Google Breaks All Android App Reviews, Threatens Android Fans' Safety

Yahoo Contributor Network

"A Google User" is now the number one Android game and app reviewer on Google Play, Android's version of Apple's App Store. That's because every single one of the millions of existing reviews, possibly including yours, has had its author replaced with this nameless, faceless person.

Screenshots taken by Jeremiah Rice of the Android Police blog show this prolific (but completely generic) author has taken over the Google Play store. Meanwhile, if you visit the store on your Android smartphone or tablet you won't see a name attached to most reviews at all; just the review's title, and the device that the game or app was run on.

Believe it or not, this is all intentional. It's the start of a new Google policy ... one which may threaten some Android fans' safety or privacy.

​Google+, whether you like it or not

Google now requires you to have a Google+ (pronounced "Google Plus") account in order to leave reviews on Google Play, the Chrome Web Store, and Google Maps. No reason for the switchover is given in the pop-up which explains this; you simply click "Continue" if you want your reviews tied to your Google+ account, and if you don't want them linked you don't write them at all. If you don't have a Google+ account, you have to sign up for one before you can write a review.

​Why Google is Plus-ifying everything

Google's success as a company is determined by how many ads it sells. Google's share of the ad market is being eaten into by Facebook, which has essentially "walled off" a huge part of people's day-to-day lives in a place Google can't index or sell any ads on. For better or for worse, Google's execs feel that what they need to do to compete is copy Facebook, in the form of Google+.

Why? Because if everyone is "Plusing" things instead of "Liking" them, and if everything people do shows up on Google+ instead of Facebook, then now Google (instead of Facebook) knows what you're doing online and where you're doing it -- and that gives it a much better position from which to display and sell ads.

​Why this is a problem for many

Besides the obvious privacy concerns (although Google offers limited tools to manage how much it tracks you), Google+'s "real names" policy is dangerous to anyone whose safety is jeopardized by attaching their given name to their online activities. This includes women who are victims of stalking, minors who are victims of abuse, transgender persons in transition, and dissidents in repressive political or religious regimes. By requiring a Google+ account to use more and more of its services, Google is forcing these people to choose between excluding themselves and running the risk of having ​all​ of their Google services terminated for a "real name" policy violation, including their personal Gmail accounts.

Google+ policy allows for pseudonymous accounts, if you're widely known by that pseudonym online. Everyone's Google+ page, however, has a button to report what anyone feels is a suspicious name, which puts marginalized persons like those listed above at the mercy of every "troll" who comes by.

Jared Spurbeck is an open-source software enthusiast, who uses an Android phone and an Ubuntu laptop PC. He has been writing about technology and electronics since 2008.
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