Google is trying to use your face, name, and activities to sell things to your friends. The company today announced that it has updated its privacy policies so it can use the comments you’ve made on YouTube, the businesses you’ve reviewed on Google+, and the digital goods you’ve endorsed on Google Play alongside ads throughout its many services. In other words, Google+ is about to make a lot more sense.
It seemed odd for Google to introduce yet another social network in 2011. Facebook had already ascended to dominance. Twitter was continuing to rise, and Google’s previous efforts were largely met with apathy.
Yet the social network has systematically inserted itself into many aspects of Google’s services, allowing it to become the second-largest social network, at least so far as overall users are concerned. (Google+ has long been dismissed as a “ghost town” where few people interact with each other.)
Google was trying to create a persistent identity through which the many users of its products would be operating under their real names instead of pseudonyms. There has been some pushback from its users — particularly among those who frequent the cesspool known as YouTube’s comment sections — but prompting people to sign up for a social network when they visit some of the world’s most popular services tends to promote compliance, if only to get those incessant pop-ups to disappear.
But that wasn’t the only thing Google needed to do in order to attach users’ identities to advertisements. It also needed to allow them to control with whom they were sharing information and make it easy for people to opt out of the service.
In other words: it needed to be the anti-Facebook.
Google+ began as just that. Instead of forcing people to simplify every relationship to an online “friendship,” the service allowed users to organize their contacts as friends, family, co-workers, or practically any other category they could think of. Instead of throwing everyone into one big room, as it sometimes feels on Facebook, Google+ allows you to divide your connections the same way you do in the offline world. It feels more private than Facebook, even if users treat the services in much the same way.
It also made it easier to change settings than it is on Facebook’s infamously convoluted privacy settings. Users can opt-out of this latest update with a simple, one-button change. Contrast that with the many steps Facebook requires users to work through to make even the simplest of changes — if it allows them to make those changes in the first place — and it’s clear that Google is trying to present Google+ as the anti-Facebook in more ways than one.
These are both superficial differences, though. At their core, both Google+ and Facebook are trying to create a social network through which they can gather information about their many users, sell ads based on those users’ activity, and then use those users’ faces to convince other users to click on even more ads. The only difference is with the method used to gather and present that information.
Despite all its efforts to become the anti-Facebook, the Facebook-ification of Google+ is complete.
[Image courtesy west.m]