Google Plus: Fast, Cheap and Out of Control

Google Plus: Fast, Cheap and Out of Control

Summary: Google's fun new social network Google Plus is growing fast and its Achilles' Heel is NSFW content. Will Google+ be safe for adults?

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Google’s fun new social network is clearly growing faster than expected and has problematic blind spots – and its Achilles’ Heel is NSFW content.

One thing’s for sure – the content restrictions on Google+ certainly make the social network safe for children.

But who is going to make it safe for adults?

I’m on Google+ with content that might be racier than most, sure – and I love Google+. A lot. But I know my way around Big Social and its failings with NSFW (Not Safe for Work) policies. And I can tell you that this situation isn’t going to end well.

Nothing tests the mettle of a social network like spammers, brands, hackers, trolls – and poor policies around content that is not safe for work.

No, I’m not talking about porn (for once). I’m talking about the huge amount of everything that falls between porn and G-rated (general, all ages) content.

Google+ has done something that I think is going to become a huge problem: they do not allow content they deem as not work-safe, yet have not put content controls in the hands of Plussers.

Without giving Google+ accounts the ability to self-rate photos, albums or posts, or the ability to opt-in or opt-out to safety levels, Google is laying the foundation for one community management crisis after another.

The big failing of all Big Social endeavors is not treating edgy content like any other kind of content - content that some people want to see and share, and some simply do not.

Think of it like this: you may not want to see content shared from McDonald’s, or be “friends” with McDonald’s – but there are a hell of a lot of people out there that think it would be great to “follow” Ronald and share the corporation’s media.

The default photo and image albums for Google+ users are Picassa, which has zero tolerance for nudity or borderline content, and does not offer users content rating controls (such as the ability to mark things as “moderate” or “restricted”) to remain within the Picassa/G+ content guidelines.

Picassa’s rival Flickr does this, so it’s not just a whimsical idea.

They've provided no community moderation tools for users, so people are trying to make their own. I have already seen artists trying to creatively set content advisory warnings for their work, such as this gallery by painter Ben Northern.

Concerned about having high hopes for Google+ dashed I wrote not one, but several posts on Google+ and its NSFW policies. The reaction was overwhelming, with every commenter expressing deep disappointment.

Scott Turner commented to me,

It is early beta days for Google+ the reason Google invited us all here now is to help them figure out the holes. Congratulations: you found a huge one. Google has to face up to the fact the internet is full of socializing sexual humans.

Dark Pen opined,

Dear Google Plus,

I'm tired of having my rights as an adult ignored. Sex exists. Naked people exist. Please grow up. It IS your service, of course. But honestly, if you only wanted to market it to religious people and children, you should have told us that when you rolled it out.

Think you don’t neet to worry? Then you haven’t read the rules.

What’s worse is that Google+ has taken punitive action against users for posting content outside their narrow – arguably unrealistic – guidelines.

San Francisco librarian Library Vixen commented,

About a year ago my Picasa account was suspended (as was my blogspot shutdown), so now on G+ I am unable to link my instagram photos and am unable to view anyone’s linked "Picasa" photos because of the suspension and direct connection to Picasa.

Lynda Giddens said,

I linked to an article that contained topless nudity and the very first response was, "Reported!"

Incredibly stupid, especially since I plastered NSFW all over it and the thumb image wasn’t indecent.

Users are also reporting in post comments that links are silently being removed form their posts, in addition to having entire posts unexpectedly and quietly removed.

Sadly, Google+ Is Not for Everyone

This setup isn’t just problematic for regular adults, photographers, filmmakers, writers and artists, it automatically excludes those adults that do want to be adults. And that means adult artists and entrepreneurs as well.

When I first posted about Google+’s policy about NSFW content and pointed out that it had already been changed within a week to remove artistic expression – becoming even more restrictive – people in the adult business reacted.

Multi-site owner, producer, and performer Camille Crimson wrote a post saying:

It seems that they’ve made their new social network out to be completely NSFW-free, even going as far as to take a clause for art out of their terms of service. Basically, if you post a beautiful nude painting, you’ll be in trouble.

