Google profiles and online self-ownership

Does the advent of the new Google Profiles service solve the thorny online identity problems discussed by Danielle, Deven, and others? As Danielle notes, one of the many serious problems in cases like Autoadmit harassment was the attempts to co-opt or silence the person’s online persona, causing victims to effectively lose ownership of their online identity:

The attackers waged a “Google-bombing” campaign that would ensure the prominence of offensive threads in searches of the female students’ names. Posters made plain the goal of their Google-bombing campaign: “We’re not going to let that bitch have her own blog be the first result from googling her name!”

Deven has also discussed the importance in having some control over one’s online persona. And Frank has suggested a standard of Fair Reputation Reporting much like the Fair Credit Reporting Act.

What does a Google Profile provide? Google’s own description is this:

A Google profile is simply how you present yourself on Google products to other Google users. It allows you to control how you appear on Google and tell others a bit more about who you are. With a Google profile, you can easily share your web content on one central location. You can include, for example, links to your blog, online photos, and other profiles such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and more. You have control over what others see. Your profile won’t display any private information unless you’ve explicitly added it. You can also allow people to find you more easily by enabling your profile to be searched by your name. Simply set your existing profile to show your full name publicly.

Google profiles will appear as results in searches (if you elect them to); this is sporadic at the moment, but profiles are expected to become a top window in a google search.

Does this change address Danielle’s and others’ concerns about mob seizure of a victim’s online self-identity? It just might. In an ideal world, Google profiles fill the gap perfectly. It puts top billing on a person’s self-description, thus restoring a portion of online self-ownership to its rightful place. (It sounds a lot like Frank’s approach, doesn’t it?)

On the other hand, Wired has a more doubtful take, suggesting that this isn’t really about self-ownership, but about Google ownership. Google will take your profile and monetize it for marketing.

Is that better than the alternative? Maybe.

Or maybe we just need a national, state-owned web profile for everybody. After all, we can always trust the state.

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5 Responses

  1. I’m mildly skeptical of the Profiles, but perhaps I shouldn’t be, They sure do look a lot like Frank’s idea of adding an asterisk to search results on one’s name.

  2. Kaimi says:

    It does, doesn’t it? I was thinking of Frank’s discussion when I saw the Google article. (I spaced out and didn’t actually link Frank at 2 a.m. when I wrote the post; I just fixed that with an update.)

  3. Kaimi says:

    Among other reactions, Time magazine is also slightly skeptical and views this move as Google’s foray into the Facebook market:,8599,1893965,00.html

  4. Danielle Citron says:


    Thanks for writing this terrific post. I share your (and James’s) interest in the possibilities, especially in light of Frank’s creative proposals. It is Janus-faced of course: on the one hand, it is a terrific tool for self-marketing, a way to deflect the mob’s ability to ruin your reputation if indeed potential employers and friends look at your Google profile as a truer picture of you, or at least one which you approve and get a chance to reply to erroneous accusations (it seems really interesting give my recent personal experience) and on the other, we can see Google caching our information and using it for behavioral marketing and in perhaps more privacy busting ways as Cory Doctorow imagines in Scroogled.

    This really got me thinking. So thanks!


  5. Frank says:

    Thanks for the shout-out, Kaimi! It is a truly fascinating development. I applaud Google for making it available.

    One interesting question is whether these types of profiles will become ubiquitous. For example, Avvo aims to rate all licensed attorneys within the states it covers. Avvo creates blank profiles on the site, then updates the profiles and lets attorneys update them, too, if they “claim” their own profile.

    The right to “claim” the profile is a classic example of Web 2.0 business models. Attorneys listed on the site ignore the profile at their peril, and those critical of Avvo’s project are put in a double-bind by the profile’s very existence. To the extent they tell “their side of the story” on the profile, they are feeding data to Avvo and building its reliability. The aggregator acts like Tom Sawyer, inviting others to “paint the fence” by adding to the store of data that increases its authority and comprehensiveness.

    In the end, I worry about the proliferation of involuntary profiles online (consider current pressures to be on Facebook, Twitter, …. what’s next?!). But since Google’s program is voluntary, and since it is so central/dominant in the web’s ecology, I’m glad they’re doing this.