Who you speak to and where you are: why it matters

Cross-posted to Geek Feminism.

Abusive relationship and spousal rape survivor and blogger “Harriet Jacobs” at Fugitivus is angry and scared today:

I use my private Gmail account to email my boyfriend and my mother.

There’s a BIG drop-off between them and my other “most frequent” contacts.

You know who my third most frequent contact is?

My abusive ex-husband.

Which is why it’s SO EXCITING, Google, that you AUTOMATICALLY allowed all my most frequent contacts access to my Reader, including all the comments I’ve made on Reader items, usually shared with my boyfriend, who I had NO REASON to hide my current location or workplace from, and never did.

My other most frequent contacts? Other friends of [my ex-husband]’s.

Oh, also, people who email my ANONYMOUS blog account, which gets forwarded to my personal account. They are frequent contacts as well. Most of them, they are nice people. Some of them are probably nice but a little unbalanced and scary. A minority of them — but the minority that emails me the most, thus becoming FREQUENT — are psychotic men who think I deserve to be raped because I keep a blog about how I do not deserve to be raped, and this apparently causes the Hulk rage.

There’s lots of other comment today on Google’s Buzz automatically assuming that your frequent email contacts should be your Buzz contacts, and making the connection with them public:

There will quite possibly be more by the time I’ve finished writing this post, let alone by the time you read it. But having to fight this battle on a site-by-site, service-by-service basis is disgusting. For a number of groups of people, including people who are the targets of a violent obsession among others, information about who they are in contact with, where they live and what they’re interested in has life-threatening implications. For a larger number of people it has non-life-threatening but potentially serious implications for their job, for example, or their continuing loving relationship with their family. Sometimes people are in frequent contact with people who have power over them, and/or who hate them. Why aren’t privacy policies centring that possibility, and working out the implications for the rest of us later?

Update 13th February: Fugitivus has had a response from Google making it clear that protected items in Reader were not shared despite appearances, and stating some changes that are being made in Reader and Buzz in relation to issues she raised.



Categories: gender & feminism, technology, violence

Tags: , , ,

19 replies

  1. Right now I’m a bit nervous about the fact that one of my professors made my most-emailed list, and he’s also the only person I’m following who is really using buzz. He’s not skeezy or anything, he’s actually my favourite prof right now, but I just don’t know what to do about the fact that I suddenly know when he goes to the gym, and what he thinks of Weeds. And I feel like I can’t talk about my academics, in case he either disapproves or thinks I’m sucking up. This is why I don’t facebook friend my professors, of follow their twitter accounts!
    PLUS, insta-sharing my shared RSS items? Used to be, only niemaodpowiedzi followed my google reader, so I got in the habit of sharing my favourite feminist stuff. You know, the really complicated, fascinating stuff that’s way past 101. Now all of a sudden brothers in my fraternity are reading them. Am I going to be spending all my free time doing 101 with vague acquaintances from now on?
    How is Google not aware that people often have very different spheres of friends, and don’t always want them all to know everything?

  2. Thanks for writing on this, Mary. I was planning to, but haven’t marshalled all the facts.
    So, I refused to accept the initial Google Buzz invite, and went straight to my inbox. Then, after reading a few things elsewhere, I employed the “turn off buzz” option at the foot at my GMail page.
    Do I now need to activate Buzz to turn off any notifications at all, and then deactivate it again, or should I be OK because I never even took a look? This is what I’ve been trying to establish today, and I haven’t got a firm answer.

  3. tigtog, as a non-Gmail user I actually don’t know for sure. Some of the Geek Feminism people were testing today, I’ll poke them and see if they have info.

  4. I have to say that they privacy settings in Google are really confusing (at least for me). As an idea I don’t mind Buzz, and my contacts in gmail are sort of people with whom I don’t mind being in contact, but still I don’t necessarily want to share same things with for example my brother and some friend. I think all the privacy settings should be in one easily accessible place and you should be able to choose if you don’t want certain people see something (different privacy levels for different people).

  5. ”How is Google not aware that people often have very different spheres of friends, and don’t always want them all to know everything?”
    I get the impression from the Google recruiters I’ve met, and descriptions of their interview process, that they rate the ability to solve interesting technical problems thousands of times more important than the ability to consider the consequences of doing so, and that they’re also looking for a particular stereotype in their technical staff which largely excludes hiring the sort of person who’d think of this sort of thing.

  6. @tigtog: Google Help › Gmail Help › Your Account › Google Buzz › Disabling Buzz
    “To completely stop using Google Buzz, you also need to block all followers and delete your Google profile (which will delete all of your posts and connected sites) before clicking the turn off buzz link.”