(…) It’s not that I don’t love just talking to you guys, but this site is a big part of my life and I like to share it. Until they revise their sex negative policies, I think I’m going to have to pass…

Google+ doesn't have to be yet another place that is not welcome to a certain group of people. They have the technology.

One Content Rule for All Communities Will Never Work

Blanket policy works well on Twitter - but their policy is also sensible. Yet even Facebook's ultra-restrictive policy wouldn't fly in say, Libya, where I had an entire domain seized by the government because I had a photo on the site that didn't have my arms covered (something considered literally criminally obscene for a girl to do in that country).

UK Google+ user Morgaine Dinova commented,

The concept of "NSFW" isn't really helpful outside a single society, and doesn't really make sense in a worldwide, multi-national and multi-cultural setting. What G+ needs is topic classification, not imposing one nation's set of value judgements on everything using some arbitrary scale.

It’s sad that I think Google+ should at least take a page from Flickr’s user controls (they’re not known for consistency), or better yet, Blip.tv‘s excellent user-administered content rating system.

In my opinion, they need to address this ASAP or they will have a disaster on their hands.

Having your Facebook account yanked for alleged ToS violation with no way to fight it or find out what you did wrong is one thing. Losing your Google account over oblique ToS enforcement is another entirely.

I don’t need to recount or link to the many innocent ToS violation stories (not even my own) that have come out of Flickr, Facebook and many others over the past several years.

I mean this seriously: how many times do we have to do this?

I'm so tired of the NSFW issue not being addressed with available technologies that it was the topic of a Gnomedex presentation on social sites, online communities and human sexuality - one that received a standing ovation.

The Google+ acceptable use policy lands somewhere between Facebook and Twitter: not as strict and impractical as Facebook, but not as open as Twitter. Because of this, wider use of Google+ will always and forever be limited until they add the ability for users to create content ratings – sorry Dorothy, but there is nudity in the world.

On the flipside, I applaud the inclusion of sexual orientation/gender identity tolerance in the G+ Terms regarding hate speech and specifying bullying. In this, they are light years ahead in creating a safe harbor against an extremely harmful avenue of bullying.

Highlights of what’s not allowed on Google+:

3. Hate Speech

Do not distribute content that promotes hatred or violence towards groups of people based on their race or ethnic origin, religion, disability, gender, age, veteran status, or sexual orientation/gender identity.

10. Sexually Explicit Material

Do not distribute content that contains nudity, graphic sex acts, or sexually explicit material. Do not drive traffic to commercial pornography sites. Your Profile Picture cannot include mature or offensive content. For example, do not use a photo that is a close-up of a person’s buttocks or cleavage.

The sexually explicit rule used to include a line about nudity with artistic merit being acceptable. They removed that, which is very disappointing.

No nudity – yet no user controls in case we post a news item or article about art, and need to err on the side of caution?

I'm giving Google+ user Martin Bogomolni the last word on the matter:

I would //MUCH// rather have a "this post has mature content" than Google's nanny attitude about no nudity. Most of us on here are adults, and parents should guide and talk with kids about what's online. Google, don't push your ethics on me...

Read more on Google Plus:

Topics: Apps, Google, Social Enterprise

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76 comments
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  • RE: Google Plus: Fast, Cheap and Out of Control

    I think it's fair enough. Not like most other sites are any different. If you wanna post stuff that is considered inappropriate by society in general (don't pretend you don't know what that means), then you shouldn't be posting it on a SOCIAL networking site. Post it somewhere else. My take is "Don't like? Don't use"
    bugmenot@...
    • RE: Google Plus: Fast, Cheap and Out of Control

      @bugmenot@... Agree with you that those who think it takes being religious to have moral decency are themselves the fringe seeking acceptance. No apologies in saying pushing for greater sexual content is not wanted by those of us who are agnostic and spiritual. You want skin, get a skin mag or go to a skin site. Just not for those with greater ambition for this network beyond entertainment and amusement factors.
      victor.jasin@...
      • RE: Google Plus: Fast, Cheap and Out of Control

