Google Reacts To Pseudonym Anger

Google's homepage in 1998
Simpler Times

Vic Gundotra, Google’s senior VP of social stuff, described closing the Google+ accounts of pseudonym users as: “like when a restaurant doesn’t allow people who aren’t wearing shirts to enter.”

I respectfully suggest that it’s a little more like throwing them out of your restaurant, and then burning their houses down. Google deny that they will close down your Google Profile solely for infringement of the no-pseudonyms rule, calling it a “myth”, but it does seem they single out obvious pseudonyms for closer examination and can shut them down for other, unspecified reasons. GrrlScientist, whom I quoted yesterday, only regained access to Docs, Gmail etc. at Google’s pleasure and upon giving them her personal phone number. And no, they still won’t let her use Google+, and they still haven’t told her why.

However they have listened to the outrage, reacted quickly, and promised some improvements (same source):

– Giving these users a warning and a chance to correct their name in advance of any suspension. (Of course whenever we review a profile, if we determine that the account is violating other policies like spam or abuse we’ll suspend the account immediately.)

– At time of this notice, a clear indication of how the user can edit their name to conform to our community standards

– Better expectation setting as to next steps and timeframes for users that are engaged in this process.

Maybe they know what they mean by the last one, I have no idea. However, the others are at least an improvement. If it’s not churlish of me though, I do think that not confiscating what you might rightfully consider your private property without prior notice is the very least they can do.

This is something Google really need to get straight, fast. How can their Docs be considered a rival to Microsoft’s Office if they have some ownership rights over anything you create with them? Imagine how quickly Microsoft’s business would cease to exist if they zapped documents made with pirated copies of Office. It’s unthinkable. Just as what Google did was unthinkable – until they did it. If documents aren’t sacrosanct, the whole Docs-Chrome-Cloud business model evaporates.

Maybe this is the time to consider Diaspora again?

Google+ Is A Trap

Google Docs – You create them, but they don’t belong to you

Not two months ago, I wrote:

…Google’s answer to this is a fully authenticated Web with no room for anonymity. A friendlier place for commerce and policing for sure, but obviously an unsafe one for the sort of political organisation we’ve seen in the Middle East recently. You may have noticed how it gets harder all the time to open a Google account. Last time I created one, I had to give them a mobile phone number. How long before it’s an iris scan?

With Google+, the straitjacket of authentication has perceptibly tightened. As Guardian blogger GrrlScientist discovered to her cost, it’s a little-known term of service that a Google Profile (which you need for any personalised Google service, not just Google+) must be in your own, real, everyday name. She has just found that all her Google services – Gmail, Reader, Blogger, Google Documents, YouTube, Google Plus – have been taken away, with apparently no recourse to appeal.

Have you created a Google Profile? (I know I have, but I don’t remember doing it. I just thought I was signing up to use Gmail.) If it isn’t in your real name, if it’s in a nickname, a pen name, the name of an alter ego or game character or a name you had to make up because your real one was gone already, then Google can take it away too.

How much could you lose, if Google suddenly decided to throw you into the outer darkness? More than you might easily imagine, as this similar case makes clear:

Now he had pretty much converted everything to Google services. He used its storage (and paid for extra capacity), used its social network, used its email and used its applications. He is a grad student and had more than 500 articles cached for research in his Google reader (gone); he had migrated all of his bookmarks to Google bookmarks (gone); he had consolidated on Google his 200 contacts (gone), his backup files (gone) and his docs (gone).

The guy even put all of his calendar items (doctors’ appointments, meetings, dates) onto Google, and they are now gone. He had used Google Maps extensively, and all of those records are gone. Oh — and it isn’t just access to new items either. His entire mail account and documented history have been deleted.

[Read the victim’s own testimony here]

Your documents, your emails, your pictures, your contacts – you life, dammit. If you have an Android Phone as well, I imagine you’re pretty much screwed. And let’s be perfectly clear, these people didn’t do anything wrong using their Google Profiles. Merely breaking an obscure term of an agreement they were in all probability barely aware of making has allowed Google to trash their online lives – and shatter their trust in one of the world’s most powerful companies.

Why would Google be so draconian, withdrawing their useful – for many now, almost essential – services for what seem arbitrary reasons? It is because they don’t want just to be service providers. Google see how they can be gatekeepers of an authenticated, business-friendly, government-friendly Web, one where your every move is – quite legally – observed and documented, where your online persona is precisely riveted to your real-world identity. An Internet, in other words, where everybody knows you’re a dog.

Now combine that with the same ubiquity and penetration into your personal life as Facebook or Twitter, combine it with the fact that you are happily providing Google with information about the people you know, by dividing them into different categories of trust, genetic kinship, etc., and you begin to wonder what you’re getting into.

But it’s clear what Google are. They’re getting into the business of delivering authenticated identities. You could call it policing.

