Aug 17, 2011

To Google, we are data fodder, and I am an unperson

Google's "real names" policy, apart from being a shameless push to upgrade the company's data mining capability and unbelievable boorish in execution, is nothing short of cultural imperialism.

Stilgherrian — Technology writer and broadcaster


Technology writer and broadcaster

Google’s “real names” policy, apart from being a shameless push to upgrade the company’s data mining capability and unbelievable boorish in execution, is nothing short of cultural imperialism. Yes, this is personal.


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19 thoughts on “To Google, we are data fodder, and I am an unperson

  1. Mark Duffett

    No apostrophes…doesn’t this take out most of Ireland as well? O’Dear.

  2. rachel612

    I tried to change my name to Spartacus, but they’re on to that. So I just changed my first name to Spartacus, leaving my surname intact. So far, so good. I shall leave it that way until suspended (when I will then cancel all my google accounts) or until this is resolved. Muppets.

  3. Jean

    Stilg- or should I call you Mr herrian?– no, perhaps not –it looks like this is yet another social media site people can avoid wasting their time on. Like all the others.
    Google was a good search engine when it started, but their targeted advertising, possibly developed by the same people who do the names policy you are angry about, makes the whole search function suspect.

    Type in “extistential malaise”

    Responses from Google will be something like:

    Buy “extistential malaise” on Ebay
    Lovely Russian girl “extistential malaise” wants to meet you
    and of course a link to that stupid wikipedia

    So why do you expect ANY of their services to represent anything other than American crap culture?

    kind regards
    (my real name)
    (or maybe not)

  4. Clytie

    (Possibly) Jean — Wikipedia and Wiktionary will at least give you a reasonable definition of both terms. 😉

    I am surprised that Google is being so clumsy about this. Perhaps enormous reach brings lack of focus. Like Facebook, they think so many people will use them (and thus be sellable products for data-mining) that it doesn’t matter if people are annoyed by them. Roll on Diaspora (an open-source, distributed social network currently in beta testing). Diaspora can keep your personal data only on your own computer, and it isn’t aimed at selling who you are.

    I am very concerned about this push for outing people online. If you have friends or family in a country with an oppressive government (and so many of us do), then expressing opinions under your own name may be legal in this country, but your friends/family will suffer in your place. Also, what about children online? It’s much safer for them to use a pseudonym.

    I once received death threats on a mailing list for women in computing. The person sending the threats objected to women being involved in anything but involuntary sex, which he advocated should be legal with any girl once puberty approaches. He threatened my life and that of my teenage daughter. I was relieved that he didn’t actually know who we were.

  5. Migraine

    No apostrophes, eh? Wankers.

    My name has an apostrophe in it, the result of an Irish heritage. It has caused no end of strife with computer systems, e-mail addresses, banks, Qantas … and I have contributed to this by arguing.

    But … it’s MY BLOODY NAME. My real name.

    And the apostrophe is a standard ASCII character. I have never heard a good reason why it should be left out of some list of allowable characters in some datafield – not ten or twenty years ago, not now.

    So – no Google + for me. Not under this name. Maybe under that Gmail account I’ve had for years. The one that isn’t under my real name, and that’s never been questioned …

  6. fozziewossie

    So you knew you would have a problem and then the problem happened – and then you are surprised about it? Surprised and angry enough about it that you would write an angry and abusive blog post – sounds like premeditation for me.

    When Google said Google+ is beta I think they really meant that it’s beta. Every hastily rolled out web application I’ve seen struggles with apostrophes and it’s standard practice for the first name and last name name field that cannot account for middle names, single names, multiple names, titles and the like. There’s major enterprise software that is out there right now with this problem.

    Google engineers are likely sitting in meetings right now deliberating over the best way to handle this naming challenge and the reason that they haven’t fixed it yet is that it’s not that easy to do properly. Hopefully by the time they come out of beta it will be. And then and only then you should join and start writing articles that have already been covered a thousand times else where on the web.

  7. Stilgherrian

    @fozziewossie: I knew that I would have a “problem” with it in the sense that at some stage I expected to get an enquiry about it. What I did not expect what the first communication to be suspension and as assumption that I was the one doing something wrong.

    While a few people have said “but it’s still beta”, getting the naming stuff right is pretty basic, and Google’s a well-cashed-up organisation with a decade’s experience as a global operator. To get it this wrong is simply shoddy.

    To be honest, I’d have been perfectly find if the first communication was an enquiry from Google to ask whether everything was as it should be. That’s how the vast majority of organisations have dealt with it over the past 30 years. If I’ve been the one to raise it with them, because a document was incorrectly prepared or whatever, then almost always they apologise for any inconvenience or offence caused.

    Google’s process was precisely the opposite of that, and so I calibrated my response equally opposite.

  8. fozziewossie

    @Stilgherrian Every blog, post, and tweet along these lines has been “I was just cut off”. As a technology journalist I still fail to see how you can be surprised and outraged about this.

    While I agree that Google should have got apostrophes in names right I still think the naming issue is a beta problem. This is exactly the type of thing that beta programs thrash out when real people start using a system. Google may be a well cashed up organisation with many years experience but what ever way you put it Google+ is still in beta.

  9. Gumby Roffo

    While I do get the “beta” argument I also don’t . I have been both a Alpha and beta tester on various platforms and quite a few games. This is not a beta problem its Alpha! Its a basic base construction of the interface and layout and its fail on a stick. It should have been picked up with the initial design testing at the chocolate factory ( unless all the employees fall into the 2 nym rule). Its as shoddy as websites that require more than 4 characters/numerals for a post code.

    Anyway as you can guess I can’t even register my pseudonym, first name fails. Disporia is looking god though!

  10. Chade

    “…still in beta” is a terrible, terrible excuse for something as completely and utterly trivial as dealing with names.

    You’d be in trouble at any serious software engineering firm that tried to pull that one on a client.

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