back to article UK data watchdog 'looking into' Google+ mission creep

Blighty's Information Commissioner's Office is currently "looking into" Google's recent ID verification rejig, The Register has learned. A spokeswoman confirmed to us yesterday that no formal investigation is yet underway, but the ICO is nonetheless using official man-hours probing Mountain View's recent changes to its …

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  1. Goffee
    Happy

    Just launch the brand-name version of Google+ already

    Once that hits, then all of this becomes kind of moot, unless a Mr. Coca Cola, Nigel Metallica or Senior Adi Das is really out there?

    http://www.cmswire.com/cms/enterprise-20/google-for-business-is-on-the-way-012111.php

    Fair enough, its still early days but Google should have expected a mild amount of interest in its service from brands and bands...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Mushroom

      So...

      ...Joe Bawsack can post under the pseudonym "MuckyDeathburgers" but the average person cannot have their privacy protected in the same manner?

      "Do no evil" my ass. Google is a cancer on the Internet, time to start asking serious questions.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        And...

        ...what about "Lady Gaga" (for example). Is she going to be forced to use G+ under her real name (and have her passport checked) with "Gaga" as a nick?

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          And...

          ...apparently Vic Gundotra (y'know, the guy in charge of Google's social muck) doesn't use his legal name. https://plus.google.com/111091089527727420853/posts/Fddn6rV8mBX

          '[Vic] says it isn't about real names. He says he isn't using his legal name here. He says, instead, it is about having common names and removing people who spell their names in weird ways, like using upside-down characters, or who are using obviously fake names, like "god" or worse.'

          So maybe those of us who don't have "rude" names but use common ones for forums, identi.ca etc can dodge a bullet here.

          1. Stoneshop Silver badge
            Big Brother

            @AC 12:19?

            "So maybe those of us who don't have "rude" names but use common ones for forums, identi.ca etc can dodge a bullet here"

            Oh really? http://infotrope.net/2011/07/24/more-comments-on-google-plus-and-names/

            1. Steve Knox
              Facepalm

              "Common Names"

              Actually, the previous post at that site (http://infotrope.net/2011/07/22/ive-been-suspended-from-google-plus/) appears more germane to this discussion.

              Particularly, the transcript of e-mails between Skud and Google seems to indicate that Google themselves don't know how to handle their own policy yet.

      2. Delbert
        Pint

        Scanning for the cancer

        Theres an interesting search you can do as to just how much information Google is prepared to reveal it stores about you details here

        http://www.articlesrightnow.com/Art/46235/94/What-Does-Google-Store-About-Me.html

        so far you are able to delete it (probably but if it was just concealed how would you know?)

  2. Lloyd
    FAIL

    Google must be soiling themselves

    The ICO eh? Just look at their track record of prosecuting people for violating data protection laws, there was erm... Phorm and erm... well surely there was someone?

    1. mikew
      FAIL

      ICO

      ...and their lamentable fine against Andrew Crossley (of ACS:Law) which should have been £200,000 but ended up at less than £1000....

  3. Anonymous Coward
    FAIL

    Unforseen effects

    At first I was reasonably happy with providing my real name to Google+.

    What they *didn't* make clear is that doing so would replace my pseudonym(s) on all other Google services (e.g. search results, Picasa, Youtube, Discussions, the "Like this" thing, etc, etc).

    Not what I wanted.

    There's no way to control what ID is seen by whom. So even though the circles idea is cool, it enforces the same ID accross all of them. Which is a bit odd if different people know you by different IDs. Once you've given them your full name, that's it. Everywhere.

    Only solution was to delete my Google+ account.

  4. David Perry 2

    Private profiles NOT deleted?

    Didn't I read in the last week or two that certain high profile tech folk (mr Facebook, mr Schmidt etc) had 'private' profiles? Hypocrits.

    1. Kristian Walsh

      It's called Google plus because...

      Everything you put on it is shared with "Google, plus..."

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      And that is the worry...

      ...all it takes is for you to look at a "dodgy" video, picture or make some comment and you can find yourself in hot water. Either from the authorities or from your company.

      For example the statement "I do not like Windows and avoid it whenever possible" is enough to get me fired if this ever got linked back to the meat-space me.