And Now For Some Random Facts

Huge ocean sunfish (mola mola) at Outer Bay ex...
In German, the sunfish is sometimes known as Schwimmender Kopf, or "swimming head"

Jell-O is the official state snack of Utah. This is the sort of thing you could make up and people would believe it, but in this case it happens to be true.

Vegetables and fruit served in savoury jelly is sometimes called “congealed salad“, possibly the worst name ever given to something you expect another human being to eat.

Jell-O and other brands of jelly are made of collagen extracted from the boiled bones, connective tissues, organs and some intestines of animals such as cattle and horses. Though contrary to popular belief, there are no hooves in it.

So that’s a relief then.

A Few Inadequate Words

John Stuart Mill
"I don't think you fully grasp the concept of Liberty"

The extremists of all flags, whether they laughably describe themselves as Christians, Muslims, nationalists, or what they will, have far more in common with each other than with those they claim to represent. They can hate and kill who they choose because they cannot or will not identify with them as people. This is not fighting for a cause, this is failure of humanity; self-involvement on a horrific scale.

You have to wonder about their mental processes. What does a man think he will achieve by murdering cold-bloodedly? Did he seriously believe that Norway could be terrorised out of allowing immigration? Maybe he thought he could spark a nationalistic uprising by the heroic shooting dead of teenagers.

It seems he wrote a 1,500 page document to explain his actions, but I doubt it will tell us anything – except the incredible lengths an insecure man will go to, to justify himself.

A Gift From China

Unfortunately China is the name of my mother’s cat, and her feline idea of a neat gift is a small mammal. In this case, about as small as they get – a pygmy shrew. Poor little thing. I’ve shown it here with a credit card as they’re the same size the world over. As you see, it’s no bigger than your thumb.

Well, it’s nature’s way I guess. I mean, we actually have this cat around in order to murder small mammals, so I can’t be mad with her when she catches a non-verminous one. Though I notice there’s an ongoing debate in the US about whether cats are a major threat to the balance of nature as they’re not a native species. Well I suppose nothing is a native species if you go back far enough, but as domestic cats have only been in North America for a few hundred years you could see how the native birds aren’t prepared for them, and though it would be surprising if there wasn’t a native predator in the same niche, I can’t actually think of one. What catches small wild birds in North America? I don’t think coyotes do. Fisher cats perhaps, and related weasel-like things. But they are only found in some climates.

I don’t know; as far as I’m aware, cats in North America have never really gone feral and therefore are only found where humans live. And with a few exceptions, the balance of species in such places is never going to resemble what it did before farming and industry. So I suspect removing cats would be like trying to make a shopping mall more like a forest by painting it green.

But perhaps I should know better than to get into an argument between cat people and bird lovers.

Anti-Islamic Terror?

That’s the front of tomorrow’s Sun. Needless to say, it’s a Murdoch paper. What, you may wonder, is the evidence they have that links Norway’s massacres with Islamic extremism? The main clue would probably be that Al Qaeda sells more papers.

The little actual evidence so far seems to point to a home-grown rather than pro-Islamic terrorist threat. Not that it couldn’t be both of course, but several Norwegian news sources – TV2 for example – has stated that the suspect arrested had connections with Norway’s far right. VG, the major Norwegian tabloid that was caught in the blast, says the suspect described himself as ‘nationalist’. It appears that he was an outspoken opponent of immigration and of Muslims. So it may well turn out that this was actually an act of anti-Islamic terrorism. The irony would then be almost too much to bear.

But you wonder, does understanding the political motivation behind this actually matter? The most salient feature of an ideology that thinks it’s all right to kill people at random is that it thinks it’s all right to kill people at random. There isn’t much ground for further discussion. We may as well say that the attack in Oslo was carried out by The Evil Ones and leave it at that.

Emergency At 2 a.m. – Aftermath

That was a new battery

So late last night, I left the house because I heard strange sounds and found what I recognised as a neighbour’s car burning in the road outside.

Disorientating. This is a quiet village, crimes don’t happen here; I don’t know when there was last even a chimney fire. But now I’m looking at a car engulfed in flames, surrounded by sleeping people.

And of course, I had no way of being sure whether the guy who owned it was still in there or not. The heat – indeed the light – made it impossible to see if there was a body inside.

I won’t keep you in suspense, he wasn’t. But it was a long time before I knew that for sure.

He hadn’t left it here of course. It had been broken into and pushed a little way from the house, we guess so they could start it out of earshot. When they found it wouldn’t start they must have torched it to hide any evidence. It wasn’t the sort of car you’d steal for resale, and it’s not probable that someone would come way out here to find one for a joyride; most likely they’d wanted a random vehicle to carry out a robbery.

Definitely no one dead there
The skeleton of a seat only

Intriguingly, another car was torched shortly after only a mile or so away. It must have been the same people, this isn’t the kind of place things like that happen ever, never mind twice a night. Maybe that was a second attempt to take a vehicle that refused to start.

I hope so. We’ve a way to go before we get to the bottom of this, but I like to think the cars of my neighbours helped foil a crime last night.