Saturday, 20 August 2011

Privacy and Google Plus

I don't think the Google circles quite map onto the way that we operate as individuals with an expectation of privacy. Not to say that I don't think circles are a good but not great privacy mechanism from a technical and easy of use stand point, but I'm not so sure they quite fit the way people think about public and private spheres.

For a start, you should never have a real expectation of privacy about anything you say on the Internet. Copy & paste pretty much defeats any security mechanism you could potentially come up with (along with lo fi reproduction techniques like photographing the screen). If you don't want something you say reproduced and seen by everyone in public, you shouldn't be saying it on the Internet. In fact, with today's level of mobile phone use, you shouldn't be saying it at all, because at any point someone can press a button on their phone and record you (and there's plenty of software that'll immediately upload it to remote secure web storage so even confiscating the phone isn't enough).

There are certainly areas where you have an expectation of privacy. For instance, you have a reasonable expectation your ISP isn't going to divulge your preference in pornography (along with the people who wrote your web browser and operating system). And you can certainly start suing people after the fact should information which needs to remain private is leaked. But, despite attempts to have super injunctions, you can't sue someone before the fact to prevent a juicy secret being released, and doing so is a big red flag for people who look for that sort of thing.

So Facebook's hard to use privacy controls and hidden and ambiguous relevancy filters are actually a better reflection of the state of control of your personal information than Google's deceptively easy to use system of circles, which create a false sense of security about how far what you say can be shared.

And that's ignoring the fact that circles are in some sense the wrong way around. I only want to hear about your interest in game design, not see photographs of your cats. But occasionally I might, because it may make me more likely to think of you as a real person as opposed to an anonymous stream of text on the Internet.

(This post brought to you by the Charles Stross school of blogging).


Sir Yobgod Ababua the Handless said...

I keep hoping they will layer on a tag-based "Interests" feed to the Stream, so that I can granularize down to a page with things like:
* "Roguelike or Procedural" posts from anyone in any circle, unless they use C#.
* Any posts from "People I find hilarious", but no cat posts from Steve.

Amit said...

I think Richard Nixon taught us that we should just never say anything at all…