Lately, many people have been writing about the naming policies of social networks. This is because Google+ requires its users to use their real names in their profiles. Facebook does too.
Online, our names are tightly and persistently coupled with our actions. Pseudonyms put a measure of distance between our identity online and our real identity. For some, this is necessary and desired. And as Alex Madrigal, writing for The Atlanticargues the policy of using real names online is actually a revolutionary concept.
danah boyd writes that real name policies on social networks are an abuse of power. The people who most heavily rely on pseudonyms in online spaces are those who are most marginalized by systems of power. Having a pseudonym is important for many people and many reasons.
Even if pseudonyms are allowed, however, we are still identifiable by other means. We do not control the data gathered from the services we use. And what we share and with whom we share it can be used to identify us in surprising ways. As Eben Moglen, law professor and Chairman of the Software Freedom Law Center, brilliantly describes, having privacy is more than just keeping one single thing about us a secret – whether it’s our name, our location or even our sexual orientation:
“[The] problem is all the stuff that’s the cruft, the data dandruff of life, that we don’t think of as secret in any way but which aggregates to stuff that we don’t want anybody to know about us. Which aggregates, in fact, not just to stuff we don’t want people to know but to predictive models about us that we would be very creeped out could exist at all.”
This is not to say anonymity (and pseudonymity) are a lost cause and not worth fighting for. Far from it. Perhaps though, we’re missing a larger picture. The way our Internet is structured – with all of our data concentrated in virtualized servers owned by companies offering client minions like us “free” services – means that, ultimately, pseudonym or not, Facebook and Google still own us (and know who we are).
If you’ve ever Googled yourself, searched pipl.com or scoped out MIT’s Personas than it’s likely you’ve come across some interesting results – Since when is my MySpace profile from high school the only proof of my existence online? Who’s this B-list celebrity with my same name and an arrest record? Where’s the blog that I update regularly?
Keeping tabs on your online identity is a good practice. Remembering to periodically enter search terms about yourself can feel tedious though. Not to mention narcissistic. Enter “Me on the Web” from Google.
This new service, available to anyone with a Google account, can alert you when your personal information is published online. It’s similar to setting a Google alert with your name as a search term. “Me on the Web” allows for as many search terms as you like – your name, phone number, address, anything. When new content about you is posted online, you can choose to be alerted by email as it happens, or once a day or week. Then it’s up to you what to do about it. Google offers tips for managing your online reputation and removing unwanted content from the web.
Exploring Google+, the just released social networking service from Google is like walking through an unfinished house. The frame is there but it’s missing the people and pictures on the walls that make it a home. As the invites roll out and more people sign up though, that’s sure to change. Still, even just the basic frame of the social network is enough to indicate that Google may have created something that can finally hold its own against Facebook.
Google+, while similar in many respects to Facebook, offers important differences that could appeal to users wary of sharing too much of their information online. The service allows you to organize your friends, acquaintances, colleagues and family members in separate social spheres. It then gives you control over which content is shared with whom. Your contacts don’t see which social “circle” of yours they’ve been placed in, so the focus is more on the actual communication and sharing happening in your circles and less on the conversations that you are not involved in directly. At least that’s what I extrapolate from the brief time I spent playing around with the service last night.
The technology is only half the picture. And how or whether people actually use the circles, hangout, and sparks features remains to be seen. For me though, I appreciate a social network that accommodates the various flavours of human relationships I encounter in my daily life – beyond the simple, and now meaningless, online brand of “friend”. With the status out of the way, the emphasis is on the interaction. As one review eloquently put it, it seems less “‘Love me! Love me!’ and more ‘People I love: Let’s chill.’” Whether Google+ lives up to this ideal remains to be seen.
Every social networking service is what you make of it and I imagine both the engineering of the site and the personalities who use it make all the difference. Still I am excited and optimistic about Google’s latest contribution to the social media landscape.
Google has been up in arms in recent months over unscrupulous monitoring and hacking of its search engine by the Mainland Chinese government. Today, however, Google finds itself at the other end of the finger pointing, accused by Internet watchdogs of infringing on privacy. The saga gas been going on for weeks, and today the BBC reported that Google could face prosecution in Germany.