      If you are using G+ (or Facebook or...) you have to watch every word you say/picture you post and assume that the authorities and your boss will *always* see them.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    Ah bollocks

    I have several blogs in blogger under pseudonyms. Time to find them new homes.

    1. anarchic-teapot

      same here

      Fortunately I have my own domain, so it will just be a case of redirecting the DNS to the new site

      'saying his company "aspired" to have "great solutions" for the likes of "teenagers" and "disadvantaged populations".'

      Forcing people back into ther lifestyle, political or health closet doesn't sound like the sort of solution I'd qualify as "great"

      1. Loyal Commenter Silver badge
        Boffin

        IF you want anonymity, using your own domain is probbaly not a great idea

        Unless, of course, you registered the domain under a pseudonym.

        A simple WHOIS search will give the world and his monkey the registration details.

        1. Loyal Commenter Silver badge
          Boffin

          Given that you now know this,

          You might want to get onto your domain registrar and get the details changed on the WHOIS register, and/or change your user name on the Register to not identify your postings here with your domain name...

          1. Stoneshop Silver badge

            WHOIS anonymity

            For the .nl TLD, a whois only gives you the registrar, not the owner.

        2. Dave Bell

          That Depends

          Private individual: my UK-based registrar doesn't publish my personal data through WHOIS. Name and address is something that pretty obviously comes under the DPA, and the legal advice is that an IP address might do, so it's safer to handle it as if it were.

          1. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

            Depending ont eh country, the WHOIS information may be anonymous

            For the domain in question (I'll leave it as an exercise for the reader), the registrar is French, and the whois record lists what appears to be a name and private address of an individual. It just goes to show; you are often less anonymous than you think you are. You have to assume that if you have let slip your identity to anyone then potentially your details are available to all and sundry. This applies in real life as well as on the interweb, it depends on how paranoid you are as to how much this worries you...

  6. WonkoTheSane Silver badge
    Coat

    "Social Networking?"

    I've heard of it.

    Mine's the one with "Diogenes" on the nametag.

  7. MarkieMark1
    Childcatcher

    commoditisation of human beings

    there was a name for that at one time

    now, would it be possible to sign up as William Wilberforce?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: commoditisation of human beings

      The Labour Market?

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Boffin

    Google+, yet another reason to avoid them!

    The more I hear about the Google the more I try to avoid them wherever possible. Everything they do is purely in their own interest and the ability to sell you, the real product here, down the swanee!

    Big Brother is not some nasty faced all controlling government device, as per 1984, but it will be a nice, kindly mega-corp that offers you wonderful treats with one hand while polishing the gilded cage they're about to push you into with the other hand!

    Now repeat after me, "Google is not my friend! Google is not to be trusted!".

    1. This post has been deleted by a moderator

      1. Stoneshop Silver badge
        FAIL

        A lot of companies

        manage to make a profit without raping your privacy left, right and center.

        But maybe that's because those other companies have stuff that's actually valuable, not being the mere personal data of millions. Tangible stuff that people want to buy, like beer, computer parts or electricity, or even some service. Google has no such product (that they're charging money for, that is); what they have is what *advertisers* want to buy, not Otto Normalverbraucher.

      2. AdamWill

        yes, and?

        I see this argument all over the place, and it's just absurd. I mean, if you break it down, your argument is 'any company that does anything with the intent of making a profit is just fine by me', right? Surely you can see why that's nuts?

        It is their right to do anything (within the law, which, well, see comment thread) to try and make a profit. That doesn't stop it being our right to be really freaked out by what they do to try and make a profit, and constructing arguments as to why what they do to try and make a profit is a bad thing. Sometimes, we're right. Can you make a good profit by selling humans into slavery? Sure. Does that make it okay? No.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          RE: yes, and?

          yep, pure unrestricted capitalism can lead people to do unpleasant and scary things in the pursuit of profit.

          'what's the problem? its just a few artillery pieces for libya, gotta make a profit somehow.'

