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Google Patents Privacy Your Rights Online

Google Bans Online Anonymity While Patenting It 188

Posted by Soulskill
from the best-of-both-worlds dept.
theodp writes "'It's important to use your common name,' Google explains in its Google+ ground rules, 'so that the people you want to connect with can find you.' Using a 'secondary online identity,' the search giant adds, is a big Google+ no-no. 'There are lots of places where you can be anonymous online,' Betanews' Joe Wilcox notes. 'Google+ isn't one of them.' Got it. But if online anonymity is so evil, then what's the deal with Google's newly-awarded patent for Social Computing Personas for Protecting Identity in Online Social Interactions? 'When users reveal their identities on the internet,' Google explained to the USPTO in its patent application, 'it leaves them more vulnerable to stalking, identity theft and harassment.' So what's Google's solution? Providing anonymity to social networking users via an 'alter ego' and/or 'anonymous identity.' So does Google now believe that there's a genuine 'risk of disclosing a user's real identity'? Or is this just a case of Google's left hand not knowing what its right hand is patenting?"
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Google Bans Online Anonymity While Patenting It

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  • This is Google aggressively patenting online anonymity technology and methods so that other social networks and websites cannot provide anonymity . This is MUCH MORE SERIOUS than left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing. It's a patent that blocks others from using said technology. This is evil^2, and Google of course benefits from it because this makes it easier for Google to identify people with their real names, and target ads to them.
    • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      New Account, Google Bashing... You forgot your Visual Studio plug.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        New Account, Google Bashing... You forgot your Visual Studio plug.

        Anonymous account, Google defending...You forgot irony.

        • Whoops - meant that to be a funny and not an overrated. If you want to be generous, you can pick an excuse and run with it, but I was simply clumsy.
      • I have already said this but I don't believe in yours or anyone's magical ability to detect puppet accounts. Bayesian matching of styles comes close but I'd have to get the data myself and see your source code before accepting such proofs.

        Also I dunno what "New Account" you are talking about, I have seen this Soulskill before (his name reminds me of Castlevania so it sticks) and yes I have seen him bashing Google before although I don't remember VS plugs. Incidentally I only noticed his username because som

    • by discord5 (798235) on Tuesday September 18, 2012 @03:07PM (#41377823)

      You cycle through sockpuppet accounts faster than a d&d party through cheetos. Have you tried being less obvious about it, or does your employer not offer you that kind of training?

      • by Hentes (2461350)

        Nevertheless, by bashing Google constantly sooner or later he was guaranteed to be right. It's easy to write him off as a shill, but much harder to say anything to his arguments. If Google was patenting defensively, why patent something no other big social networks will use?

        • by poetmatt (793785) on Tuesday September 18, 2012 @03:50PM (#41378341) Journal

          Really, you respond with another sockpuppet?

          Is google suing over anonymity? Is this article even factual?

          Answer to both : no.

          If you assume his argument is even remotely valid you've simply started with an invalid premise.

          • by Hentes (2461350)

            Now that was low. Idea, why don't we just decide debates by who has the lowest user id? Google only got their patent today, we don't know yet whether they will use it to sue someone. Also, there's a direct link to the patent, are you questioning the factuality of the USPTO?

            • by poetmatt (793785)

              Of course I'm questioning the factuality of the USPTO, except that no part of your comment has anything to do with what you previously said *or* my reply. Try a little harder before you try to strawman a second time.

          • by jhoegl (638955)
            They arent suing yet. It is a presumption that they are or are not going to do this.
            However, it was the first concern that popped into my mind.
            The second was that it cant be patentable as there is plenty of "pre-existing art".
            • by penix1 (722987)

              Nobody spends the money to get a patent to not use it especially against a competitor. It costs way more money to invalidate a patent with the risks far too high with treble damages for the losing end of that suit. Are you willing to test this patent in court when for a fraction of the cost you can simply license it? It is the licensing these companies are after with the threat of suit behind it.