The privacy breach is in relation to Google’s Street View program and the collecting of non-visual data from unencrypted Wifi connections. Privacy International, an Internet advocacy group, has said Google’s coincidental collection of data is the net equivalent of wire tapping without consent.
German authorities have asked Google repeatedly to hand over alleged hard drives containing illegally collected data. Google has yet to comply. Australia has made a similar request, and New Zealand is the most recent state to make official inquires.
Google has faced legal challenges in the past over its Street View program, and has come out on the winning side in most cases. Those legalities of the past, however, had to do with images of people and property caught on Street View, not Wifi data. If Google is taken to court, their prosecution could set the privacy precedents of the near future.
As this row enters its second week, I wonder when, or if, the teeth of Google will ever show and their words turn to action. Everyone from Yahoo to the US government has denounced the overuse of China’s spy ware on American based search engines, but little has been done in terms of censuring the giant.
The critiques from the US government have revolved around freedom of expression, while the search engines have cited their philosophy of access, privacy and open sharing of information, to defend their ‘reckless’ critiques (as called by Yahoo’s China affiliate). What I find interesting as this saga endures, is that search engines that have no problem selling their wares in a country that openly suppresses information and blocks democratic discourse to its citizens, are now up in arms over a few privacy breaches. I think it is safe to say that this amounts to saber rattling on behalf of Google and that at the end of the day, business will prevail. Google will stay. Yahoo will stay. Hacking and surveillance will stay.
No one likes having someone read over his or her shoulder. While it most often amounts to little more than an annoyance and a sour ‘excuse me’, when that reading involves personal information or the information of people at risk, there is need for concern. This past week the BBC revealed that several web addresses and gmail accounts belonging to human rights and political groups were hacked and viewed by third parties in China. The Great Fire Wall of China is well known, as is government surveillance, but a public rebuke from a major search engine company is another – this is what makes this story interesting.
We have all seen enough spy movies to know that email hacking and third party viewing happens. In fact, call me a cynic but I just assume that someone is reading my emails (we should all get to feel so important). That a government may be one of them listening in is no shock. Google’s threat to shut down their entire China operation, however, is out of the ordinary.
While at first I thought this might be an act of internet first amendment benevolence, similar to the assurance from most web providers of the principals of privacy, as I reflect further demanding free-of-surveillance web access makes sound business sense in addition to an earnest defense of values. Hacking into gmail accounts is an assault to the gmail brand and the promises of privacy that come with its hearty market share. If gmail cannot assure its users that their emails are not being viewed by third parties (most likely government) on a consistent basis, consumers will go elsewhere. While there are a lot of critiques of Internet ownership being in private hands, in this case the market might be able to provide one solution to one of the Internet’s major concerns, privacy.
How do the websites I visit record what I do on the Internet?
What does my search history reveal about me?
How can I change my browser settings to keep my internet activity more private?
Consider these questions as you review the examples below. Try the quiz from the left menu: What Have You Learned? after you’ve spent some time with this section.
Watch the screencast below (just over a minute long). Think about the questions above as you watch. Next, review the Think Before You Ink section following the video. Finally, see the Check Yourself section to assess your understanding about managing your web history.
Your computer keeps a record of the websites you visit. Your internet history is a chronological list of URLs you visited which can also be arranged by frequency of use. Your computer also stores temporary internet files from the individual websites you access.
Your browser history is the reason why you can type part of a long address in the address bar and have the entire URL retrieved to click on for ease of use. It also allows you to check back and see what sites you’ve looked at in case you’ve forgotten where you got some information from.
If somebody else has access to your computer (physically, through cookies, or by hacking) they will be able to find the sites that you visit. This could be a problem if you save your password on favorite sites since such people might be able to re-visit the site and pose as you.
The link below provide step-by-step instructions for deleting browsing history on various common internet browsers.
Refer to the page Control Your Cookies to understand more about how these snippets of code add to your convenience (i.e. storing passwords so you don’t need to remember them) but also make it easier for people who want to get at your personal information.
What have you learned in this section? Take the quiz: