Thursday, August 1, 2013

Google+ privacy debacle

July 11th, 2013

Goggle has just changed the behaviour of its +1.
Now, apparently every time you +1 a post, that post is automatically reshared to all your friends.
That is pretty much the same behaviour of Facebook's "likes".
That is exactly one of the reasons I  don't like Facebook. Facebook is pretty much a privacy disaster.

Why is Google trying to look more like Facebook, copying even its flaws?
On Facebook every time you click "like" or comment on a post, that post is automatically reshared to all your friends.
My "likes" and comments are usually intended only to the author of the post, and nobody else. Usually I don't want that post to be reshared to all my friends. If I wanted that, I would click "share". That is what the button "share" is for.

But on Google+ there are ways to circumvent this problem.
First you go here
then click "edit" then choose "only you".
That way your +1s will not be reshared to your friends.

But what about the +1 of your friends?
Every time a friend of yours +1 a post, that post will appear on your home stream.
For me that is tantamount to spam. What can you do to prevent the mountain of posts your friends +1?
First, the +1ed posts only appear on the home stream. Home stream is the one with an "All" tab. The other streams (or circles) usually are "Friends", "Acquaintances", "Family" and "Following". So don't use the home stream. View each circle separately.
For each circle you can also set to not "show posts in Home stream".

Ok, let's talk about Facebook. I find this automatic resharing extremely annoying. I have noticed that some people, especially celebrities, never "like" or comment on other people's posts, supposedly to avoid them being reshared in their name. They will only comment on their own posts.  That is probaly the reason so many people on Facebook are considered narcissists.
So we have 2 kinds of people on Facebook: the resharers and the posters. The resharers are the idiots who "like" and comment on other people's posts, making them more and more popular, and the posters who publish posts that get more and more popular by being "liked" and commented by the idiots.

I have been an idiot myself for a long time. On Facebook I tried to "like" and comment on  other people's posts as much as possible. I was trying to be nice. I thought people would appreciate if I "liked" and commented on their posts.
You "like" and comment because you want to be nice, you want to attract attention to yourself, and you hope people will return the favor and "like" and comment on your posts.

But there is a huge problem: the more you "like" and comment on people's posts, the more you alienate your other friends. All the posts you "liked" and commented will appear on your other friends's streams.  But most of them will probably not be interested in those posts. For them those posts are pretty much spam. Sooner or later they will defriend you or at least limit the number of posts they see from you. They will interact with you less and less.
How many relationships has Facebook ruined?

What is the solution? Leave Facebook? Never "like" or comment on other people's posts? Send only private messages?
Sending private messages seems to be the only viable alternative.
I already do that on YouTube. I try as much as possible to send private messages on YouTube instead of "thumbing up" or commenting on someone else's video.

The problem of private messages is that it is a one-to-one conversation. Nobody else can see it or participate.
I like talking, I like discussion, I don't mind participating in public discussions.
But I don't want to spam my friends' streams and force them to see my discussions.

Why did Facebook decide to automatically reshare every post that is "liked" or commented? Probably because they want the posts to become viral. Especially the posts  from companies and celebrities who pay money to Facebook to promote them.
Most people will not reshare a post unless it is really interesting and worthy to show to friends. But most people will "like" or comment on a post, just to show appreciation to the  poster. So Facebook decides to automatically reshare every single post that is "liked" or commented in the hopes of it getting a larger audience.

But this strategy will backfire. Because all the people receiving those posts will, most appropriately, consider them spam, and start to block them, decreasing the number of posts they see from a certain user, even unfriending them. Some will even leave or abandon Facebook.
Comments and replies about the new +1 on Google+

Comment: Anyway, this feature is not "spammy" at all, since we don't share each and every +1 you give.
Reply: What is exactly the percentage that will be reshared? 99%? Is that not "spammy"? Let's start with 10%, then 6 months later go to 50%, then after a year just to go 100%. That is not spammy!

Comment: we're not really talking about anything that's going to inundate or badly clutter our streams.
Reply: That is exactly what is going to happen because most people don't know exactly what +1 button is, and they will just keep clicking on it as they have been doing so far. Most people will not know how to disable it. Most people have a tendency to keep the setting on default values, without changing it.

Comment: People are going to demote people to circle wastelands when they're too fast and loose with their plussing.
Reply: That is exactly what is happening on Facebook. The more you +1, the more you alienate your friends. Your friends will be forced to block your posts, even unfriend you.

Comment: we are losing the plus as a quick easy of giving a social signal that we care
Reply: Exactly! Now the +1 button is useless.
This is what happens when you let a machine decide for you.
Why automatic resharing is spam.

Let's suppose your wife or girlfriend loves Justin Bieber but you hate him.
She wants to +1 every single picture of Justin Bieber she can find.
She knows that you hate him, so she is not posting on her page. She is not sharing the pictures with you either. She is just clicking +1  on Justin Bieber pictures posted by other people. The pictures are public and available for anyone to see.