              • There's an inverse relationship between the level of authority you posted with and the level of accuracy of your statements. Defensive patents are extremely commonplace in the industry, and Google has never used a patent non-defensively to date. That is to say, they've only ever counter-sued when sued. You think a few thousand dollars is a big deal to a company like Google? Hell, for Google it's just the cost of the filing fee. Google has their own in-house legal department. They pay their lawyers rega

      • Ad hominems are usually a strong indication that the actual message is well worth paying attention to.

      • by Type44Q (1233630)

        ... faster than a d&d party through cheetos. Have you tried being less obvious about it...

        By what, consuming something that doesn't stain their neckbeards orange? :p

    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 18, 2012 @03:18PM (#41377957)

      This prevents nothing from anyone, really. It's only corporations who have to play in the little corner they painted themselves into.

      Meanwhile the hacker community, hobbyists and all the netizens boldly go where no man has gone before, regardless of what some lawyer says or thinks they're entitled to!

      The patent system has lost its meaning. It's no longer an incentive to create. The single inventor could never afford to patent something, or to defend it in court. The big ones can. Thus patents create artificial barriers of entry and stifle innovation.

      Furthermore, patents are now simply legal weapons used to cement monopolies and prevent innovation from disrupting established revenue streams from stagnated giants who output more Powerpoint fluff than actual progress.

      • by icebike (68054) *

        Actually, I think Google is attempting to patent lying.

          So now when Billy Hazkzor say "No, Mom, I didn't drop all those cheetos on the carpet, it was my friend Fred" he gets sent to his room and served a summons at the same time.

    • by flyneye (84093)

      Two things;
            1.Someone actually uses Google+?
              2. I am still Fly N. Eye on my G+. and logon as flyneye.
      (oops, someone reminded me that is my legal name, nevermind)

  • Prior Art (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 18, 2012 @03:02PM (#41377741)

    I claim it.

    • Prior art: Yahoo lets you create a separate identity and avatar for commenting on news stories. This identity is separate from my real identity which is reserved for sending emails.
      • Re:Prior Art (Score:4, Insightful)

        by bug1 (96678) on Tuesday September 18, 2012 @05:54PM (#41380113)

        Prior art: Yahoo lets you create a separate identity and avatar for commenting on news stories. This identity is separate from my real identity which is reserved for sending emails.

        Which their deep packet inspection is perfectly capable of monitoring.

        Its difficult to be anonymous to the the government, much harder to be anonymous to the corporation.

        But given those limits, the corporations could allow us to be anonymous to each other, but whats the point, its corporations and government that have all the power in society.

    • Nuh, nuh, nuh bitch, that ain't even yo real name!

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Yes, please, patent something that I've been doing on IRC since the early 90s... go right ahead.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Ah, but this is different! This is, uhh... on the WEB! Yes, on the web, that makes it totally different, you see.

    • by icebike (68054) *

      The difference here is that Google will insist on knowing who you are, but they will issue you a pre-approved sock puppet when dealing with social media.

      On IRC nobody knew Beth14 a Detective with the NYPD Vice Squad.
      On Google+, at least Google will know.

      • Re:Sigh.. (Score:4, Funny)

        by jamstar7 (694492) on Tuesday September 18, 2012 @03:55PM (#41378451)

        On IRC nobody knew Beth14 a Detective with the NYPD Vice Squad..

        Ah, the heady early days of the Internet, where men were men, so were most of the women, and those horny 14 year old virgins wanting to come out to my house to fuck me stupid were FBI agents wanting a quick and dirty arrest...

