Google has to police Google+ as online predators and explicit sexual content continue to mar its reputation, urges a tech industry whistleblower based on the findings of his seven-month study of the social network.
To bring attention and take immediate action, Consumer Watchdog President Jamie Court and Privacy Project Director John M. Simpson has sent a letter to Google CEO Larry Page and Executive Chair Eric Schmidt. And the missive included a copy of the whistleblower’s investigation.
Consumer Watchdog said the whistleblower regularly monitored Google+ from March to September 2013 to find proof that it has grown into a virtual area for online predators. And its own study corroborated most of the informant’s findings.
“We believe that in order to grow Google+’s user base as quickly as possible, you have put growth far ahead of the safety and security of its users,” said the public interest group.
The organization also called on Google to take immediate action on a key design flaw that shows extensive vulnerabilities in user privacy such as adding a Google+ user to a Circle without consent.
Court and Simpson wrote that the Google+ user’s name is irremovable from the sender’s Circle after that person put their name in his or her Circle. They said the social network must not force a user to link his or her name in public with someone they do not want anything to do with. “People must have the right to choose with whom they are associated.”
But Consumer Watchdog’s letter did not only scrutinize Google’s mistakes. It cited that the search giant recently announced its plan to stop showing links to child sexual abuse content on its Google Search results pages. And that Google also helped law enforcement agencies in the arrest of a pedophile who stored disturbing images on its photo storage service Picasa.
Though the public interest group finds those efforts laudable, Court and Simpson wrote that there is a caveat if Google is serious in fighting transgression. “Turn your attention immediately to Google+ and bring order to a ‘Wild West’ atmosphere that you are actively encouraging people to use.”
The Consumer Watchdog letter quoted Schmidt when he said that Google’s policy is “to get right up to the creepy line and not cross it.” But Google+ crossed way beyond that line, argued Court and Simpson.
To present its case further, the letter cited a comment by Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood, wherein he challenged Google to enforce more stringent rules to oppose illicit activities in its services. Hood said Google’s corporate wrongdoing has “no corporate conscience for the safety of its customers…” Court and Simpson agreed on the call to action.
Highlights of the Whistleblower’s Study
1. Google has snubbed a privacy design flaw that allows Google+ users to add other users to Circles without consent – ostensibly, to expedite the social network’s expansion. This happened amid calls and qualms from Google+ users that the company has to fix vulnerabilities in Circles. But Google seems adamant about it.
2. The privacy vulnerability confines users because they cannot remove their names from the Circles of Google+ users with whom they do not want to link with. Put simply, a Google+ user can add your name to his or her Circle but you have no option to delete it.
3. Google+ users often publicly post pornographic content, including materials aimed at driving traffic to pornographic sites. This is clear violation of Google’s User Content and Conduct Policy.
4. Google+ users can share unsolicited pornographic material to other Google+ users, including minors, without consent.
5. Google+ often suggests through Suggestions that users add minors to their Circles. The social network even suggests users with explicit profiles and posts, Google+ search history and community membership with pornographic material, membership in sex-related communities, pedophile-related content, and other types of inapt content. Thus, Google+ Suggestions is a recruitment tool to sexual predators, advising them to add more children and teenagers to their Circles.
6. Google+ allows registered sex offenders and child pornography suspects to open their own accounts.
7. Google+ has Communities wherein minors and child posers market explicit sexual images and photos of each other. This is clear violation of Google’s User Content & Conduct Policy.
8. Hundreds of suspected sexual predators and pedophiles who illegally deal with exploitive sexual images of child victims use Google+ and upload photographs to the social network. Most of these explicit sexual images fall under child pornography.
9. Suspected pedophiles use Google+ to hunt for minors so they can connect and engage with them in explicit sexual online conversations, videos, and texts.
10. Google+ has received several complaints and demands from users about the growing communities of pedophiles and sexual predators on the social network since it launched into public. There are some volunteers with limited and varying success to close those Communities or ban specific offenders by reporting violations to Google’s User Content and Conduct Policy. But Google has not done anything to address their concerns on a wider scale.
About Francis Rey Balolong
A coffee junkie who spends most of his time writing about the latest news on social media and mobile technology. I would definitely consider myself a nerd (in the coolest most hipster way possible). That being said, I love technology, music, writing, and all things mobile. Follow me: Google+ Twitter