2010-02-13

Google doesn't get privacy

The blogosphere is "abuzz" (if I may use that term) about the new Google service that is supposed to rival Twitter. Google is so helpful setting it up for you from your Google account, it automatically adds the people you write a lot of emails to as people you follow and who follow you.

Slashdot reports on many discussions, including this one (blog is now blocked, so I am quoting from the thread on /.)

I use my private Gmail account to email my boyfriend and my mother.
There’s a BIG drop-off between them and my other “most frequent” contacts.
You know who my third most frequent contact is?
My abusive ex-husband.
Which is why it’s SO EXCITING, Google, that you AUTOMATICALLY allowed all my most frequent contacts access to my Reader, including all the comments I’ve made on Reader items, usually shared with my boyfriend, who I had NO REASON to hide my current location or workplace from, and never did.
Ah, yes. If you write emails to each other, you must be friends. It would be wonderful if the world was such a nice place!

Many of the commenters berate the woman for being "stupid". Well, after my recent bout with Google, all I can say is that it is easy to be "stupid".

When I started this blog in 2005 I called it semi-anonymous. People in Real Life knew who I was, but strangers were welcome to stop by. I didn't show my real name on the profile. Then I started a second blog, a professional one. I wanted my real name there.

Then I realized that Google was publishing my name on my private blog! No, Google, I don't want that! So I removed author information, got down into the template, commented out the place where my name was, and continued my merry way. For years.

Just a few weeks ago, an anonymous commenter remarked that I wasn't all that anonymous, I should have a look at the RSS feed. Gasp! There was my full name, in the clear.

I made up a new email, and split the private blog off - added the new email as an author, then removed myself (I had been using another, different throwaway email for Blogspot, but somehow it knew that this was me). I scoured the options - only WiseWoman, no one else.

But my real name was still on the RSS feed.

I went though the forums. Many people, pleading for help - how to set up the XML so that it DIDN'T send out author information? There is just no place to set this. Google decides what to put in the XML, you either like it or go elsewhere. I published pleas for information, but Google doesn't appear to read its own help forums.

I kept checking the forums every now and then, no answer. Today I got mad, and went ballistic really looking for help in other forums. I found an intriguing solution: export the blog to XML on my computer (which would give me a backup, too); use a code editor to search and replace the author info; delete all the posts; and then import them again. This would bug my readers, giving them 500 new posts, but it would fix the identity problem.

I tried one first. Opened the post in a new tab (I'm paranoid), deleted it. Imported the massive file. Yup. One new post, and now written by WiseWoman. So then I deleted all the ones written in my real name, which is no easy task. I reformatted the edit posts to have 100 posts per page, selected all, and deleted, starting at the back. Then on to 25 per page for the latest posts, so that I wouldn't disturb my readers currently enjoying the Metropolis post.

Then I re-imported the mess. It took a while, but now all of my posts are written by WiseWoman. And the RSS feed is clean. But really, Google, you don't get privacy. It's not about not doing things I shouldn't, as Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google, Inc. said. Privacy is about me determining who gets to see or know which details about me. It's my life. You only get to know what I want you to know, nothing more.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

… and this is an experience of a web-savvy person, I'd assume. Out there are millions who know less. Scary.

WiseWoman said...

Exactly. I mean, I even include privacy questions and Web 2.0 in what I teach, and I got bitten. Google is scaring me, it's become Big Brother.

mkerres said...

O je, das war mir nicht bewusst. Danke für den Hinweis!

Anonymous said...

at least hundrets know less... - allein, sich auf einer völlig fremden Seite mit seinen Daten einzuloggen, zeigt schon die Unbedarftheit vieler Benutzer. Das schreit danach, ausgenutzt zu werden.