    • You know, I think I'd donate to an organization that kept an eye on patents in the pipe and sent out alerts (RSS/tweets/cat-symbols/etc...) when something seemingly obvious or prior hits the public comment phase. With the right mobilization, some topics at least, could swamp the USPTO - although sometimes comments are lumped together which could lead to summary dismissal. The organization might also be able to play a role in stopping the comment lumping.
    • Unless, of course, they've realised that G+ is suffering because of the real-name policy (which is why I won't use it despite being a fairly heavy user of other Google services) and this is a patent on a method of preserving anonymity amongst the online user-base while still allowing Google to mine your data and (securely) connecting it with a real life identity. Google ID card anyone?
  • by SuperKendall (25149) on Tuesday September 18, 2012 @03:03PM (#41377759)

    ...so long as they alone know who they really are so the data aggregated goes in the right buckets.

    Nothing's stopping Google+ from offering a secondary ID you can become, while Google still knows who you are.

    • by bedroll (806612) on Tuesday September 18, 2012 @03:18PM (#41377969) Journal

      Nothing's stopping Google+ from offering a secondary ID you can become, while Google still knows who you are.

      A brief read of the patent tells me that this is exactly what Google has patented. It's a system in which a single identity can be used to generate anonymous secondary ones. In that case, Google, and anyone able to subpoena them, would know who the anonymous secondary identity is but third parties wouldn't be privy to the link between accounts.

      • by Khyber (864651) <techkitsune@gmail.com> on Tuesday September 18, 2012 @03:30PM (#41378119) Homepage Journal

        "In that case, Google, and anyone able to subpoena them, would know who the anonymous secondary identity is but third parties wouldn't be privy to the link between accounts."

        You don't know what public records are, do you?

        Look up the court case. Filings will be made as to proof of the owner of the 'anonymous' identity for purposes of proper serving of subpoenas and warrants for arrests.

      • by TaoPhoenix (980487) <TaoPhoenix@yahoo.com> on Tuesday September 18, 2012 @04:41PM (#41379095) Journal

        I'm confused. Why doesn't AOL have colossal prior art on this?

        They had a Master Account system with subsidiary names. For those who are too young and need to Get Off Your Lawn, it was Dad who had the Master account, and then we young'uns had all the subsidiary names. (Sometimes several per person!) This was fairly important for RP in the Red Dragon Inn, etc. I hadn't gotten into bulletin boards by then, but it still held. But if you got too nasty, one of the Moderators would report you, and it would trickle up the food chain.

        So not knowing Patentese, how did poor ol' faded glory AOL not even get a few bucks of licensing rights?

        • I'm confused. Why doesn't AOL have colossal prior art on this?

          They had a Master Account system with subsidiary names. For those who are too young and need to Get Off Your Lawn, it was Dad who had the Master account, and then we young'uns had all the subsidiary names. (Sometimes several per person!) This was fairly important for RP in the Red Dragon Inn, etc. I hadn't gotten into bulletin boards by then, but it still held. But if you got too nasty, one of the Moderators would report you, and it would trickle up the food chain.

          So not knowing Patentese, how did poor ol' faded glory AOL not even get a few bucks of licensing rights?

          Oh, I remember the Red Dragon Inn well... I was one of the "hosts" for a few years in the mid-90s. But anyway, here's claim 1 of the patent:

          1. A computer-implemented method for generating a plurality of personas for an account of a first user of a social network performed on one or more computing devices, the method comprising:
          receiving, using the one or more computing devices, information for the plurality of personas from the first user, wherein the information comprises a name, a representation, and a visibility level for each persona in the plurality of personas;
          associating the information for the plurality of personas to the account of the first user;
          associating a particular persona of the plurality of personas with a second user on the social network, the second user being distinct from the first user;
          receiving a selection of one of the plurality of personas from the first user;
          determining, using the one or more computing devices, an appearance of the selected persona based at least in part on the visibility level and representation of the selected persona; and
          providing the determined appearance for display.

          I've italicized claim elements that I don't remember AOL having. Even if you interpreted the multiple AOL screennames as "a plurality of personas" each having their own "name", there wasn't any sort of representation or visibility level, nor did AOL determine an appearance of the persona based on the visibility level and representation.

