Google Search will depend on whether you identify yourself to Google or not

Posted: January 28, 2012 in G+ archive, Internet

This is a post I wrote on G+ several months ago. (August 28th, 2011). At the time, it was a relatively difficult result of connecting several dots from apparently unrelated Google services and areas, under the surprise of the plain admission of Eric Schmidt that G+ is primarily an identity service, not a social network.
Today, those “dots” suspected to connect at the time are simple realities.

Google Search will depend on whether you give your real name to Google or not

As will many other services. People have been wondering for long what is going on, and where is this road Google was taking, with G+ “real/common name” policy that has stirred so many debates.
Answer: it’s going towards your information intently gathered about you, and your online presence submitted to the criterium whether Google thinks you’re worthy enough to be upranked in Google Search results.
(have you filled a Profile and complied with the “Real Name” policy? good. No? Bad, downranked!)

Quick synopsis of the latest happenings, on Google’s intentions:

Andy Carvin has asked a few questions to Google’s Eric Schmidt the other day, and has shared the answers on G+.
Highlights:
I asked him how Google justifies the policy given that real identities could put people at risk.
He replied by saying that G+ was build primarily as an identity service, so fundamentally, it depends on people using their real names if they’re going to build future products that leverage that information.
He also said the internet would be better if we knew you were a real person rather than a dog or a fake person. Some people are just evil and we should be able to ID them and rank them downward.

CNN has interviewed Eric Schmidt, and asked for clarifications.
Highlights: (from Botgirl Questi)
“. . . I think it’s pretty clear that the Internet as a whole has not had a strong notion of identity, and identity means, “who am I”. So we spend an awful lot to of time trying to guess who you are. Plus it’s easy to have impostors, people can spam, and so forth and so on. Facebook has done a good job of building a way of disambiguating names. So if you use Facebook, if you have John Smith and you try to pick which one, you look at the pictures of their friends and that’s how you disambiguate it. But fundamentally what Facebook has done is build a way to figure out who people are. That system is missing in the Internet as a whole. Google should have worked on this earlier. We now have a product called Google+ which has been in developments for more than a more than your half which is a partial answer to that.”
“That’s the area where I would have put more research, in *developing this identity service and the ranking system that goes along*.”

Google Executive Director, Eric Schmidt

In other words, as hypothesized before, we are indeed looking at:

  • Google Search tied into Google+ and Google Profiles
  • gathering information intently on your person and organizing it. Not anonymous information, but intently on your person.
  • ranking search results on the criterium of *who* is speaking.
  • the content from someone who has identified themselves to Google and has connections doing the same and using +1, is treated differently in search results.

The consequences on the visibility/awareness of content on the internet are incalculable, and they have nothing to do with G+, with “just a social network, go somewhere else if you don’t like it”.

This is not about “social networking”, or Eric Schmidt and others interpretation of what “social” means. Not anymore, not for a long time in fact. Statements go back to 2010 and sooner, on what was in the works.

Some of its roots can be found in earlier interviews, where it’s all related to information management, and the opinion of Eric Schmidt and others on how information has to be managed, face to the upcoming technological/informational singularity.
From Eric Schmidt’s earlier interview:
“People aren’t ready for the technology revolution that’s going to happen to them.”
 “Show us 14 photos of yourself and we can identify who you are. You think you don’t have 14 photos of yourself on the internet? You’ve got Facebook photos! People will find it’s very useful to have devices that remember what you want to do, because you forgot…But society isn’t ready for questions that will be raised as result of user-generated content.”

Very true so far, if I may add.

“The only way to manage this is true transparency and no anonymity. In a world of asynchronous threats, it is too dangerous for there not to be some way to identify you. We need a [verified] name service for people. Governments will demand it.”

Very chilling, here. And yet, so familiar.

The history of human thinking, including state/political thinking theories and their applications in practice, show a particular trend of answering the Unknown with an attempt to control. It does seem to me this is the case here as well: face to the unbelievable amount of information generated daily and the unique situation we’re heading towards, the upcoming years/decades, Eric Schmidt feels the need to answer with an attempt to put it in fully controllable patterns, regardless the “expendable few” that don’t fit it naturally enough. The “expendable few” are worth being exactly that, for the greater good. This is the answer of fear of the unknown.

That never goes well, says human history.

But admittedly, in this particular case, Google has a huge upstart, by their technology and its ubiquitous presence in our life (downranked in Google Search? invisible in Google Search…), and by the essentially unregulated and unique position of the Internet among governments and current laws systems… As a commercial company, it enjoys privileges governments even, do not have. These statements are catching us off guard, even though the signs were there, in 2010 and maybe sooner.

Quick list of alternatives:
People have been working on the concept and implementation of distributed social networking and other tools to assure user privacy, as opposed to letting it in the hands of companies:

Distributed social networking protocol: dnsp
Diaspora* decentralized social network: pods status main site
Intention statement at the base of the changes in the Internet today: Eben Moglen’s talk in 2010.
“Magna Carta” for the Internet: Rebecca Mackinnon’s TED talk.
FreedomBox: a Debian derivative for easy installing of a personal web server to serve your online presence, including social networking: FreedomBox wiki
Shava Nerad and friends have met and preparing to work on alternative approaches.
People have made mynameis.me site, related to Google and identity.
Electronic Frontier Foundation has been taking stance on pseudonyms and virtual worlds: A Case for Pseudonyms.

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