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Google + and Security: Our Internet Homes

A neighborhood of unlocked doors

With Google + eliminating private profiles, it seems the fledgling social network is making decided strides toward defining the social space as an open one. It also pits itself against the notoriously private Facebook, in many ways playing a red card to Facebook’s black and thus raising new questions about the culture of online security as it is shaping up in the social space.

Now, open networks are not new by any stretch. Twitter, of course, is public, at least as most of its users have adopted it, but Twitter is also an entirely different beast than Facebook. The main distinction at play is conversation versus profile. Twitter is centered around conversation and as such feels more ephemeral. Privacy is not a concern because users don’t feel as physically present on their Twitter pages (please, dear reader, stop me in the comments if you disagree). Facebook is centered around the profile, with the huge caveat that much of what happens on Facebook is also conversation. But those conversations have more permanency, they come with likes, tags, pokes (are we still poking?)—all things that stitch themselves to a user’s profile and ultimately shape his or her experience. This sense of shape lends a larger physicality to a user’s Facebook page, offers a more complete representation, an online home, and that warrants more protection.

Or does it? Google + is looking to offer the same sort of shapely, dynamic experience as Facebook, the same home, but that home won’t come with any locks. Now, name and gender will be the only required identifiers open to the public, but I’m unclear if that means you can hide everything else or if you can simply have a profile with only your name and gender (again, any help in the comments is appreciated). While this detail could be significant, the emphasis alone has important cultural ramifications by compelling users (i.e., the future of humanity?) to have thoroughly detailed and totally public and accessible online personas, to live in a world and a body where this is taken as a matter of course. Such a move could mean a much more robust commitment to the public sphere by a great, great many participants.

Personal and financial security rings a heavy bell here, but let’s leave that to the side and focus on the business ramifications. Let me caveat again that it is extremely early to tell, but it’s not hard to see how an internet full of millions of complete and consenting identities (and all their detailed actions) available openly to search and tracking could be huge for SEO, direct marketing and trend monitoring, not to mention a new assortment of demographics whose detail and articulation is unlike anything we have ever seen before. In short, we could be looking at a serious amount of new data, and I am so curious to see what kinds of products this data will inspire or, for that matter, whether Google + users will allow themselves to be watched so closely. My guess is yes, yes we will.

Does this excite you? Terrify you? Let us know.

Tags : social media

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