Image: My medieval public identity…
It used to be when users kicked up a fuss, social networks quaked and gave way to their demands.
Then Facebook began a kind of two-steps-forward / user outcry / one-step-back dance with privacy and user data.
These days, as the market has matured and the incumbents feel a little more settled, their networks seem a little too hard to opt out of for users.
In a recent New York Times article about Google+, Google’s Bradley Horowitz said: “We are attuned to both what people say and what people do.”
How I read that: sure, we hear a lot of complaining, but no one’s voting with their virtual feet.
Users complain about the forcing upon them of a Google+ identity, but they don’t do much about it. They don’t close down their Gmail, start using other search engines, give YouTube a swerve. Not many of them. Not enough of them to worry about.
To data driven Google, an outcry on Twitter and in opinion articles is largely noise. People stopping using their services would be a strong signal – and they just aren’t seeing that.
I can think of a couple of people who have opted out of Facebook (a couple out of the few hundred people I’m connected to there).
As for Google, I have only met one refusenik so far – and heard tell of others in the online activist community.
Two questions come to mind:
- Will governments and brands begin to follow this logic? Petitions and online slacktivism, as one-click protests are derisively labelled by some, aren’t always going to signal real behaviour changes – boycotts, votes, spending money elsewhere.
- Are people who are opting out of Google and Facebook the start of a movement toward “de-clouding”, rejecting handing their personal data over to large corporations? It’s too early to tell whether this will remain fringe dissent or whether it will begin to spread. Google, Facebook, Microsoft and, to some extent, Apple and Amazon (the “stacks“) will be aiming to make sure the massive utility value of their services outweighs fear and suspicion of their stewardship of our data.
Feaudalism works, you could argue. It worked for thousands of years. Quite apart from inequality and fairness though, feudalism kills progress – it causes stagnation, homegeneity, stasis.
I guess what Schneier and Balkan are pointing out with the feudalism metaphor is that this is a kind of opt-in feudalism – it doesn’t have to be that way. Actually, as I sit here typing into a Chrome Browser, on an iMac, before turning to my Gmail etc. – you realise that it’s no opt-in, it’s something you have to put a great deal of effort and time into opting out of…
: : As an aside, I’d be a lot more likely to use Google+ more often if I didn’t have two identities there. Reflecting on the “forcing users to have a single Google+ identity” strand in this post as I edited it, I realise – I’d love a single identity. Can I have one, please?
My work and personal email are both on Gmail, so I have two lots of circles, etc. Reminds me of this tweet I favorited [sic] the other day:
Dear Chrome team: please lock yourself in a room with the Hangouts team and two accounts per person. Don’t leave until it’s fixed.
— Dieter Bohn (@backlon) February 5, 2014