acceptable.
Great! So it sounds like Google is being inclusive and letting people use the names they're generally known by, right?

Wrong. There have been a lot of cases where people are getting their profiles suspended from Google+ because "After reviewing your profile, we determined that the name you provided violates our Community Standards." This even though the name they provided is in fact the name that their friends, family and co-workers usually call them, just because the name doesn't look like a 'real name'. This also happened to a friend of mine, Skud, and she's written a blog post detailing all this, along with screenshots. (People may be amused to note that she's even a former Google employee.)

So if you use your real name, you should be safe, right? After all, how can they say that it isn't your real name?

Turns out they can. Ka-Ping (or just Ping) has had his account suspended, even though that is his real first name. So has So had Limor 'Ladyada' Fried, although the account is back now. So did CHAN, Tai Man. [edited: Actually, reading that thread, I think they would fall into the category above rather than this one, as it sounds like they were using the name they were commonly known by and not their Pinyin name. But still.] In fact, from what I hear, a lot of people are having their accounts suspended. Remember, Google's policy is to use the name you're best known by.

And, of course, there's the fact that many people deliberately don't use their real names on the Internet. I've talked about this particular issue before, and it can be for many different reasons, safety being one of them (and one of the most important, in my view). You all know my views on that, so I won't go into it any more. (If you don't know my views, check out the linked post.)

In short, Google+ is a mess, it'll fragment the social networking scene, it gives Google a huge amount of information about yourself, and Google aren't implementing their policies as stated on a hugely important matter.

And that's why I'm never going to be using it.

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Date: 2011-06-12 01:21
Security: Public
Tags:big posts, link, pseudonymity
Subject: Being truly pseudonymous

So, I read a post in [personal profile] synecdochic's journal just now discussing the geolocation feature that LJ had added to its IP logging feature to tell you where commenters were from (the feature is now removed), and it got me thinking that too many people don't really know how to truly be anonymous on the Internet. Tor, which is mentioned in the post, is good, but it's not nearly good enough if you just use it and do nothing else to protect yourself.

So what do you need to do to be truly anonymous on the Internet?

It is possible, but the answer to *that* question would sound very far-fetched to most people here. That's because most people don't really understand the concept of what anonymity actually is. As I ranted about in my post about 'real' names, anonymity means to not have a name. The trouble is, if you have an account on DW or LJ (which you probably do if you're reading this), then you do have a name - your username - and thus you are not anonymous. At the very best, you're pseudonymous - writing under an assumed name.

So for this post I'm actually going to cover an angle which is probably more relevant to people here, and that's how to make absolutely sure that nobody can connect your pseudonym to any of your other identities (which is what most people think anonymity is anyway). Most of these points are prerequisites to being truly anonymous anyway, and a lot of people will find even the list in this post to be over-the-top. That said, I'll cover being truly anonymous (or at least as anonymous as you can get) in another post at some point.

How to successfully maintain a completely separate pseudonym )

So, yeah, being truly pseudonymous is tough - tougher than being truly anonymous. In another post I'll talk about that. In the meantime, though, I'm kind of tired and need to rest. :D

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