          So, AOL doesn't anticipate the pa

    • by Bigby (659157)

      I thought that was obvious. Apparently others like to come up with crazy scenarios. This scenario helps their revenue stream while allowing for users to be anonymous on the Internet. Just not anonymous to Google or those government institutions issuing search warrants to Google.

      You alter-ego helps define who you really are. So the advertising target is even better than your PC personal profile.

      • by JohnFen (1641097)

        This scenario helps their revenue stream while allowing for users to be anonymous on the Internet. Just not anonymous to Google or those government institutions issuing search warrants to Google.

        So, in other words, it doesn't allow you to be anonymous on the internet.

    • Short answer: "It's a risk to give access to your identifying information to people on the internet. Unless it's us."

  • by skyggen (888902) on Tuesday September 18, 2012 @03:07PM (#41377811)
    How can they know who the real me is when I can even answer that question without having a quorum among myself.
    • by houghi (78078)

      Funny? Mod that insightful.

      How CAN they proof if Michel Peter Abelton is really who he says he is.

  • looks like slashdot was just sold again [arstechnica.com].
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 18, 2012 @03:09PM (#41377849)

    "There are lots of places where you can be anonymous online. Google+ isn't one of them."

    Yes, that's why I'm not on Google+ or Facebook.

  • Not directly related, but yesterday on youtube my account suggested to me in a popup to change my account name to my real name. I passed, but I was then prompted for a reason with a 6 tile multiple choice. If I wanted to change my account name to my real name I would have indicated that when I set it up, or altered the settings.
    • by houghi (78078)

      My nick is houghi. On some sites I have been asked to fill out a first and last name. I also am asked to enter existing addresses. My details on some sites is now:
      Mrs. Hou Ghi
      DOB: 01-01-1950
      1600 Pennsylvania Ave NW,
      Washington, DC 20502

      I hope I never do anything wrong, because I would hate to bring the people who live there in trouble.

    • by cayenne8 (626475)

      Not directly related, but yesterday on youtube my account suggested to me in a popup to change my account name to my real name. I passed, but I was then prompted for a reason with a 6 tile multiple choice. If I wanted to change my account name to my real name I would have indicated that when I set it up, or altered the settings.

      Google didn't really have much in the way of 'real' info for me....the youtube account email address, is not the one used for gmail. They did finally get my real info...from the you

  • by Anonymous Coward

    There are two basic levels of anonymity. The first is anonymity to others by using an alias. The second is being anonymous to Google, which is harder. (To be anonymous in the second case, you'd need to be behind a different IP than normal.) Google cannot prove anonymity in the second one unless they somehow help you be anonymous to them.

  • Wow, what a great idea! There CANT be any prior art, who would have thought of using an assumed name online!?

    • by AK Marc (707885)
      It's not about using an assumed name online, it's about using different assumed names for different communities, with one central location that knows all. Like the multiple authors who used multiple names depending on the work's intended audience and the editor knew the real ID and all the pseudonyms. Hundreds of documented cases spanning thousands of years is apparently not sufficient prior art, because "on a computer" trumps all.
      • by mrbester (200927)

        "it's about using different assumed names for different communities, with one central location that knows all"

        Yep, I've already got one of those. Me.

        • by AK Marc (707885)
          The issue is that then your assumed names must not be anonymous. With pseudonyms and an editor, the editor can forward communication to you while you remain anonymous. If you are the only keeper of your anonymity, then you aren't anonymous, you are just polynymous, and anyone that can identify any one of the names can identify you (you use different names on different sites, but they will link back to you).

          For Google's solution, they claim external anonymity, while still being able to have you track al
  • And some situations demand clarity.

    The main problem is that people use "Act like an ass" as an excuse for using anonymity (or is it the other way around?).
    Of course, one person's "Act like an ass" is another person's "Saying what needs to be said".
    There is probably no good democratic way to resolve many of these cases one way or the other.
    (Ie, having a lot of people being offended doesn't necessarily justify exposing a poster's identity.)

