Notes on Google+

Should you (have) create(d) a Google+ profile?

4 December 2012 │ Last edited: 7 December 2012

 

This post addresses 3 issues that should be considered in deciding whether to create or maintain a Google+ profile or not: (1) how Google+ connects various Google products and services; (2) knock-on effects of a Google+ profile suspension; (3) visibility of the name on the Google+ profile at other Google products and services. Also, please be aware that Google+ is a constantly evolving product, and as such, things change quite rapidly, so information on this page may no longer be up to date.

If you use a Google product, which ranges from Gmail to Blogger to YouTube, then it is a safe bet that you have seen messages enticing, encouraging and almost imploring you to create a Google+ profile, if you haven’t already done so. Is it advisable to create a Google+ profile? My answer to that question is: not always. While I believe Google+ is a good product, and it lies at the heart of Google’s products and services, it is not for everyone, and there are things that you should be aware of, before creating an account, or if you are an active user of Google+, and this post attempts to highlight three major issues: linking of different products that a creation of a Google+ profile entails; the effects of a suspension of your Google+ profile on other Google products and services; and unwittingly revealing your Google+ identity when you want to use a pseudonym. Note that these are not an exclusive list, so it is best if you read more about Google+ profiles before you create one, and if you have a Google+ profile to familiarize yourself with the policies and developments.

Mind the policies

Before discussing the three issues at hand, I would like to stress the importance of the relevant policies that regulate what you can, and – more importantly – what you cannot do, as far as Google+ is concerned. Broadly speaking, there are two main policy areas you will need to be familiar with: the names policy, and the content and conduct policy. A name compliant to the policy, as outlined at http://support.google.com/plus/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=1228271, is required for a Google+ profile. So, for example, creating a Google+ profile with a pseudonym, which does not sound like a personal name, is likely to result in the suspension of the Google+ profile. In addition, there are certain types of content you may not publish on your Google+ profile stream, and there are certain kinds of behaviour that violate the content and conduct policy (http://www.google.com/intl/en/+/policy/content.html), and which could lead to a suspension of your Google+ profile. Make sure, for example, that your actions in the Google+ landscape would not be considered by others as spamming. Suspensions come in different forms, and you may be offered a chance to remedy policy violations on your Google+ profile, but any suspension can cause problems, as will be mentioned below, and it is best avoided.

Things to think about

Let’s turn to the main issues discussed in this piece. The first issue relates to Google+ as something that connects up different Google products and link bits and pieces of information in ways you may not expect. The second issue follows on from the first: because your Google+ profile is connected to so many things, there are wider repercussions, when your Google+ profile is suspended. In other words, a suspension of your Google+ profile has knock-on effects, and may make certain other products inaccessible or also suspended. The third issue relates to Google+ revealing your identity in a way that you do not expect or want. By creating a Google+ profile, you may be revealing your identity as it appears on your Google+ at places where you have been using a pseudonym. Additionally, there are prodcuts that require you to have a Google+ profile.

Google+ is a great connector

Google+ is not only a place where you post or share things on your stream, or start a hangout which is a function that allows video chat for many particpants at the same time, or invite people to events, but it also connects up different Google products and services. To repeat, Google+ is not a stand-alone product, and don’t think of it in such terms.

Let’s say you have a blog on Blogger, and upload images. These images are not stored on Blogger as such, but in an album at Picasa Web Albums (PWAs). This may not have been particularly obvious, if you have used Blogger, but not PWAs, and you probably would not have been very concerned about how it all worked. However, if you sign up for a Google+ profile, then you will see the images that you use on your Blogger on Google+’s photo tab, whether it’s on a desktop computer, a laptop, or a mobile device. You may think that these are different copies from the ones you use on Blogger, but they are not. What is happening is that you are seeing the same images on different places, but there is only one copy of each image. This means that if you delete an image through the Google+ interface, then you are deleting the only copy of that image, and that image will irretrievably lost from PWA, and from your Blogger blog. This example highlights that Google+ connects things in a way you may not expect, and the different Google products are more closely linked that you would assume: if you are going to delete or change things, then make sure you know what you are doing, otherwise you may deleing or changing things in many different products and services.

Google+ suspension and its knock-on effects

We arrive at the second issue, which is linked to the previous point: because creating a Google+ profile connects different Google products, if your Google+ profile is suspended, it can affect your standing in other Google products. The problem is further complicated, if you decide to delete or downgrade from Google+, while your Google+ profile is suspended. You may think that because a suspended Google+ profile is causing the problem, deleting the Google+ profile will solve the problem, but that is not always the case.

