Google are taking a strong stand against those who like to be anonymous.(

Not the hacking group Anonymous, of course, but the somewhat larger set of people who still cling to the illusion of privacy.

I can’t quite work out whether this is sound business sense, naivite, of full blown stupidity. It is certainly out of touch with social networking trends.


Juvenile Psueds

I confess, much to frustration of my real world friends, I have not really entered into the spirit social networking. I think I’ve made 3 tweets so far, and on more than one occasion I have been berated for taking over 6 months to respond to a facebook message. Fortunately, however, two of my children are teenagers. Observing their online behaviours gives my far better insight into genuine trends, than middle age geek introspection.

Facebook, for my elder children, is of course is the dominant form of communication.  But here’s the interesting thing. if you look at my children online contacts, less than 40% of them user their own name.

They have all embraced Psuedonymity. Apparently the current vogue is name mashups. You may keep your first name, but you often take the second or middle name of a friend.

Your friends know who you are – of course they do – they’re your friends. But a casual browser, would find it reasonably difficult to tie your facebook account to your real identity.

When you think about it, this is quite a beautiful thing. The collective is adapting. Its adapting to protect itself – its protecting itself from invasion of privacy yes. But I think there is something else at work here, at some level, even it its subliminal, there is a recognition that there is a financial element to this also.


What is Anonymity worth

The “information disruption” does not stop at names mashups. Ages and Marital status are also falsely reported. Children are getting married and divorced all the time. Marital status has become a form of “friend presence”; it is a way of marking up a special relationship. But of course they’re not children, to facebook. They may be 12 one week 35 the next. Getting married, being in a lesbian relationship with you BFF, is really just a bit of laugh.

But this is all hilarious. What is it doing to the “advertising Algorithms”? Do my children really need the services of a divorce lawyer? Would the divorce lawyer be spending his money on advertising be pleased that their very expensive “demographically targeted adverts”, are hitting 12 year old school children?

This is what its all about in the end – Money. Google and Facebook are in the information business. They sell your information (with consent….?), via advertising. If the information is corrupt, their handling damaged goods. And when the buyers of these goods work this out, the price drops…………dramatically.

Translation: lying about your identity, age, marital status – or otherwise pissing about with your information costs Facebook and Google money!!


A Prediction: Private Browsers are coming

Here’s what I think: very soon the world of browsing will change. The current handling of private information on the web is not sustainable.

There are a lot of pressures at work here

  • Legislation: the “do not track” meme is in the ascendancy. These things take time US: But there is implied recognition here that the consent model for data is not working
  • Behaviours: as you can see above people are changing the way they use social networks. I think this is just the thin end of the wedge. The technology is taking time, the laws always time- but there is an immediate  need to protect privacy, so we change the way we use the system. And I suspect at some level people take a mischievous pleasure in devaluing the amount of money an advertising company can make off their back.
  • Technology: finally, I think a new wave of browsers are on the way. The final and most extreme trend, is the emergence of new browsing models where data is truly owned by the user. In webinos we are experimenting with some of these ideas, but this is not an isolated trend.
I think Google needs to wake up and wake up fast. Quotes like this
But he explained that the requirement to use real names is an attempt to set a positive tone, “like when a restaurant doesn’t allow people who aren’t wearing shirts to enter.”Read more:

Demonstrates a a fundamental misunderstanding. People aren’t changing their name as a sign of “disrespect” to the social networking entity. The social network itself is still functioning. My friends still know who I am not matter what my name, and when I change my age its a joke, because my real friends have the context of reality, through which to interpret the information. What is emerging is a new private language is evolving to stop the corporate listening in and making money off the chatter.


Watch this space. I’m sure they will be some backtracking –  a bit of face saving on he inevitable backlash, against these naive statements.

But we must recognise that there is a financial imperative here – a driver that will nor change. The motives of Google and the like are clear: the quality of your data effects their advertiser income, they want you to keep it clean for them.


Things have to change.

If the services dont adapt, the browsers, behaviours and legislation will.

If the servers don’t treat our data with respect, the browsers will stop releasing it.

One day soon, if things don’t change, we will all want to be anonymous.