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Google: Gender Privacy More Important Than Grammar

Google+ adds a new privacy control

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Google: Gender Privacy More Important Than Grammar
[ Social Media]

Any new product is bound to have elements that do not please everyone. Google+ is no exception. One of the more specific complaints that arose centered on users’ profiles and the “Gender” option.

Some people were unhappy that Google+ forced members to list their gender publicly. When creating a profile, users must select male, female or other, and that information was visible to everyone, with no option to make it private.

Until now. Google+ Profiles Product Manager Frances Haugen posted this on her Google+ account late last night –


Great news! I’m proud to announce Google+ Profiles is launching a new privacy enhancement in response to user feedback. Starting later this week, you will be able to set the privacy setting of your gender on your Google+ Profile just as you control other information about yourself. :-)

Why were some users upset about the lack of gender privacy? Randall Munroe, of web comic XKCD explained the issue on a Google+ post last week. Hat tip to Gizmodo for pointing me towards this post

Google+ forces you to have a public gender in your profile (although it can be ‘Other’). I know they have reasons for this, but I don’t think they’re good enough.

Many women grow up with a sense of physical vulnerability that’s hard for men to appreciate. Our culture’s relentless treatment of women as objects teaches them that they are defined by the one thing that men around them want from them—men who are usually bigger, stronger, and (like any human) occasionally crazy. This feeling—often confirmed by actual experiences of harassment and assault—can lead, understandably, to a lifetime of low-level wariness and sense of vulnerability that men have trouble appreciating. A male designer building an interface should try to keep in mind that there are reasons a female user might feel uncomfortable being told she has to broadcast her gender. Sure, someone’s gender is usually obvious from their name, but there’s no need to force people to draw extra attention to it—introducing myself with “Hi, I’m Randall.” sends a different message from “Hi, I’m Randall, and I’m a MAN.”

I don’t think making this option mandatory is a significant cause of the major Google+ early-adopter gender split, but if you’re worried about how few female users your project has, marginalizing their potential worries on your introductory screen doesn’t seem very bright.

And selecting “other” as a way to hide your actual gender from the public is really not a great option. There are plenty of situations where people have legitimate reasons to list their gender as “other,” but if you identify yourself as a man or a woman and simply want to hide that fact from the public, “other” isn’t a good choice.

Haugen also shared this YouTube video where she explains the motivations behind Google’s gender policy. She explains that one of the ways Google+ uses your gender is to “make it more conversational.” For example, you might receive a notification saying “Josh added you to his circles.”

Users that choose to make their gender private will now be referred to with the gender-neutral word “their” as in “Josh added you to their circles.” This move is bound to explode the heads of grammar purists who feel as though “their” is an inappropriate gender-neutral pronoun.

Haugen explains this choice by saying that Google knows this is “grammatically questionable,” but they “value helping people control their privacy as being much more important as being grammatically perfect.”

Check out her video below –

Google: Gender Privacy More Important Than Grammar
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  • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7otS79_rBCM Roe

    There is serious talk within the linguistics community about making “their” acceptable in the case of non-gender-specific pronouns, simply because using “his or her’s” and “him or her” becomes too damn cumbersome and negatively impacts understanding of a sentence, which is the primary goal of grammar in the first place. I would have to agree.

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