How it all started...
For some time now there’ve been concerns over the safety of people while online and this has once again sparked another round of argument as it concerns the privacy of various internet users. It was even rumored in the past that Facebook had the potential to virtually rule the lives of its users by just a click of the mouse to the extent that what was originally hidden can be easily revealed without the consent of the user involved. This led to a massive deletion of many accounts during that period.
Many Facebook privacy and deletion services came on board as the agitation over online anonymity raged on. Countless people became wary of their general activities online; and this affected the way people searched the web for info, socially interacted with others and shared contents with their peers and online colleagues. But in all these, the real issue was staying safe and sound and most importantly being miles away from potential harm that could come the way of any netizen from online stalkers, cyber-terrorists, internet sex offenders and even serial killers.
Contrary to widely held belief that the privacy concerns was actually over, Google to the chagrin of many instituted a revolutionary algorithm change that completely spooked the whole cyber space sending jitters down the spine of even the spineless. Now these changes sort of brought back the issue of online privacy which some web pundits believed have been violated yet again by Google.
Why would Google reopen an old wound that was already healed?
Well it is the conviction of Google and its spin doctors that spammers and scammers were getting a field day as a result of online anonymity. They posited that this group of never-do-wells leveraged on the inconspicuousness of the web to perpetrate acts that were inimical to the general wellbeing of the World Wide Web and for this reason should be stopped forthwith.
What did Google do?
To check the excesses of those who made it a duty to destroy the web via spam; Google in its second update nicknamed “the Penguin” or webspam update introduced an unconventional angle to the whole algorithm issue. The algo change was rooted on the fact that the web needed to be properly sanitized by cleaning up and weeding out splogs and poorly written content and in this vain establish uniqueness in what Google served its users on their SERP (Search Engine Result Pages). But Google did not stop there; another parameter was introduced that made it a little compulsory to reveal the name behind a unique and well written content.
So what is this “uniqueness” Google is talking about and do you think it has the potential to widen the privacy concerns of many?
One thing that remains sacrosanct after all the debates and wars on this particular issue is that for content to be king as submitted by SEO aficionados, it must be unique in every sense. So the question is how unique can it be? Firstly the content must be unique in style, topic and purpose; then most importantly give credit to the writer by acknowledging “intellectual property” in what can be described as ‘Google Authorship’. A system whereby the creator of any content can claim authorship by linking his Google+ account with whatever verified contents the person authored or co-authored.
What is this Authorship and how does it concern online privacy?
Like I explained above, this is a new system by Google to give credit and relevance to content authorship and rights by linking the content creator via his social media account on Google+ with his write ups and articles which is juxtaposed side by side and made to appear thus at the SERP’s.
From the above definition, one can clearly see that Google in its magnanimity had 5 positive things in mind to achieve by creating this feature;
- Plagiarism: to effectively root out online plagiarism that has become the order of the day, linking up content by giving credence to the author-rel tag- plagiarism can be easily checked and nipped to the bud.
- Build trust: with an author expertly getting his profile picture displayed next to his content at the SERP’s, this would literally build a degree of confidence and trust between searcher and content creator.
- Fight Piracy and Intellectual Property theft: though this should be listed under plagiarism, I decided to highlight it quite differently for purpose of clarity; well in the context of this discussion- online piracy and intellectual property theft can be described as a distorting or outright stealing of intellectual property without the knowledge or consent of the owner of such rights. While plagiarism can be seen as mere copying or stealing, property theft goes beyond this. This is exactly what Google is trying to weed out with this authorship character.
- Build people into and not sites into brands: the web is constantly becoming more social by the day, even Bing (Google’s arch rival) understands this and for this reason has made search a little more social than formal. Now Google via its authorship program seeks to build ordinary people like you and I into brands as against what it used to be in the past where sites mean more than the people behind the success of such sites.
- Make search a little more interactive: if the authorship feature is automatically put into use across board, then Google is making searching for information more interactive and somewhat appealing (sexy to the delight of some); picture a scenario where you are searching for information on how to repair a computer and a friend of yours who happen to be a computer repair specialist pops up in the SERP with a YouTube video or DIY article on how to repair a computer; the question now is who are you going to trust- your friend or some random article or video by an unknown author whose name is hidden or is using a moniker? Well it is natural that you’ll trust your friend more. It will not end with you clicking on the article or video of this friend, but you’ll like to further share his article or video with other friends in your circle and this high level on interactivity will help the content go viral. This is what Google is trying to establish via this authorship program or feature.
Looking at the permutations above, we can rightly state without fear that Google is doing some real good here especially to the little and relatively unknown guys who have continually lived all their online lives in obscurity, however we need to look at the veracity of such claims by Google with a degree of suspicion and doubt going by Google’s antecedence and idiosyncrasies.
So where is Google headed with this authorship thing and is this really the end of Online Privacy?
According to Google CEO Eric Schmidt In his upcoming book, "The New Digital Age", he states this clearly where Google is headed:
"Within search results, information tied to verified online profiles will be ranked higher than content without such verification, which will result in most users naturally clicking on the top (verified) results. The true cost of remaining anonymous, then, might be irrelevance."