        @bugmenot@, @victor.jasin@... whose judgements are to be used here? "Society in general" is contextual, it has no completely general meaning. As the article said, a picture of a woman with bare arms is deemed offensive in some places. Should G+ adopt that standard?
        Given that your postings can be restricted to only people whom you want to see them (sorry about the tortured grammar there, don't pretend you don't know what it means ;-)), why should you be restricted to what (one particular) society (and not even all of that society) finds acceptable?
        keithc
      • RE: Google Plus: Fast, Cheap and Out of Control

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    • SOCIAL concerns... in a multi-cultural environment

      @bugmenot@...
      From a quote in the article: "The concept of ?NSFW? isn?t really helpful outside a single society, and doesn?t really make sense in a worldwide, multi-national and multi-cultural setting. What G+ needs is topic classification, not imposing one nation?s set of value judgements on everything using some arbitrary scale."


      ...you're saying that YOUR society's norms and values should be the way ALL users of this site should be, when your rights should go no further than THEIR rights. What happened to "land of the free", or "all men created equal"?

      I personally am not into "socially inappropriate" things (by North American standards), but I also understand the need to accept societal differences. There is no blanket social standard that covers all societies.

      Strip clubs are "socially acceptable", they just set an age limit. Why should the internet not follow similar rules?
      shryko
      • Strip club security does not equal internet security

        @shryko
        I for one am happy they are limiting things to a work (and family) friendly environment. I would never let my kids on Myspace. One click saying you are older than you are and wamo, all the nude, crude, destructive stuff that we as a society has deemed inappropriate for the society as a whole. Is it that easy for a kid to get into a strip club? By the way, if you want strip clubs on the internet, they are all over so go there instead of to the "MALL" to hang out.
        brant@...
      • RE: Google Plus: Fast, Cheap and Out of Control

        @brant@...
        ...I've seen XXX stores inside of a mall before. No bouncers, either. As well, I'm not saying 1 click should be enough to be registered as 18+, either. Where the balance should be? I dunno.

        Oh, and don't pretend that underage people don't get into strip clubs. Fake IDs are often used...


        and again with the "we as a society" bit. Online, there are MANY societies. Why should one dictate all the requirements for ALL?
        shryko
      • RE: Google Plus: Fast, Cheap and Out of Control

        @shryko "[strip clubs just set an age limit: why should the internet be any different?]"

        This is such a naive (or wilfully blind) approach, for multiple reasons.

        The first and foremost reason, is the superset of all the others: "virtual reality" is different from *actual reality*.
        (Umm. hello? is this a revelation?)

        You can reasonably regulate a strip club, to require them to post a door watcher, to keep out "underage" folks. that is almost trivial. You can tell just by looking, "hey, that person is underage".
        Whereas on the internet.. a "visitor" is just an IP addr.
        So, when it comes to keeping (class of material) out of the hands of (class of person) in the context of a social media site where you want "everything" to be potentially available on it, you have exactly two choices that will be consistent:

        A) no more anonymity. Make sure that you 100% know the Real Life Identity of everyone who comes to the site.
        (is that what you'd prefer?)

        B) give up on any limits, because without A), any kind of limit is going to be non-enforcible in any kind of real sense.

        If you dont want A, AND you dont want B, then the only thing left is to change part of the original the premise: To ensure that (class of material) is not made available to (class of person), you can no longer allow "everything" on the site. you must censor out (class of material) entirely.
        Phil Brown
      • RE: Google Plus: Fast, Cheap and Out of Control

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    • &quot;Don't like? Don't use&quot;

      @bugmenot@... How about "If you don't like my content don't visit my page." A lot of sites have G-rated controls (which, I agree) should default to safe. Even Google's search engine lets me search for mature sites if I change my setting to.
      ghall@...
    • RE: Google Plus: Fast, Cheap and Out of Control

      @bugmenot@...

      This is the same sort of logic that says it's perfectly all right to abridge the protection against illegal search & seizure because if you're a Good Guy, it doesn't matter if the cops search you or your domicile without a warrant whenever they feel like it.

      After all, only people with guilty consciences worry about stuff like that.