  7. Exact same thing happened to me. It was scary for a while – I’ve tried very hard to negate all contact. I pressed the “Block” button, but it didn’t seem to work. The person in question just followed me again. The block seemed to work the second time, but there was no real confirmation, just a little pop-up “done”. I’d like it if Google kept a list of blocked contacts, just for the psychological comfort.
    Do I now need to activate Buzz to turn off any notifications at all, and then deactivate it again, or should I be OK because I never even took a look? This is what I’ve been trying to establish today, and I haven’t got a firm answer.
    I’m not sure, but I had to subscribe to your shared reader items all over again – it had removed you from the people I follow.

  8. Okay, maybe my comment wasn’t clear enough.

    So, I refused to accept the initial Google Buzz invite, and went straight to my inbox.

    It wasn’t an invite. Here is a screenshot of what it actually said. Assuming that it’s more logical and opt-in than it really is will interfere with understanding. Having previous experience with how web services worked in the past will interfere with understanding.

    Then, after reading a few things elsewhere, I employed the “turn off buzz” option at the foot at my GMail page.
    Do I now need to activate Buzz

    Buzz is still activated. “Turn off buzz” is misnamed, as it will only remove the Buzz label. You are still on Buzz.

    to turn off any notifications at all, and then deactivate it again, or should I be OK because I never even took a look?

    You are not OK, because it’s on by default, whether or not you look at it. See Official Disabling Buzz instructions above.
    It doesn’t make sense. That’s the point.

    • Thanks for the detailed instructions, Reconstucture!
      I am peeved that I had to delete my profile in order to protect the privacy of my contacts list on Buzz. Aas you say, it makes no sense at all. Surely they could just have a single privacy button up front and centre for people who don’t want to share.

  9. The New York Times is onto this:

    But some critics said that Google’s decision to use e-mail and chat correspondence as the basis of a social network was fundamentally misguided. While it is common for social networks to make public a person’s list of friends and followers, those lists are not typically created from e-mail conversations.
    “People thought what they had was an address book for an e-mail program, and Google decided to turn that into a friends list for a new social network,” said Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, an advocacy group in Washington. “E-mail is one of the few things that people understand to be private.”
    Mr. Rotenberg said that his organization planned to file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission claiming that the Google’s use of e-mail conversations to build a social network was unfair and deceptive.

    And, sadly, fugitivus/Harriet has had to go password-only. I hope she’s ok.

  10. “To completely stop using Google Buzz, you also need to block all followers and delete your Google profile (which will delete all of your posts and connected sites) before clicking the turn off buzz link.”

    FUCKING SERIOUSLY?
    I feel like someone just dumped a bucket of shit over my head and told me “If you don’t want shit all over you, you shouldn’t be venturing outside.”

  11. And, sadly, fugitivus/Harriet has had to go password-only. I hope she’s ok.

    I hope so too. In her last post she wrote about being committed to public writing challenging rape culture so something must have overwhelmed her in the interim. Even if it’s comments rather than contact from her abuser or similar, the comments at Business Insider for one were horrendous (and typical): no one who was ever voluntarily in contact with an abuser was really abused, no one who didn’t change their identity and move thousands of kilometres was really abused &c. Awful.

    • the comments at Business Insider for one were horrendous (and typical): no one who was ever voluntarily in contact with an abuser was really abused, no one who didn’t change their identity and move thousands of kilometres was really abused &c. Awful.

      Argh. I just don’t grok such fundamental failures of logic and empathy: do they imagine that one can separate from/divorce a person without ever having to communicate about a few logistical matters, just for a start? And why the hell should a person who has been/is being abused not want to retain as many supportive connections (not to mention paid employment) in a city that they know rather than have to start all over again somewhere else? Why should the abuser “win” to the extent of uprooting the abused’s entire life?
      From links I’m finding through tweets it does look like Google is rapidly rethinking how Buzz operates. When one talks about cloud computing one rapidly reaches beyond my knowledge level, but I’m guessing that rejigging it to be fully opt-in instead of such a complicated opt-out would require a bigarse redesign and potential loss of huge numbers of the cloudstreams that they are hoping to leverage?

  12. tigtog, as best I can tell the function of the logic and empathy failure is to utterly other abused people: they have completely different lives unseen by the rest of us in which they disappear themselves and their history for their own safety. Thus, any supposed testimony of survivors can be discounted, as if you’re able to speak, you were thus not abused at all.
    Very distressing stuff.

  13. Restructure: ooh, that official blog post’s rather misleading. IIRC (and someone who actively uses it might want to correct me on this) public Google Reader items weren’t public in the sense that any random stranger could view them. Instead, they were public in the sense that anyone who you gave the secret unguessable URL to could view them. So, despite what the blog post implies, Buzz did allow people who wouldn’t otherwise be able to view shared Google Reader items to do so.

  14. WOW. Thanks all for discussing this. I am going to leave gmail as soon as I have a stable internet provider, and then I’ll use the email I get with that, because I know they won’t pull this BS on me. Thanks google. Way to not be evil. /sarcasm.

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