From the above assertion we might be actually venturing into the slippery zone, the World Wide Web is finally on the threshold of defining a novel moment of its history where everything that was once shielded in ambiguity can be brought to the open to the chagrin of many.
Though many might see this as a good thing, especially since it is currently on record that Google Plus is now the second largest social network and growing quickly with 500 million registered users and an estimated 343 million active monthly users (January 2013). A very remarkable accomplishment given that Google Plus was launched in June 2011; whereas other similar networks like Twitter could not garner such clout in so short a time when it debuted.
But regardless of all this chest beating and hype, I still think Google is trying to shove its social media down the throat of all its users whether you want it or not. Remember this started with YouTube where the Google plus Button was lying just below the play Button of the Video waiting and urging you to share it (video) with your Google Plus circle of friends by fiat. Well I’ll like to list some negative things that’ll happen when this feature (Google Authorship) is made compulsory;
- Many content creators will feel unsafe: yes this is the number one thing that’ll happen; remember many writers and content developers love privacy. So when this privacy is seemingly violated many of such writers will subsequently feel unsafe.
- Many expert writers will only seek to write or build content in niches they feel is safe to expose their identity to the detriment of other niches and sub-niches where they are knowledgeable: this is what will exactly happen when Google depreciates the value of a content for lack of the writer claiming authorship. For example, most of the time I write articles with adult oriented themes. Though these articles are top quality and useful, I feel I need my privacy remember you don’t know who might be searching.
- Writers will become exposed to harm from cyber criminals and dictators: if you write a political blog where you discuss sensitive issues like gay rights, racial inequality, women empowerment, good governance, religious freedom and more. Now for you to make your content relevant to your readers, you will most of the time go out of the way to criticize powerful individuals and groups. If these individuals or groups are not disposed to taking criticism, they might resort to bringing harm to the writer of the article or content censuring them. So if Google insists on making anonymity irrelevant, then it has succeeded in killing the power of the internet; though they are yet to figure this.
- The true power of the internet “anonymity” is finally bridged: it might look like I have stated this fact in the points above, but I have not fully explained the ripple effect this will be creating. During the renaissance period, art and creative writing was the forte of men. Many talented women used male monikers and nicknames to make their works generally acceptable to their audience. Prior to the information age; for you to get word out you had to be either Oprah or David Letterman. But with the internet just at the reach of every individual, publishing can be done with just a push of the button. But Google is secretly killing this off.
The real lessons in all of this:
I have been doing content creation and marketing for some time now, though I still consider myself a mediocre since I’m relatively unpopular. However, one thing I know about Google is that once they set their minds on doing anything; they always do it regardless of the negative consequences or reprisals that might accompany the policy that they are pushing forward.
So what this means is that this new Google authorship claiming will go on willy-nilly because Google believes they dictate how, what, where and who conducts their business on the internet. I also know how Google will strike this blow-
- Everybody has a Google profile: Google has made it a point to acquire every innovative and next level high tech web technology it can lay its hands on. From the acquisition of YouTube, Blogger, Mozilla to name a few. Now for you to use most of the services, you must sign up and to sign up you most likely need a gmail account to do so which is free and simple. With this in place, you have somehow keyed in your profile and Google now holds the key to deciding what they want to do with such a profile.
- Every newbie started with ‘Blogger’: don’t forget that you had your humble beginning as a blogger courtesy of Blogger.com. I see a situation where Google will automatically link your blogger account with Google plus. Well trust me, Google can do anything they remember or feel they want to do, who are you to stop them?
- Everyone wants to earn some Google AdSense Dollars: the very first cent I earned from the internet was made possible via Google AdSense publisher Program. From what I’m seeing, we might be seeing a possibility where Google insists you have your profile displayed next to the ads displaying your Google AdSense ID, remember Google own the cyberspace and can re-invent the wheel at will (that was pretty cool rhyme).
- One way or the other you need Google: many enraged netizens have gone the extra mile to actually un-Google themselves with little or no success. What this means is that one way or the other you need Google. It could be for your searching needs (Google search), social needs (G-plus), some extra miscellaneous dollars (AdSense), to advertise your products and services for more reach (AdWords), to syndicate and parse your contents (feedBurner.com), to upload or watch a video (YouTube) and just think of any web activity and I’ll show you how Google will expertly come in even if you did not invite it.
One thing I know for sure is that the Internet has come of age and everything and anything is possible. But on the flipside, the thrill we got from being anonymous could be threatened or heightened for good or for bad.
In every sense, we have to be ready mentally and psychologically to brace up with the challenges ahead, and finally if we must reveal our identities in order for us to remain relevant in Google’s scheme, then we must ensure a retreat route in case things go south.
More so, if this move might bring us bodily and psychological harm, then it is high time we come up with alternatives that will reduce Google’s strangle hold on the World Wide Web; don’t forget the fact that it is about you and not Google or we might be losing the privacy war before it gets started. Get a clue!