Why I don’t use Google+ (as a woman)

Like most of my friends, I signed up for Google+ the moment I got a beta invite. I didn’t necessarily mind using my real name, but I also didn’t have much choice about it. It wasn’t until I tried to clamp down my privacy settings that I had a moment of real panic. My full name, ‘scrapbook’ photos and profile were all publicly searchable. I quickly figured out how to remove myself from public discovery and avoid creating public posts (I was always careful to limit my posts to circles). But any comment I make on a public post is publicly searchable and anytime a friend tags me in a public post it leads directly to my profile.

And ever since then, I’ve been under a self-imposed Google+ gag order. I cannot, as a woman and as a person with a ‘traditional’ job, use this product in a meaningful way without being constantly on guard. And so I don’t use it.

Google+ assumes I can have it all. They assume I can use my real name (and gender) to engage publicly and openly with people. But this is not reality for most women, and not reality for most people that have jobs that expect a particular level of professionalism that excludes an online presence.

Women are faced with a type of black and white judgement that categorizes us in many ways as ‘nice’ or ‘bitchy’, ‘stupid’ or ‘nerdy’, ‘virgin’ or ‘whore’, with little gray area between. Each of these labels is dehumanizing in its own way. This is particularly overt online, and is a phenomenon that has been well documented. Suffice to say, I prefer to keep my online presence gender neutral, and consequently I do not normally use my real name when making public posts online.

I also work at a ‘traditional’ job where it is frowned upon to have an online presence. My job deals with the public, and as such I need to fly under the radar when it comes to using my real name online. Tech seems to be one of the few industries where people don’t care very much about what you post online, and indeed it’s often encouraged to have a public web presence. I have to wonder if Google+’s techie seed (which is mostly male) is not due to who signed up first, but is actually a self-selecting group. Without more flexible, or better yet, universal privacy settings, many women and people with ‘traditional’ jobs can’t participate in a meaningful way.

I’m engaged to a mobile developer, and our mutual techie friends comprise most of my Google+ feed. The vast majority of them are male. And the majority of their posts are made publicly. I read all their posts and often want to leave a comment; sometimes I even find myself writing one out. But before I hit ‘post’, I remember that I can’t control who sees what I’m about to publish, and I’m forced to censor myself. This is where I see the breakdown between seed and growth.

The good news is that this is a relatively simple fix. Give us an option to keep our comments and tags private. A universal privacy setting would be great. Make it more obvious when a post is public; that tiny text at the top is sometimes hard to spot, especially because it shifts left and right based on information in the header. If that’s not in the ‘grand plan’ for Google+, then I hope at least Google and the tech community will understand why Google+ is such a techie sausage fest. Don’t waste your money on another UI overhaul. I want to use your product, but I will not sacrifice my privacy to do so, particularly when there are other social networking alternatives with simpler privacy settings.

What can you do to help as a Google+er? Well, if you would like other people in your circles (especially women) to interact with you more, consider keeping your posts within your circles or extended circles. Be mindful of tagging people in public posts and consider changing your default visibility to extended circles.


16 Comments on “Why I don’t use Google+ (as a woman)”

  1. blimp says:

    I just think you’re insecure.

  2. Ali s. says:

    I’m sorry, maybe I’m being niave here, but as a women I have no idea what your talking about.

  3. G+ customers are required to use their real names. This is based on their plans to be an identity service (I think). In addition to discouraging your particular use, real identities are sometimes used by oppressive regimes to stifle free speech and track political activists.

    Google’s position violates the “Don’t be evil” code.  It also ignores an important market demand: profile management.  G+ should allow real people with real names to create public profiles of any nickname they like.  These nicknames would be persistently attached to the account, and bad behavior could remain accountable, but real people could remain anonymous to the public to avoid retribution or political oppression.

    It’s usually a good idea to give users what they want, and in this case, Google could use this opportunity to become a new kind of identity provider: one that supports private links between private citizens and their public profiles.

  4. A. Fakename says:

    Very good post. I loved the part:
    “Women are faced with a type of black and white judgement that categorizes us in many ways as ‘nice’ or ‘bitchy’, ‘stupid’ or ‘nerdy’, ‘virgin’ or ‘whore’, with little gray area between”.
    I feel like a great (and rude) accuracy when I’ve read it.

    But I have to agree with Ali: the relation between categorization and privacy is not very clear. I feel like you for for the privacy part, and I’m a man.

    (I’m asking myself if I can trust you to do not reverse my IP address^^)

    • marjarine says:

      I see what you’re saying. I’ll have to think about it more. This article shows that women clearly are paying attention, they choose higher privacy settings and prune out friends more regularly: http://www.vincentabry.com/en/are-women-more-privacy-oriented-online-1846

      I’m not sure ‘why’ it is, but it may just boil down to paranoia that we’ve been raised with. I don’t like to wear revealing clothing because I don’t like to hear verbal feedback about my body. Personally, the categorization leads to dehumanization which makes me feel unsafe and thus paranoid.

  5. Chris says:

    You should leave feedback regarding whether the posts or public or not. Hope you find a middle ground where you can utilize the Google+ stuff very well.

  6. Frank says:

    It’s obvious that G+ is not popular for female as it is for male. I doubt all women have those same concerns, there are definitely more fundamental reasons why G+ is not popular for women. That said, I think the privacy concerns is a huge one, it’s not particularly understood by a male dominant society.

    Good post overall.

  7. arki says:

    As an atheist, sometimes I share posts and comments regarding religion that are not mainstream, and so I’m careful to limit it to specific circles. Other than that, I’m myself in the web as in person and I am in person and I don’t give so much thought to this.
    The extra privacy settings would be a nice feature but I get so much from google+ that this is not a big deal for me.
    “Techie sausage fest”? talk about dehumanizing people.
    I think this post reflects some level of professional paranoia and insecurity about the perception of others. I’m not sure if it’s justified.

    • marjarine says:

      “Techie sausage fest” was in reference to this article: http://www.wired.com/business/2012/07/google-plus-women
      I should have made that link more clear, and I’ll think about my words more next time.

      I think there is a level of paranoia just being a woman online. Is it justified? I’m not really sure, and even if it wasn’t justified, it’s still there. Just telling me that my fears are unjustified doesn’t make them go away. Also, I think it’s possible that more women may have these professional paranoias than men *because* they are judged more harshly, in and out of the workplace.

  8. Martin says:

    “But before I hit ‘post’, I remember that I can’t control who sees what I’m about to publish, and I’m forced to censor myself. ”

    I just can’t imagine how that would work. Mixed privacy settings on comments for a single post would make a reader who can’t see the protected comments only see half of the converstaion which would be confusing at the least. If you can find a way to make that work well, then that could be an entire blog post in itself which I would be very interested to read.

  9. Keith says:

    It is not just women that have this problem.

  10. Germán says:

    What’s the difference with, for example, twitter?

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