How Google + Stole My Honor and Won My Heart

Anyone who is close friends with me or who reads this blog compulsively and has a great memory knows that when it comes to Google vs. Facebook, I’m 180 % on Team Facebook. In general, when we’re talking about Pure Evil vs. Necessary Evil of Modern Society, I believe Google is Pure Evil.

And yes, I get that they both are tracking everything you do. My argument has always been that Facebook is just more upfront about what they’re tracking. At the end of the day, I  preferred Facebook violating my privacy to Google violating my privacy.

Then, I visited the Googleplex for the first time and my position completely changed. (I know what you’re thinking, but it wasn’t the snacks that changed my mind, although they are pretty awesome.)

It was the panel I went to see. It was a UCLA business school alumni event (my friend took me as her guest.) The panel was on the future of marketing but I didn’t know anything else about it. Apparently, Guy Kawasaki was on the panel. For whatever reason he’s a huge champion of Google +. I was totally nonplussed by most of his assertions until he told a story about a Google engineer who had a baby and took all the pictures of the baby’s first three months on his phone.

Then, his phone got stolen.

The horror in the room was literally palpable. I mean, getting your smartphone stolen is everyone’s worst nightmare to begin with. Add the baby photos and it’s unthinkable.

But…. (yes, there’s a but) Kawasaki revealed that GOOGLE backs up all the pictures that you take on your droid in a private album on Google +. So even though his phone was stolen, his pictures were automatically saved and alive and well on the interwebs.

At first, everyone in the audience seemed happy enough. But it wasn’t the kind of relief you’d expect. Why? Because everyone in the audience (like me) had an iPhone.

I’ve been frustrated personally in the past by the lack of a tool for uploading pictures from an iPhone to Picasa. I assumed this was some kind of “Get a Droid or Get Lost” policy from Google. Furthermore, while my old BlackBerry let me take a picture and immediately upload it to a private album on Facebook, my iPhone requires me to open up the Facebook app and manually select pictures I want to upload. In short, getting pictures off my phone is now a pain in the ass and not something I do often.

I was about to start to feeling sorry for myself and my iPhone when all of the sudden, I realized Kawasaki was saying something very important.

“And, they just updated the Google + app so that all the pictures you take on your iPhone will also automatically be saved.”


Without a bit of hesitation, I whipped out my phone and started to download the app, right there, during the panel. Then, the screen popped up that asked me if I wanted to enable automatic upload.

I paused. I thought, “Wait a second. You’re going to give Google every single picture you take with your iPhone, automatically? What about privacy?”

I thought about it for a second. First, I thought, “Ok, I’ve never taken an obscene picture in my life and I don’t plan to start. Who cares if Google has my pictures? The internet already knows everything about me, why stop here?”

Then I realized, I don’t really care about privacy at all. I just care about honesty. Tell me about the sort of questionable things you’re doing instead of making me find out through TechCrunch next time a scandal explodes. Do that, plus make the user experience fun and easy, and I will pick you over Facebook any day.

The reality is, social networking is a privilege, not a right. Therefore, we need to reevaluate what it means to have a “right” to privacy. If you want technology that creates the option of sharing everything, you better come to terms with the inherent risk and sacrifice. There’s some interesting ideas about how social networks can protect privacy through financially compensating people who have been violated, but at the end of the day, everybody needs to approach sharing on the Web with an understanding of what it means, and what it could mean.

So, I decided to make that sacrifice. I’m giving all my pictures to Google + because the value it offers to me is greater than the privacy it compromises. To be perfectly fair, I still find Google + completely useless on an individual, social level, but I know that the seal has been broken.

Speaking of breaking seals, this is the first picture I took that was automatically uploaded to my private Google + album. It’s taken inside one of the bathroom stalls at Google – and it’s a resolution for writing better code in 2012. I can’t wait until the Google employees hack my pictures and see this one. Now whose privacy is being violated?


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