Why must I opt out?

One of the more difficult to understand aspects of social networking sites is the fact that when a new “feature” comes out of beta we are assumed to opt into using it. These features can be from the benign (some new game or advertisement) to the more intrusive (new game features which may distribute my information as I have not exactly authorized) but again, I am assumed to opt in.

This may very well be a situation where asking for forgiveness is the key, because asking for permission is not going to work out. Privacy policies change without notification, facial recognition software scans pictures and suggests people to be tagged in it based on the identities that are within its confines. Using social media is a growing amalgam of frustrating bullshit that doesn’t appear to be moving in the direction of individual rights – instead it is in the direction of shareholders pockets.

These businesses are not out to make less money, so it is easy to conclude that any feature they provide to the public is likely to be used to increase income. Even Google+ has some oddities built in.

We will record information about your activity – such as posts you comment on and the other users with whom you interact – in order to provide you and other users with a better experience on Google services.

Sounds perfectly kind and loving to me, but as has been pointed out, there are negative aspects to this adventure through advertisement land. One interesting discussion which has nothing to do with money comes from Randall Munroe of XKCD fame:

Google+ forces you to have a public gender in your profile (although it can be ‘Other’). I know they have reasons for this, but I don’t think they’re good enough.


There are reasons Google+ might want your gender. For one thing, the interface may need to use pronouns, and in some languages there’s no way to avoid this. We have a chat-bot in the #xkcd IRC channel which serves as a repository of user nonsense. At some point, we decided to program in the ability to use pronouns, and it was surprisingly complicated:

Completely true, and yet it does raise the question – why has it been assumed that I have opted in? Google is not the only site which pushes this type of decision, in fact most do and its not just happening in apps released in this year either. In December 2009 a the EFF shared a review of Facebooks privacy policy changes, Things are pretty grim, to put it lightly:

Looking even closer at the new Facebook privacy changes, things get downright ugly when it comes to controlling who gets to see personal information such as your list of friends. Under the new regime, Facebook treats that information — along with your name, profile picture, current city, gender, networks, and the pages that you are a “fan” of — as “publicly available information” or “PAI.” Before, users were allowed to restrict access to much of that information. Now, however, those privacy options have been eliminated. For example, although you used to have the ability to prevent everyone but your friends from seeing your friends list, that old privacy setting — shown below — has now been removed completely from the privacy settings page.


Facebook previously offered a solution to users who didn’t want their info being shared with app developers over the Facebook Platform every time a one of their friends added an app: users could select a privacy option telling Facebook to “not share any information about me through the Facebook API.”

That option has disappeared, and now apps can get all of your “publicly available information” whenever a friend of yours adds an app.

This was in 2009, and rest assured this has gone on with advertising companies since before social networking has been available. Companies like Yahoo, Google, Facebook and MySpace make their bread and butter on advertisements and while I may not be a very significant person on my own, when you can make a lump of users whose information is easily tested and filtered against the value of that lump is higher than gold. There are 750 Million active users on Facebook, MySpace reports 50 million users and Google+ is estimated at being 5 million people strong, and growing. The funny aspect is that most people I’ve found with a Gmail account have a G+ membership, including people who have not created their accounts by their own hands.

This environment breeds frustration, angst and distrust of the authority holding our information and it has driven many people into caves. One of my friends refuses to be in group pictures, to blog or to even have an internet presence because she does not want to be tagged in pictures that could lead to issues within her professional career. Another friend of mine has only got a Facebook page to allow his friends to see that he is alive. He has no pictures attached to it, no comments, nothing.

One aspect that isn’t really talked about is how do you address the fact that I may want to remove these accounts in the future. There is a mixed review, but it is still possible for you to be tagged into a picture even if you don’t have an account on the service.

If you walk through the history of social media you can see a trend away from loud artsy and free formed content (I hate Myspace). First came Facebook, where college students and friends (and eventually family =) started using a comment on my wall to keep in touch but now its more about advertisement, picture tagging and game playing. Then LinkedIn where professionals can share their information but has since turned into a head hunters paradise – I get no fewer than 5 messages a week looking for a senior Java Enterprise Developer for 6 month contract to hire positions.

Now Google unleashes its plus arena, which has begun quite well, aside from privacy concerns, the new layout, a lack of real understanding of the features and some issues with their invite system. Whatever its future may hold Google has been pretty good about putting the person ahead of its bottom line up to this point, but who knows. The first thing I said on my page was – “I am just waiting on the games to come over so i can start blocking them.” The second was “First there was MySpace, then there was Facebook and Linked In, now there’s Google+, each a step closer to me caring about social networking. Each a step away from having garbage all over my screen.”

No clue if I’m right, but I tend to be.

  • Annie Nova

    Anthony, rather than Google itself, has gone ahead and made me a Google+ account without my permission. I remain disinterested, but reading your 10 cents on the subject, or any subject is always an educational pleasure. Thanks.

  • That is another issue. I’ve heard from a number of people who are in the anti-social networking group, about friends making their accounts and sending them the credentials after the fact. It makes things quite difficult to maintain. Being able to monitor my own internet image is an increasingly difficult process that continues to draw out loonies and make the rest of us “normal” people to become recluses.