More on Google and online identity

“Google seemingly split on pseudonymous Google+ accounts and Google Profiles – It’s okay until it isn’t” by Tateru Nino (via Dave Bell on Making Light) is another interesting look at the side effects of the rollout of Google+. It seems that Google+ and Google Profiles share some aspects of a honeypot for people with the audacity not to use their full real-world identity online so they can be more effectively marketed to.

And then there’s “Last Post” over at Cockpit Conversation (via Sylvia on Making Light), which is another tale of someone losing access to their Gmail and blog (hosted by Google) because of a date of birth issue.

People blogging about these particular problems are the visible tip of the iceberg. There must be thousands of other people who are running up against the same issues. And unfortunately, unless you know someone inside Google, the only way to ask them for help with some really scary problems is to post in an open forum. (And seriously, if you’re not a computer geek with the knowledge to figure it out, losing access to your email can be terrifying.)

Despite all the people posting on that forum about date of birth problems preventing them from accessing their accounts, so far Google’s best official response there seems to be “Google is aware that mistaken dob entries have precluded some users from entering the Google+ Project in it’s initial field trial.”

For a company whose motto is “don’t be evil,” and that is filled with engineers driven to make the internet a better place not just for Google users, but for all of us, this kind of hands-off take-it-or-leave-it approach is…disappointing.

For reference (because people have been asking), we haven’t heard anything from Google about our own particular situation, either formally or through back channels. As many people have pointed out, we could use the account recovery process to claim that we made an error, and enter a fake date of birth that shows Alex is over 13. But this is the only circumstance in which Google allows you to change the date of birth in your profile. Once it is in there, it is in there for good, and there would be no way for Alex to reset it once he is old enough. This may be problematic if he decides wants to keep using this particular Google account in the future.


2 Replies to “More on Google and online identity”

  1. It’s interesting just how badly Google misjudge their users sometimes. They create great tools that people want to use, but then their sheer size and ubiquity makes any missteps like this a major issue for a significant population of web users.

    Their don’t be evil motto is the icing on the cake – at least with Facebook (I know your feelings about them…) you kind of expect to be screwed at some point, but until recently Google had built up a solid image that sucked people in.

    I had a similar experience with email loss at Yahoo, switched briefly to Google and then decided that actually paying a small fee to a provider for a solid IMAP mailbox was worth it. At least since I pay a fee I can demand a level of service, and they don’t have any other personal data from me to play around with. The webmail is rubbish of course, but IMAP solves all issues – it works with my iPhone and Outlook which has the side effect of backing up my IMAP folders locally…

    Hope you can get Alex’s email back some time soon.

  2. Thanks for this post, and sorry to Alex 🙁 Let him know he’s in a good boat with many other people.

    Tateru Nino is one of the most-respected bloggers out there on technology, particularly virtual reality and 3D virtual spaces. Her pseudoname is well-known among a large segment of early-adopter types. She’s been great about co-ordinating information surrounding this controversial issue (as have many virtual-reality creators and users) as it has affected us severely in our exploration of the virtual environment for communication, teaching and the arts. Tags for following the discussion on Twitter are #plusgate and #nymwars.

    You might also want to look at the work of Skud, a former Google employee who has had his own account suspended. He is documenting suspensions in a growing database, and he also has access to inside information detailing a huge struggle within Google itself over this issue.

    It’s a good lesson for Alex. At the very least, it cautions him about relying on “The Cloud” or someone else’s computers/servers. Maybe you can teach him a little Linux and help him set up his own mail and blog server; he sounds like a smart, capable kid.


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