I recently read an article on TechCrunch about Google+ censoring pics uploaded by users. I love TechCrunch, so it pains me to write this post. But only a little.
Let me first state that I think it is stupid that Google+ censored some pictures of people giving the middle finger. Of all things to try to censor, flipping a bird seems like weak sauce. But, Google+ has the right. There, I said it.
Everyday millions (maybe billions?) of people upload tons of user content to websites like Facebook, Google+, Twitter, and WordPress. Once that user content is uploaded, who owns it? I confess I have no training in internet-ethics (if that is even the right terminology) and I have no concrete facts about how these websites work on a legal level. But why should anyone expect that Google+ can’t touch their data? There, I said it.
I think of it like this- I go to my local university and post copied pictures of myself flipping a bird on the university owned bulletin boards. Then the university takes them down. Can I get pissed at the university because they took down my pictures off of their public boards, which they pay for, supply, and moderate? Is it even my property anymore once I place it in that public forum, especially if it is only a copy? Probably not.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not pro-censorship. However, I also believe that Google+ (or any other social networking company) has the right to create whatever web environment they want (even if that includes hypocritically allowing some porn-ish pictures, as the original author Alexa Tsotsis points out).
I think the larger problem here isn’t censorship but rather identity.
When something happens to our social network profiles it feels like something has happened to us. We tend to forget/overlook the fact that our online profiles are just that- profiles. They are not us. When Facebook changes their interface it feels like it has changed something about you. It feels like an intrusion. It feels like a personal violation. However, it is far from personal. It is only digital.
If we had the same stuff posted about ourselves on a public bulletin board (that we didn’t own) as we do on our social networks, and that stuff got removed by the owner, would we feel as angry? Maybe, but I doubt it. A bulletin board doesn’t feel like me. And if you just had the thought “I would never put the stuff I have on Facebook/Google+ on a public bulletin board” then you should probably reevaluate what you are putting out there in general.
And as far as Google+ goes, is it really that shocking that they would monitor your profile pics? I mean, these are the same guys who track your location, track your browsing habits, and auto-read your mail so you get those creepy targeted ads. When I think about how much Google knows about me my profile pic becomes the least of my data worries.
Thanks for reading.