This is illustrated well by a particular issue that some YouTube users seem to be experiencing. It affects those who had made a switch from their YouTube usernames to Google+ profiles, and whose Google+ profiles have been subsequently suspended, including those have chosen to downgrade from their profiles while they were in suspension: such a sitaution leads to the suspension of their YouTube accounts, even if no local policies were broken at YouTube. It is possible to revert to the YouTube username, but if you find yourself in this situation, you will have to have the suspension on your Google+ profile lifted, by recreating a Google+ first if necessary. I am not familiar with YouTube, and many other Google products and services, so there may be similar similar knock-on effects elsewhere, if your Google+ profile becomes suspended. This underlies the importance of adhering to the Google+ policies. A failure to observe the policies in the Google+ landscape has the potential to wreak havoc on other Google entities you use. As such, it makes sense to read through the Google+ policies before you create a Google+ profile, and more so if you already have a Google+ profile.

Unwittingly revealing your identity

Let’s now take the issue of unwittingly revealing your name as it appears on your Google+ profile in other products. Probably the biggest area of concern is e-mail in this respect. If you create a Google+ profile for your e-mail log in, which may not be a Gmail or a Google Apps account, and set the sender alias as something different from the name that appears on your Google+ profile, then you may assume that recipient will only see the e-mail sender alias. This is not the case. If the recipient uses Gmail or Google Apps, and hovers over the sender name, he or she will see the hover card for the Google+ profile. There are many variants of this particular issue of e-mail sender alias and the Google+ profile hover card. Another example: if you are an owner or a manager of a Google+ page for your organization or business, and you have created a Google+ profile in your name for the e-mail log that you use exclusively for communicating in the capacity as someone from that organization or business, and set the sender e-mail in the company name, then you may be unwittingly revealing your name when the recipient on Gmail or Google Apps e-mail account hovers over the sender alias. You may not feel comfortable about revealing your name in this manner, and at the moment, there is no option that I am aware of, that would allow you to separate your e-mail sender alias and Google+ profile hover card.

Many Google products have specific usernames and profiles for the product, such as YouTube username or Blogger profile or Google Groups nicknames. If you have changed, switched or linked to your Google+ profile from a product-specific username or profile, then your name as it appears in Google+ profile may become visible. For example, if you use a Blogger blog using Dynamic View and switched from a Blogger profile to your Google+ profile, then your name will appear at the bottom of the post. While in Blogger and YouTube, it is possible to revert to product-specific profiles and usernames, it is not the case with certain products, such as PWA. While this is a blunt generalization, but as a rule of thumb, if you have linked to your Google+ profile, then your Google+ profile subsumes other profiles, usernames and identities.

Sometimes a Google+ profile is required

There also are certain products that require you to have a Google+ profile. For example, if you would like to write a review for a local business on a local Google+ page, then you can only do so with a Google+ profile, and do so publicly. This establishes authenticity, trust and credibility, in the sense that the reviewers can be traced back to a Google+ profile, and you can judge for yourself whether the reviewer is a reliable source or not. There is a cottage industry of fake review writing, where business proprietors pay for good reviews for their own businesses, and sometimes bad reviews of their direct competitors. When the reviewers are anonymous, it can be tough to decide which ones are fake, and which ones are genuine, but in the Google+ landscape, it’s easier to spot the more obvious fakes: if you see the same profile staying in different hotels on the same night, or visiting dentists across the globe, or eating dinner in two different restaurants in different cities on the same evening, then you would think such is implausible and disregard its reviews.

So, should you create a Google+ profile?

In the end, you will have to decide whether you’re comfortable with the product, and how much information you are willing to share with whom. You must be aware that Google+ will link things more deeply than you would anticipate, and that falling foul of the rules on Google+ profiles can lead to complications elsewhere. Above all, you will need to be aware that Google+ trumps almost all other settings and products, especially with regard to how your name is displayed, and how they are revealed to others in various situations. The general advice is that if you are using a Google product anonymously or pseudonymously, and wish to use it in the same manner, then it is best not to create a Google+ profile on that e-mail log-in, but create a Google+ profile on a totally separate Google account. To summarize by reiterating, Google+ will be the lynchpin of Google products and services you use, and you must be comfortable with the idea that others will be identify you by your name as it appears on your Google+ profile.