  • by ubergeek65536 (862868) on Tuesday September 18, 2012 @03:30PM (#41378121)

    To delete your profile:

            Sign in to your Google profile.
            Click Edit profile.
            Click the About tab.
            Click Delete profile and disable Google Buzz completely.
            Click Yes, delete my profile and posts.

  • is it that difficult to figure it out? They will, in theory, offer you some anonymous cloak to protect you're real identity from others, except Google. Google can then provide that information any time any law enforcement or investigative body comes knocking. Nothing more than CYA.

    • by jamstar7 (694492)

      is it that difficult to figure it out? They will, in theory, offer you some anonymous cloak to protect you're real identity from others, except Google. Google can then provide that information any time any law enforcement or investigative body comes knocking. Nothing more than CYA.

      And ad revenue. Can't send you targetted ads if you're anonymous. Hey, corporations pay real money for those ads and they fucking want their money's worth!!

  • Sure, require the person's real name, but let them choose whether or not to make it public. If you keep your real name private, you can go by some screen name publicly. Someone searching for you by your real name can offer a connection. If you choose to accept, then your public screen name becomes known to them.

  • by Kesh (65890)

    It's not that difficult: the Google+ folks want real-world info for ad-tracking, while the other systems (YouTube, etc) don't care as long as you're viewing their stuff.

  • Just read an irate rant from a Mr. Al-Zawahiri about the change in his Google+ account status.
  • Anonymous to other users = maybe

    Anonymous to Google = no way.

  • by Bob9113 (14996) on Tuesday September 18, 2012 @03:44PM (#41378269) Homepage

    So does Google now believe that there's a genuine 'risk of disclosing a user's real identity'? Or is this just a case of Google's left hand not knowing what its right hand is patenting?

    Google does not believe. They do not believe in protecting anonymity, nor in advancing reliable identities. Google wants money and power. There was a time when it was reasonable to think that Google believed in things, that they wanted to do good, but those times are gone. Google wants to make money on anonymity because they want to make money, not because they believe free speech depends on anonymity. They want to make money on reliable identities because they want to make money, not because they believe identities should be reliable. They want to make money on being the only one who knows the real identities because they want to make money, not because they believe one company should be the sole authenticator.

    Most sufficiently large corporations have no beliefs. "I want as much stuff as I can get" is not a belief. Beliefs are things for which you are willing to make deep sacrifices. When a company sees that the patent system is broken and its public response is that they need to get more aggressive about patents, it is a clear statement that they lack motives outside of acquisitiveness and will-to-power. Avarice is not a belief, it is our default state when we choose not to elevate ourselves above the animals. Google does not believe.

  • by rudy_wayne (414635) on Tuesday September 18, 2012 @03:44PM (#41378275)

    Or famous.

    The executive in charge of Google+ is Vic Gundotra. But his name isn't really Vic. Mr. Gundrota is Indian and his real first name is Vivek. Yes that's right. The person mandating that you must use your real name, is using a phoney name.

    Then there are the celebrities, like Fifty Cent and Lady Gaga who are allowed to use their fake names.

    Google gets a +1 for hypocrisy.

  • by Solandri (704621) on Tuesday September 18, 2012 @03:45PM (#41378281)
    Once upon a time, when I first got on the Internet (late 1980s), there was no anonymity. Sysadmins voluntarily adhered to a policy where each user's online identity and their real identity were linked [rajivshah.com]. If someone ever found a way to break this link, it was considered a bug [google.com] which needed to be fixed. It was staunchly enforced by admins who believed the net would devolve into a morass of misbehavior if people were allowed to post anonymously.

    There were a few people running their own servers who bucked the trend, but it wasn't until AOL joined USENET [wikipedia.org] that pseudonyms became a fact of life on the Internet. AOL allowed each account to have up to 5 usernames, ostensibly for families sharing a single AOL account. Obviously these extra usernames were quickly taken up by people wishing to post things online anonymously, which was good for free speech. But not surprisingly, spam was invented shortly thereafter.