          1. This post has been deleted by a moderator

            1. AdamWill

              mainly

              the main problem with Google is they're so much more pervasive than the others. I mean, Facebook, at least I can go to Facebook, use it, then sign out, and as long as I don't do anything idiotic like using any facebook apps or clicking any Like buttons, I'm pretty okay. No-one else has the sheer reach Google does. Think how it looks if you do things the way Google wants: literally everything you do online goes through Google. Your email, your social networking, your chats, your contacts, your calendar, your phone (remember, when you buy an Android phone, the first thing you're supposed to do is sign it into your Google account, which it then never signs out of), search, maps; they do _everything_. I see Google+ mainly as a cunning means of making sure you're signed into Google the whole time so they can track everything else you do as well. I mean, no-one else is even close to being that pervasive. Microsoft is the only one who really could get close, but they don't have social media and I really doubt many people are using Microsoft with a single identity end to end. Apple's not close.

              1. Quirkafleeg
                Big Brother

                Ways and means

                I've started keeping one browser for Google stuff where I need to be signed in and another for everything else. However, that still leaves my Android phone, for which many things will normally go via a Google app because it's more convenient.

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  10. David 164

    This is a non story

    "Horowitz then skates over the fact that people sometimes use either their real name or an anonymous handle depending on how they want to present themselves online. This can sometimes involve serious political or personal reasons, a lengthy list of which is provided by the Geek Feminism blog here."

    This was the whole point of circles, where each circle effectively have there own profile. Creating a simple option to allow different circles to see different names would solve this problem.

    Then of cause once they release the brands pages this will be solved. As long as they make sure it reasonable easy to get those type of pages.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      FAIL

      Re: This is a non story

      "This was the whole point of circles, where each circle effectively have there own profile."

      Bzzt!!

      That's where they screwed up: each circle has different members but still has *exactly the same real name* associated with it. Totally defeating the point of the (otherwise brilliant) circles.

      The fact that Google merrily go way and publicly associate that same real name with ALL your other Google services/blogs/photos is just an added fail.

      "Creating a simple option to allow different circles to see different names would solve this problem."

      Why, yes. Yes it would. Something that is blindingly obvious and simple to do, yet Google seem to be very reluctant to do this.

      Can you think why?

      Hint: $

  11. This post has been deleted by its author

  12. Andrew Jones 2
    Thumb Up

    personally....

    Personally I am a great fan of Google+ I am having a brilliant time on there - I have met some amazing people from different areas of my hobbies.

    I am not fussed that they want my "common name" I am still a firm believer of never post anything on the internet ANYWHERE unless you are comfortable with it.

    The bollocks about people knowing your name is rubbish - I have seen all sorts of arguments as to why it is a bad idea - 90% of excuses relate to "personal safety" but I still say if someone is "hiding" for whatever reason because of something that happened to them in the past - the very first thing they should have done is change their name legally.

    As for the privacy side of things - I am extremely comfortable with the privacy thus far afforded by Google+ if I wanted to I could set up my profile to only show my name and absolutely nothing else. As for posting something that you wouldn't want to get back to someone else - if Google f**k up and the very basic aspect of "circles" breaks allowing your "private" posts to be seen by the world - then that is a) a bridge to be crossed when/if it happens and b) they will lose a very large amount of their userbase overnight.

    My only one gripe so far is that the people with the Android app (possible also the iPhone app but I don't have access to check) can see the email address of anyone whom they have circled and whom has circled them back. It is probably an oversight or a coding error - which is perfectly acceptable for a product that is essentially in it's Alpha stages.

    On the plus side though - Google is very active with the userbase on Google+ not only engaging in direct discussions with the users but also having impromptu hangouts with it's users. The way that Google+ is evolving is directly related to the feedback they are getting from us - the users. It's an incredibly refreshing and humbling experience to essentially be involved in "building" the network from the ground up.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      @Andrew

      "I am still a firm believer of never post anything on the internet ANYWHERE unless you are comfortable with it."

      Some times saying what is right can get you into a world of hurt. Just as the disappeared in the likes of Somalia etc. But since you are in a Western culture that (by and large) accepts freedom of speech (including criticism) why care about anyone else?

      "the very first thing they should have done is change their name legally."

      Great. Then they start posting on-line (maybe to help others) and get their new name linked to the deed. Way to go. And, of course, there can be many, many reasons for people to be "hiding". Whistleblowers is one more example. If people cannot anonymously raise concerns (either in private or in public) then they can be hounded out of their jobs. Just look at what happens to those who speak about about abuses/failings in the NHS.

      "As for the privacy side of things - I am extremely comfortable with the privacy thus far afforded by Google+"

      Then you haven't thought it through.