But then Google decides that you too like Justin Bieber and starts sending those pictures to you! What do you do? Every time you log in to your account, you see your page filled with posts that you hate! What are you going to do? Are you going to complain to your sweetheart? She is not sending those pictures to you! Google is! Are you going to complain to Google? Are you going to demote your own wife or girlfriend to the circle wastelands?
What if she sends a very important and urgent messsage? What is your excuse for not seeing that message? Are you going to admit to her that you demoted her to a circle you never check? She is a very important person in your life, you have to make sure you read every single post of her, some of those posts may be directly to you, some of those posts may important, you cannot just ignore or read later. What are you going to do?  Are you going to destroy the computer because it is filled with posts that you hate? Are you going to unfriend your own wife or girlfriend?

The +1 button should be about the things that you like.
The "share" button should be about the things your friends may like.

Let's suppose you love Mariah Carey, but your wife or girlfriend hates her.
You should be free to +1 any picture of Mariah Carey that you find, withouth having your wife or girlfriend knowing about it. You should have your privacy.
You should be free to share any picture of Justin Bieber with your wife or girlfriend.
You share that picture because you know she will love it.

Buying a gift for yourself and buying a gift for your wife are two completely different things.
You should never confuse one with the other.
Otherwise you may find yourself without a wife.


  1. I have disable the feature.
    The way Google has turn this feature on is way better than the way Facebook uses the like button, but I still do not want my +1 to be shared with others, if I want that I would share it.
    There is also the chance of Data Leakage, if you leave the option on, people could see that you are following some dodgy people. For example, if you +1 a photo of a lady with very little clothing on and that post was published public, but you happened to have the person circled, that +1 may show up in your extended circle list, which may include your grand mother of something. Your friend has always had the ability to see this public post, but now they associate you with this type of post.

  2. Actually, Google hasn't just changed the behavior of the plus-one button. Consider this:


    "+1 is how you signal your appreciation for anything that grabs your attention on Google+ or on your favorite websites. When you read a post that makes you want to cheer, +1 is your applause; when you watch a video that has you in stitches, +1 is your laughter; when you see a photo that perfectly captures that special moment, +1 is your 5-star review.

    Let me stop here to emphasize that last part:

    +1 is your 5-star review.

    It's for extraordinary content, not casual /nods of approval or agreement or acknowledgment. The reason it's so noisy for some people is because most people seem to use what was intended to highlight extraordinary content in too casual a manner.

    "When you read a post that makes you want to cheer" is a very different intention than hitting the +1 button on everyone who replies to a post that you (or I) might initially share, as a /nod of acknowledgment.

    I think the distinction that one could take away from this change to G+ isn't that they've somehow broken the service, but rather they've reminded us what the button is intended to be used for. And, if we'll recognize this simple fact and adjust our own plussing habits accordingly, we may actually reap some very useful benefits from the change rolled-out today :)

    1. Modifying behaviour is a very difficult thing to do. External factors tend to play a much larger role in motivation than internal ones do. For example, suppose you had to print out a 3 page document, send it in the mail and wait for google to +1 for you. I believe that in this case, +1s would be very rare. Contrarily, by making the +1 button easy to click, people are quite inclined to click it without thinking overmuch about it.

      If google wanted to remind people of the purpose of the +1 button, the information would be displayed on every page, rather than in a FAQ which few people read and which takes a couple dozen clicks to find. In essence, the +1 button is google's way to create a chain reaction of popularity. If it's clicked once, it ends up on your friends page. If any of your friends click it, then their friends see the page and so on. Thus, a page with more than 1000 +1s is likely to get more, while a page with only 10 is pretty unlikely to get them.

      I believe that the problem is simply that people, being people, will naturally do what they can do easily. People, being people love to make things easy for other people and know that no-one likes reading a manual, so they push the manual off to the side. Thus, the average person neither reads the manual, or adjusts their habits. Anyways, the system is made in such a way that a popular article has more chances to remain popular, because it is beneficial to google to have many popular articles, rather than many articles that no-one cares about.

      Either way, people rarely have the internal motivation to modify their behaviour when their behaviour has no real consequences for themselves (e.g, waiting time, effort, money, pain). The steeper the consequences, the fewer people who will actually try to overcome them. The world's greatest security will demotivate everyone except the people who actually want to overcome it, and those people will always find a way.

      Human ingenuity, and motivation are the two reasons we've achieved so much on this planet. The people who overcome obstacles, even when those obstacles would undo them represent the crazy sort of people that have gotten us this far. Determination is useful, but only in the case that you succeed.

      Now that I've drifted so far from topic, I will end this before I get into an extended monologue on the nature of the universe >.<