    All that's happening now is that the pendulum is starting to swing the away from anonymity as netizens struggle to figure out the best balance between real names and pseudonyms. The people at the pro-anonymity extreme won't like it, just like the people at the pro-real-name extreme didn't like it in the early 1990s. But as with most things the best balance is probably somewhere in between.
    • That's a nice post, on the insightful side of informative. I just barely hit the rising curve of the AOL days and one of the 1988-ish versions of Think Of Da Kiddiez was to "never use your real name lest that evil person does evil things."

      But it was also a simpler time, I was a good little birdie, and have basically only had two variants of this screen name for my entire internet career. I instinctively worked to build what I now call a "web brand", basically meaning that of course this handle isn't legal t

  • So does Google now believe that there's a genuine 'risk of disclosing a user's real identity'? Or is this just a case of Google's left hand not knowing what its right hand is patenting?"

    Or, by patenting it, they ensure that anyone else trying to allow online anonymity violates the patent in some way, thereby outlawing online anonymity.

    At least, that's one use for the patent - to prevent someone from doing stuff counter to your interests.

    Google is your friend. Why won't you allow Google to be your friend?

  • by gelfling (6534) on Tuesday September 18, 2012 @04:05PM (#41378595) Homepage Journal

    Thank you for pointing us in their general direction.

  • Fuckin' blow me (Score:2, Interesting)

    by WOOFYGOOFY (1334993)

    Google+ can fucking blow me. Apparently, unless you took your grade school American history in the US, you don't *get* what part anonymous speech, starting with Paine and Franklin, played in American history and what it means to Americans culturally and historically to be able to say what they want when they want the way they want using whatever literary or social devices they think will best serve their ends.

    Google+ is a walled garden of another kind- a walled garden of people willing to submit their ide

  • I still use Gmail for several deterrent accounts and 1 main account. I've been setting these up over the past 3 months or so. So far, The count is up to 8. Google has tried to force them to sign up for Google+, but each time the sign up page presents itself I just close it down and relogin. Until Google makes Google+ mandatory for using their services, this usage pattern will repeat. When that day arrives, I'll pay for my own domain(s) and set up shop over there.

    This whole social aspect of the Internet

    • What's precisely so special about gmail, now that there are all of these hidden downsides lurking?

      I'm giggling because I've been a yahoo mail user for some 8 years, and while dear ol' Yahoo isn't doing all that great, Yahoo Is Not Google (YING?) so they aren't too deeply hooked to anything else and I don't see these kinds of stories about them.

  • by DL117 (2138600) on Tuesday September 18, 2012 @04:47PM (#41379203) Homepage

    I just read through the patent and I can't make head or tail of what exactly is being patented. The best I can tell is some sort of system that has multiple identities that it shows to different people depending on your relationship.

    And if it's difficult to tell what is being patented should it really be patented?

    • by stevejf (2724307)

      I just read through the patent and I can't make head or tail of what exactly is being patented. The best I can tell is some sort of system that has multiple identities that it shows to different people depending on your relationship.

      And if it's difficult to tell what is being patented should it really be patented?

      Claim language can be confusing, as the need for repeating terms makes reading a claim very clunky. The specification (written description) is always secondary to claim language when you're talking about what is covered by the patent. It's useful for claim interpretation and defining scope, but the claims are the name of the game. Here's the first independent claim of the Google patent:

      1. A computer-implemented method for generating a plurality of personas for an account of a first user of a social n

  • At any company that's ever designed or manufactured a cell phone, the modern doctrine is "patent first, ask questions later".

    The idea that any such corporation would ratify their patent application stream against their patent-pending portfolio under any metric of superficial common sense (common sense is always superficial) is beneath the dignity of nerds anywhere, except on a slow news day, or at a once-proud page view hamster wheel and troll feeder.

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