      "if I wanted to I could set up my profile to only show my name and absolutely nothing else."

      Wrong on an epic scale. You can make them visible/not to G+ users or the great unwashed, but they are *always* visible to Google, anyone who issues Google a subpeona (for example) or any other state that demands data from Google (e.g. China). Your data will also be mined "anonymously" (cough, cough) and shared to the highest bidder.

      Privacy is not about hiding, it is about protecting. It's not about being duplicitous or secretive or anything else. You will only realise how precious your privacy is when you have lost it.

    2. Aitor 1 Silver badge
      WTF?

      Joke? Advertising? Troll?

      Or just plain stupid?

      As you can see, I post as Aitor 1. There are tens of thousands people with the very same name, "Aitor". And you can't really know if that's my name.

      I post in most sites with nicknames. My friends know me by OTHER nicknames.

      And that is how it should be.. I don't want my friends to know what I think about everything. And my competitors, even less... I don't want them to check who am I.

  13. Jonathan Richards 1

    Those Privacy and Electronic Comms Regs

    From the Interpretation chapter:

    “subscriber” means a person who is a party to a contract with a provider of public electronic communications services for the supply of such services;

    [source: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2003/2426/regulation/2/made]

    IANAL of course, but I understand that a contract has to involve an exchange: they provide a service in exchange for my fee. While Google+ is a free service (and a trial, to boot), can users be said to be *subscribers* under the above definition?

    1. Dave Bell

      It is a bit of a stretch...

      I'm a little bit surprised by the use of that regulation in this case. Great if it could scare Google back to their senses, but every time the law is stretched to cover a borderline case it can drag in instances we don't expect.

      Contracts are sometimes not obvious, and the term is an exchange of value. This could be another one of those dangerous stretches of the law, but I think it's long since being settled. The data that Google is requiring does have a value. Google are creating a mailing list, and they can sell the use of that list.

      The problem is that Google don't have to have an RL name to have an identity that can be sold to advertisers.

  14. Stoneshop Silver badge
    Big Brother

    Oh wow

    "If you add nicknames, maiden names, etc to the 'Other names' portion of your G+ profile, those with permission to view those fields can search for you using that term."

    Links between someone's real name and their nickname(s). The very thing a fair few using nicknames for their online presence *DON'T* want known.

    Beyond evil.

    1. Owen Carter
      WTF?

      Err..

      > The very thing a fair few using nicknames for their online presence *DON'T* want known.

      Well; they won't fill in that optional data then..

      Or did I miss some step where we get compelled to do this?

      1. Stoneshop Silver badge
        Big Brother

        No, you're not obliged to provide this info

        But the fact that G+ is asking you to provide this link, instead of allowing separate accounts under nicknames (quite a number of which are perfectly valid identities in their own right, having been around longer than Google itself) speaks volumes. to me.

  15. Robin Bradshaw
    Facepalm

    just muttering out loud

    Im guessing everyone will have to go for the entry field abuse option, everyone sign up as john smith then put your nick name in the 'Other names' field :0

  16. Andy Farley
    Meh

    Google, to me,

    is a little box on the top right of my browser that finds me the internet.

    I give it three years. Then it will quietly go the way of Wave.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    FAIL

    I tried Google+ and nuked it after several minutes

    <- Utter.

    Oh. My. God.

    An invite to Google+ was sent to me, so I curiously clicked a few times and created a Google+ account. I browsed my brand-spanking-new profile and discovered to my horror that it had publically and explicitly linked in things that I was trying to keep slightly private. For example, Google+ insanely posted *ALL* of my photo albums right onto my public profile. I could see no way to unlink any of the photo albums from the public profile. Not all of these photo albums were intended to be publically linked to my real world identity.

    I deleted my Google+ account within minutes of it being created. I was so horrified that I was prepared to delete several blogs and my entire Google account if I had too.

    They're crazy. Totally crazy. They're just completely crazy. Worse than Facebook for privacy leaks, but with much more of your personal history.

    Do. Not. Click. The. Button.

    PS: If Google tries to "don't be evil", then why is the background colour of the advertisement section at the top of the search results slowly fading towards white? I noticed this morning that the shade of pink is as close to white as is technically possible. That slow and subtle fade out of the ad-section background is, arguably, an act of pure evil.

