Archive for January, 2012

Google, privacy, and cleaning up your Digital Identity

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Google’s in the News Again

Google’s in the news again.

This time for combining all of its privacy policies for various services into a single policy that will apply across its brands. So the privacy policy for you Tube will be the same one that covers your Gmail account. While I can see how this can give the opportunity for Google to provide a more seamless service and new options, there are some problems associated with this idea.

Some include the concept that if Google is using your information to alter your search results to ‘fit you’, you might never stumble across things unknown. If all I’m served up is what i want to hear, i potentially won’t get much variety as I explore the web, or come across as many viewpoints that differ from my own. The other is the well known concept that having one company control and access such a large amount of your personal information is just bad sense. Yet another is advertising. If  Google is using this information to better target people with advertising, I’d like them to just come out and say it clearly. “We will use this information to target ads to you and make a profit so we can keep offering you services”. Better yet, how about giving us a piece of the profit for engaging in this grand information collection experiment? I think eventually some brave company will tell it like it is, and I suspect I know why companies don’t have the vision to be honest and up front about this today.

Credit where credit’s due

In general I like Google. The company has definitely paved the way for better services like Google earth and Gmail, and smartly bought out some of the good ones like You Tube and kept them going. This isn’t a witch hunt. This is about even companies with the best intentions sometimes going down paths that may have bumps in them. We as consumers need to be savvy about our responsibilities and rights. And while I immensly appreciate all that Google is doing for the web, even Google employees can benefit from a critical look at what they’re doing. After all, they don’t have All The Answers any more than you or I do. We have to figure this out together.

When news of the new privacy policy broke, it added to a few concerns that I’d developed over the past few years. One major one happened when Google disabled my AdSense account. I’d had AdSense for a few years on my websites. I’d installed the code and hadn’t thought much about it, getting a few payments here and there that didn’t add up to much. Last year Google suddenly disabled the account, rejected my appeal using their appeal form, and as policy refused to tell me why. Now, losing the AdSense was not a big deal for me since I didn’t rely on it.

What did bother me is that my account could be suspended with little recourse and no explanation. A quick search revealed that there are many people who have the same story. And for those who wonder, I’m no spammer or click frauder or off-shore tycoon -  just an artist who likes to make games and great designs.

Then last year stories began to surface about Google disabling peoples Google accounts who had not used their real name on Google plus. Frustrated after frustrated blogger wrote about the situation, and it re-affirmed my concerns about relying on something that can so quickly and unilaterally be taken away. You don’t miss it ’til it’s gone.

 

Problems Not Unique to Google

Just prior to the AdSense  cancellation, I had been getting ready to move my company emails to Gmail. The AdSense incident though made me realize the dangers of relying to much on a single company for your services. So i ditched my plans to go with Gmail for my company and went about my way. Then the other day, I was speaking to a friend who an open source version of Facebook would never succeed because Facebook does everything so well. I told him my theory: That yes, as long as Facebook respected everyone’s privacy and did not exploit their position, they will be number one. But i suspect based on world history that at some point they may exploit the wealth of knowledge they have accumulated as a private company. At that point, if it ever happens, an open source version will take on a new benefit that Facebook will not possess: the power to limit exploitation by virtue of belonging to all and not one company.  At that point we might begin to see a shift in what we desire out of our social media services and a change in what services we use.

Google Dashboard – Your Digital Identity Center

So, armed with a healthy does of paranoia (or is it just common sense?) I decide that it’s time to calmly at least assess my digital identity – see what’s out there and clean it up where I can. A great place to start is the Google dashboard: https://accounts.google.com/ServiceLogin?service=datasummary&passive=900&continue=https://www.google.com/dashboard/&followup=https://www.google.com/dashboard/

Google Dashboard offers you a birds eye view of your Google services and the information stored with them. I rarely surf the web signed into Google but I’ve noticed that some of my friends do. Take a look – you might be surprised at what you find. At the very least it’s great to have an overview of your information, and it’s  good sign that Google offers this service in the first place, so +1 for them.

What surprised me in Dashboard is the number of services I’ve used with Google over the years – Gmail, Youtube, Docs, Calendar and more. What stood out was my AdSense account. It’s still there, disabled and floating somewhere in digital limbo. “Great place to start” i thought. I’m going to delete my AdSense account since it’s no longer used. There are have been a few road block though:

Easier said than Done

So, how do I contact AdSense support?

I defy you to find a contact email on this page: http://support.google.com/adsense/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=9722

I eventually figured out that I needed to post my question on the forum (unless I am missing something). A simple email or form would have been nice, but it’s also nice to share the answers with people who might have the same question, so I posted it:

http://www.google.com/support/forum/p/AdSense/thread?tid=715f3bfa46e5d246&hl=en

I made sure to search the FAQ and Help first.

So far I have one answer: “I think they can’t be removed. They are kept in the Google directory forever. May be I am wrong.”.

I’ve asked if a Google Admin can verify that and will keep you posted. In the meantime, strike one for being able to easily delete one of my defunct services.

What has this taught me?

It’s a case of convenience versus control. It’s very simple to have one company control all of your data, unless something goes wrong. It’s like making a run to the corner store when you know the Grocery store has healthier, cheaper items just a bit farther away. So far we haven’t seen the Big One – a major blunder by a corporation holding our digital data, one so vast that it makes even the mainstream user avoid this companies services. But given the wealth of literature, novels, stories, predictions and history, I think it is bound to happen eventually. In the meantime, I’m going to keep examining my digital life bit by bit.

Our digital identities are new – they’ve only developed in the last 20 years or so, and we as a society don’t have a lot of experience dealing with them. I don’t think we need to run screaming for the hills from every digital service and profile request that comes our way. We just need to practice good new fashioned common sense when it comes to keeping track of our Digidentities, maybe spread out our services between different companies, embrace open source services when available, and as we go, learn from our mistakes.

I’ll keep you posted.

 

Written by protopopgames

January 25th, 2012 at 8:01 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Meet Moti Voto

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A quick update on Moti Voto, a slick corporate climber, sniffing his way up the social ladder in the sky high towers of Junx City. Here is the latest version, lovingly rendered by Geoff Carley.

 

 

Written by protopopgames

January 25th, 2012 at 6:33 pm

Posted in Uncategorized