Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Ticking the TOS box means you Agree

There has been some fuss about Google+ deleting someone's profile picture as it showed him giving the middle finger, aka flipping the bird.
Google deleted the profile picture, without notice.
Apparently Mr. Siegler doesn't like G+ doing so, as he can have the same profile picture on Twitter "and other services", as he claims. What does that have to with the price of tea in China?
Mr. Siegler then continues to whine about Google's real naming policy, as if that has anything to do with it either

I'm tired of grown-ups complaining like kids about Terms of Services they didn't read because they were too long, and that the Terms are stupid, etcetera

The Terms may be stupid, or too long - but if you don't read or agree with them yet check them, then you are the one who is stupid.
And if you violate the terms and action is taken according to those terms, and you write a blog post about that, in which you mostly whine about unrelated other stuff, then you are plain stupid

Was G+ unclear? No. it's clearly stated in their very short User Conduct and Policy terms what it is all about:
When we are notified of a potential policy violation, we may review and take action, including limiting or terminating a user’s access to our Services
G+ kept word there, so that's 1-0 for G+
Your Profile Picture cannot include mature or offensive content. For example, do not use a photo that is a close-up of a person’s buttocks or cleavage
Getting the middle finger is considered offensive around just about the entire world. Flip the bird to a cop anywhere in the world and you're in trouble, length and depth of which largely depends on the country you're in at that very moment.
Mr. Siegler's profile picture contained offensive content, so that's 2-0 for G+

I've had a few conversations with people about this today, but their "last words" are not very helpful:

  1. It isn't the method, it's the intent that's mind boggling: that one can distinguish 'offensive content' AND AUTO-DELETE IT!
  2. The thing is there need not be a line at all. Google+ policing pics chills expression
  3. Absolutely, simple rule saying any nudity in avatars will be removed should suffice - anything else is a slippery slope

Reaction number one is over-reacting: Google images has perfected this for years now - the auto-delete is just an assumption of course, I'm fairly sure a human intervenes at the final stage (but that is just an assumption too). Want quick proof? Google someone from the adult industry (usually called porn actor or actress), go to Google images, and try Safe Search or without filter. Impressed? I was

I asked the same person what he'd do when G+ were to give him 24 hour notice, and the answer was childish:

@MartijnLinssen Since my algos would autoinform me that a flipped bird in an avatar is a national security threat I'd delete it immediately!

Reaction number two is equally immature. Policing? No, just good housekeeping

You have a Game, Rules, people agreed to them, maybe some complain, but you "uphold the law".
That may sound hillbilly but it's simple. It's your game, you offer it for free, you have certain expectations of the product or service, and what value that adds.
You round up users, fence them off, and that's where perfection should start. Catch a violator? Give 'm a treat of the rules they agreed to, done and dusted

Reaction number three is true yet false at the same time. Swastikas? Orifices? SM bondage pictures? The list is endless - you really can't define precisely what is not allowed

Globalisation is a biatch, as they say - bringing together people, habits and cultures from all over the world, the Book Of Rules just gets bigger and bigger - and so does the Book Of Exceptions. If you offer public services, that means you'll just have to compromise all the way down to the very bottom

If you can, the best way is to approach it from two sides: top-down and bottom-up

There are rules at the top-level, and exceptions at the bottom. Local culture influences both, but location will only help you 90-10 here: people will be abroad and still expect the same treatment, and within countries you got finer cultural differences as well.
Look at me in my village: you'll never have enough accuracy to guesstimate my preferences based on my location. I might be visiting my fundamentalist neighbours - good luck with keeping me apart from them

Of course, the easiest thing to do is have people choose a filter level like Google's Safe Search, but that means your service is closed, and we all know how many (many many) regrets e.g. Mark Zuckerberg has about that. Amost one billion users and hardly a proper way to monetise on them... that's not what Google has in mind

So, what is the end verdict?

A service has Terms of Service, and people who tick its box agree to become Users of that same service, while not having read most or even any of those same terms.
And that they'll feel injustly treated when they violate those same Terms, while getting treated according to those same Terms

Awkward? Yes. Fair? No.
People just have to get used to taking responsibility for their own actions - it will take time

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