    1. Quirkafleeg
      Holmes

      But…

      … have you informed them of this and your reaction to it? If it could help them not to make this particular mistake again, then you should.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Coat

    Or invent a person (Psuedonym) ...

    Make up a person and remember (or make a cheat sheet) of the details. Then make an account and build history to create the appearence of legitamacy. As they increasingly verify identification, start now and get grandfathered in.

    Sure, it is shallow but, unless you are being heavily investigated (by men is suits), the facade is works nicely.

    My coat belongs to a guy who resembles me, thinks like me, acts like me, but somehow doesn't exist on paper and offline.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Not just Google

    I have an account with another American corporation, which has just started to try to do the social networking thing, without really telling their customers. All the old Facebook mistakes too, with the default permissions set wide open.

    If these people have cunning plans, it's a good bet that they involve turnips.

  20. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Mushroom

    Looking to get that "Identity verification" contract from the British govt.

    Looking to start early.

    No, I don't want a "relationship" with your corporation anymore than I want a "relationship" with the bar staff at my local drinking establishments.

    I give them money. They give me alcohol.

    That's the level of relationship I want with Google.

  21. Paul 87

    I predict that...

    An incredibly large number of John Smith's will invade Google+ over time. Try catching *that* in an auto-filter without getting too many false positives

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters

    A funny thing about Google Chrome.

    For non-US residents.

    If you use one of those anonymising VPNs and set your location to somewhere in the USA, then access Google Voice using Firefox or IE, it works. Do the same thing with Google Chrome, and it tells you that Voice isn't available at your location.

    I'd be careful accessing Google's services with Chrome if I was trying to hide my location.

    1. Quirkafleeg
      Pirate

      Interesting…

      … and with Chromium?

  23. Anonymous Coward
    FAIL

    HOLY SH*T!!!

    I just checked-out the personal information they were leaking!

    One of my Google Maps showed a planned route FROM MY EXACT HOUSE ADDRESS. No way to delete it. All I could do is mark it private AFTER IT DEFAULTED TO PUBLIC for who knows how long... I certainly did NOT explicitly agree that such information should be made public. Including my travel plans. All that was missing is the exact schedule of when we would be away and under which mat is the key...

    Lots of other information too.

    I ended up deleting my Google Profile (again?). I thought that I already did that the other day... WTF?

    What a fiasco. Google is setting themselves up for a huge fail. There's enough in my case for one thing to lead to another (complicated) and a resultant multimillion dollar lawsuit me against them.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      FAIL

      Re: HOLY SH*T!!!

      Bimmin' 'eck!!

      I just checked, and all my GPS traces are now set as public as well!! Journeys I've taken, holidays I've been on, etc, etc.

      These _were_ marked as "for users with the URL only" (i.e. for sharing with friends). Now (thanks to Google+), they're all up there - in the search results - complete with my real name.

      I DID NOT GIVE YOU PERMISSION TO DO THIS!!

      What a monumental f*ck up.

  24. magnetik
    WTF?

    Full name

    You can only use your full name? What if you have a horribly common name? In one company I worked for six other people had the same name as me. If people in the same office couldn't find me on the local intranet me what chance do my mates have of finding me on Google+ ??

  25. Anonymous Coward
    FAIL

    Cue the Class Action lawsuit

    Count me in.

  26. The Infamous Grouse
    Alert

    Slamming on the brakes

    I'm a few days behind the curve on this one but I just want to thank all those who've posted their Google+ horror stories in these comments.

    I have two Google accounts awaiting an invite to Plus, one linked to my Infamous Grouse persona and another to a profile that more closely resembles my out-of-Matrix self but still retains some level of public isolation between various Google services. While I don't expect the Grouse account to ever receive an invite because it's clearly pseudonymous, I would almost certainly have accepted an invite to the other account because I find the concept of circles intriguing and saw no inherent risks in using it. Perhaps naively, I saw it as a potential replacement for Facebook but with better control over which groups of friends saw which posts.

    Having now read about YouTube accounts becoming 'un-nicknamed' and other data -- including mapping and location data! -- defaulting to public I'm not going to touch Google+ with a fucking bargepole.

    Thanks, folks. I think you just saved me quite a bit of shock and aggravation.

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