I don’t wish to do anything so stupid as to claim that Google’s behavior with regard to pseudonymous use of Google+, and the other services they’re folding into it, sinks to the level of, say, the Assad regime in Syria, Qadaffi in Libya, Saleh in Yemen, or the former Mubarak cabal in Egypt. Google, after all, are not sending armed troops out to find, arrest, torture and rape its opponents, nor are they shooting protesters.
If you will grant (for the length of this post, at least) that tyranny is as much a mindset as it is physical action, you may be able to see a parallel.
Google + is, at this writing, about six weeks old. So is the effort to persuade them to (at first) clarify their carefully ambiguous policy on pseudonymous use, and consequently to change or abandon it. The articles, blog posts, and posts on G+ itself have come from every corner of the Web. Far from being an “edge case” (if you’ll excuse my use of that phrase), we Avatarians have been joined by the voices of all those who protect their private lives by signing their public speech with a persistent but (one hopes) untraceable pen-name. The list of “mainstream” publications who have editorialized on the subject, as exemplified in my browser history, is impressive. People and organizations whose opinions in the marketplace might have influenced Google in other times have come out four-square against the real-names-only policy. There has been a series of symbolic — and sometimes colorful — protests.
To no avail: Google Plus Tells Pseudonym Lovers to Shove It, from ReadWriteWeb.
That artice links to this post on G+ by Saurabh Sharma, a Google+ product manager.
Bottom line, easy to read between the others: Google does not care. They have set their policy, no matter how poorly worded, and they will not be moved. In fact (as Tateru Nino clarifies here), they made it even more draconian by replacing the previous, though arbitrarily and capriciously enforced, appeal process with a fiat: you have four days to change your account name to comply, or Google summarily removes your services, full stop. No appeal.
In response to last week’s riots in urban England, Prime Minister David Cameron put forth the notion that
the government will debate whether phone services could be disrupted during riots, if blackouts could be imposed on social networks, or whether websites would agree to remove photos or messages that could incite violence.
And in San Fransisco, this past Friday, the Bay Area Rapid Transit system disabled the wireless communication relay services in four of its stations, in response to a protest about a fatal shooting by BART security.
Linton Johnson, BART’s spokesman, told the local KTVU television channel that BART “didn’t try to shut down the protest. They simply turned off the cell service so it couldn’t become viral.
“It really is just a cost-benefit analysis of where your freedom of speech begins to threaten the public safety.”
A U.S. District Court judge has ruled that any cooperation — if it exists — between Google and the National Security Agency cannot be independently verified through the Freedom of Information Act… and Google will also neither confirm nor deny that they have already turned over data from their European installations to US intelligence agencies, as reported here:
At the center of this problem is the USA PATRIOT ACT, which states that companies incorporated in the United States must hand over data administered by their foreign subsidiaries if requested.
Not only that, but they can be forced to keep quiet about it in order to avoid exposing active investigations and alert those targeted by the probes.
This situation poses a serious problem for companies like Microsoft, Google or Amazon, which offer cloud services around the world, because their subsidiaries must also respect local laws.
For example, European Union legislation requires companies to protect the personal information of EU citizens and this is clearly not something that Microsoft, Google, Amazon, or any of their EU customers can do.
Just by the way: Google’s real-name-only policy may also violate those same European laws.
And if all this weren’t bad enough, consider the insidiously named “Protecting Children from Internet Pornographers Act”, a.k.a. H.R. 1981, just voted out of committee and headed for floor debate.
In particular, the bill would require any commercial providers of Internet access to keep for at least 12 months a record of which users were assigned to particular network addresses at particular times.
Mandatory data retention would force your Internet Service Provider to create vast and expensive new databases of sensitive information about you. That information would then be available to the government, in secret and without any court oversight, based on weak and outdated electronic privacy laws.
That same data could become available to civil litigants in private lawsuits–whether it’s the RIAA trying to identify downloaders, a company trying to uncover and retaliate against an anonymous critic, or a divorce lawyer looking for dirty laundry. These databases would also be a new and valuable target for black hat hackers, be they criminals trying to steal identities or foreign governments trying to unmask anonymous dissidents.
A side-debate of sorts has sprung up on the best way to deal with Google+ and their ilk: whether to just walk away from it, or continue the verbal battle against it. Botgirl made a strong case for the latter:
Google’s policy wouldn’t matter much if it were from a typical start-up social network. We could just opt [out] and go on our merry way. But because of Google’s dominant and ubiquitous role in the virtual environment, being excluded from their services will diminish our voices in mainstream virtual discourse. Our blogs, websites, video and other creative output will be at a competitive disadvantage as search results are tailored to social circles. Whatever final policy Google enacts is likely to be influential on other companies and on public policy. So it’s time for Netizens to speak out and turn the tide.
My answer is to do both: protect your data and intellectual property by removing it from the hands of those who would use it in ways personally abhorrent to you and in violation of your rights (what few we have left…), and continue to protest. The issue is bigger than Google’s and Facebook’s account name policies; the issue is the control of information — and therefore, of people — by those whose power it threatens.
If the hints I’ve dropped above are not sufficient — or even if they are — I urge you to go read Miso Susanowa’s latest post at her new blog, NetPolitik.
Sic semper tyrannis
This, always, to tyrants