      Did you notice that the policy probably makes it illegal to include images of great artworks like the Venus di Milo or the Nude Maja on your Google+ pages, and that if you do, you could - without appeal or warning - lose all your Google accounts?
      fairportfan
      • RE: Google Plus: Fast, Cheap and Out of Control

        @fairportfan most "great art" was about as overrated as the "art" of today.
        Back then it was just an excuse to look at nudies :) Whereas now it's mostly an excuse to make some kind of socio-political statement.
        Art for Art's sake, seems to be a rare thing.
        if you take two paintings of the same scene, in the same style, where one has people fully clothed, and the other does not... there's nothing "great" about the unclothed one.
        Its kinda like the old "I read playboy for the articles" guy.
        Yeaaaahhh, no.
        Phil Brown
      • RE: Google Plus: Fast, Cheap and Out of Control

        @Phil Brown<br>Yeah, let's not forget medical students, nurses and doctors and all associated books....<br>Then add the almost entire pics of the covers of the gothic, fantasy and romance novels...<br>All those album covers...<br><br>Should I continue?<br><br>Sheesh! Where do you draw the line?
        rhonin
    • Re; by society in general

      @bugmenot@...
      You do not seem to know much about societies outside the US.
      In Libya you can not show a woman with bare arms.
      In Italy there is an abundance of Madonnas that show Mary breastfeeding Jesus.
      So; which society is going to be the "valid one" ?
      If you suggest the US one, then I think I will suggest the Libyan one.
      hkommedal
  • Google going Apple-way? I mean, seriously, Apple's moral lecture to ..

    developers of applications/media is absolutely unacceptable -- they should have allowed some mature flag/rating/area for such media and applications, instead of just banning.

    However, this is Apple, this is what Apple typically does, enforcing rules for better or worse (most of the time, for better).

    But Google touts popular words like "free" and "open", so it is strange that they are so prohibitive and closed to their users.
    DDERSSS
    • RE: Google Plus: Fast, Cheap and Out of Control

      @DeRSSS Google is a company. It is not someones right to have access to anything they offer. "Google, don't push your ethics on me..." is completely foolhardy. They own the network. Accept the terms or go be a part of something you can agree with.
      scubashnurpel
      • Exactly

        @scubashnurpel

        There are plenty of other places to engage porn on the web.

        Google's terms will be acceptable to the vast majority of people. If you don't like their terms then don't use THEIR service. Frankly I don't understand people who think they are somehow entitled to smut everywhere.
        Tim Patterson
  • RE: Google Plus: Fast, Cheap and Out of Control

    First time I've ever hit the tweet button on an article. What is Google+ going to do when I post pictures of my avatar (I'm a Faun)? These so-called social networks are, as far as I can tell, anti-social. In a few years they will all be replaced with the Metaverse just like SMTP replaced commercial email.
    Sphere1952
  • Google has to tread very carefully here...

    Businesses are in the habit of blocking Facebook for various reasons. A lot of it has to do with managing people not capable of self policing themselves.

    It is easy to block Facebook. They currently use 4 separate IP Address ranges.

    Google is very different. To block Google+ is to block ALL OF GOOGLE. Now how is that going to play nice with Google Apps and other ventures focused at the enterprise?

    If Google makes it a free for all, they lose the enterprise. End to End. Therefore Google must either provide the means to block access to Google+ separately from the rest of Google or make Google+ fit the corporate mold and enterprise requirements.
    Freddy McGriff
    • In Fact....

      @Freddy McGriff <br><br>Another thought occurs to me and should be investigated as I think it will be revealing....<br><br>"What percentage of the new Google+ subscribers work for companies that currently block Facebook?"<br><br>The answer to that question could change the way Facebook does business too...<br><br>If more and more businesses agree that Google+ restrictions are "enterprise friendly" And Zuckerberg's free for all attitude is not, then we will see more subscribers switch so they can access their social networks at work.<br><br>Maybe that is what the intent of these restrictions are...

      This is NOT what google wants to happen within corporate America:

      http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2011/jun/30/google-plus-blocked-china
      Freddy McGriff