Google+ Update: “Gender” will include privacy option

As an update to Jos’ post yesterday on Google+’s gender problem, it looks like they’re changing the settings to allow you to make your gender private:

I’ll admit it does irk me that the decision behind it is expressed as one of privacy or concerning different languages rather than one of identity — not to mention just making your gender identity invisible is not necessarily the best solution. I personally think the most effective way to address this would be including an empty field that can allow users to enter how they identify.

But I will say that I am glad they’re addressing it. (Great to see Google’s Bradley Horowitz’s direct response to Jos’ post in comments.) I just hope down the line they’ll think about making it more explicitly inclusive of people with different gender identities, and not just protecting their privacy.

Transcript after the jump.

Hello. My name is Francis Haugen, and I’m a Google product manager working on Google+ profiles. We’ve only been out in limited field trial for only two weeks, but the Google+ team is busy working on new features and product tweaks in response to the great feedback you’ve been sending in. I’m happy to announce a new privacy feature that you requested. Gender can be a sensitive topic, especially on the internet. Starting this week, you will be able to set the privacy setting of your gender on the Google+ profile, just as you control other information about yourself. One of the major things we use gender information for on Google+ is for picking pronouns — “her, his, their” when we refer to you. Google is committed to building products that people from all of the world can use, and in some languages, gender is much more deeply part of how sentences are formed in, say, English. Having gender information helps to make Google+ more conversational. If you decide to make your gender private, we’ll use gender neutral language to describe you whenever someone else encounters gender-related information about you, but doesn’t have permission to see your gender. For example, instead of saying, “Greg added you to his circles” or “Francis added you to her circles,” we’ll say “Greg added you to their circles.” “Francis added you to their circles.” I know this is grammatically questionable. You don’t have to message me about it. But we value helping people control their privacy as being much more important than being grammatically perfect. Let’s walk through how you can change the setting. First, click on Google+, then click on the profile icon at the top of the page. You’ll be taken to your Google+ profile. Next, click on the edit button on the upper right-hand corner, enter edit mode, and you can change any field just by clicking on it. Now, scroll down near the bottom of the page and you’ll see “gender.” Click on it, and a privacy box setting will open, and will allow you to select who you want to know whether you’re male or female. That’s it. I hope you enjoy Google+ as much as we enjoy working on it.

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5 Comments

  1. Posted July 13, 2011 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

    Just FYI, I am pretty sure this is exactly what Facebook does (except FB only allows you to choose male or female, no “other”). Until recently, I had actually thought (because of friends whose profiles show no gender) that one could decline to state anything—but then I experimented by creating a new profile and found that you are unable to create one without filling in “male” or “female”. You can make that information private once the account has been created, but you have to enter it.

    So, count me in the G+’s Gender Options Are A Small Step Forward camp. Not to discourage anyone from calling Google out and asking for more steps or even bigger steps—by all means, let’s keep that up—I just have to believe that Google can do better than Facebook. At least.

  2. Posted July 13, 2011 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

    From an advertising perspective, having set options that tell you a lot about most people would be most useful, and targeted unobtrusive advertising is what allows Google to provide free services. I’m guessing that adding a whole list of options would confuse things with more people who really do fit into male or female picking other options just to be funny than actual people who feel that they fit into those categories using them.
    Give people an open field and you’ll have tens of thousands of different genders to shift through, and everything from “He-lemur” to “Chuck Norris”. This is the internet after all. When your advertisers are all: “Women primarily buy our products; how do we only show this offer to women?” They’re likely to just ignore the hundreds of less clear gender listings. Consequently Google has potentially millions of people that are much harder to monetize. Frankly, I’d like to help Google hit me with ads that I’ll respond to. They provide me with a ton of free services, and I don’t mind them knowing them doing what makes the best business sense while still being somewhat considerate.

  3. Posted July 13, 2011 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

    “I personally think the most effective way to address this would be including an empty field that can allow users to enter how they identify.”

    I don’t agree at all. While this would be nice since there are limitless different ways to identify, I think this feature would be abused a lot. If given the option, a lot of people thinking they were being smartasses would write in their gender as something silly like “dinosaur” or “blue” or other things that would really just undermine the entire point of the feature.

    As I said on the other post, I’m content with ‘other’. I want to be able to display my gender without feeling like I’m lying, and this option allows me to do so. Hiding my gender just feels like going back in the closet. ‘Genderqueer’ as an option would be nice, but then what about non-binary people who don’t identify as genderqueer? And so on and so forth. There will always be room for improvement.

  4. Posted July 13, 2011 at 2:32 pm | Permalink

    I’m happy. Gender expression can involve privacy aspects; this is certainly true for me. There might be other implicated to go after this, but it would have to be carefully considered in order to avoid abuse. This is a quick fix, and very much appreciated. Thanks Google!

  5. Posted July 15, 2011 at 3:57 am | Permalink

    Thank you to Feministing for keeping us up to date on issues of sex, gender and more. I am a big fan! To clarify: Google+ is asking about biological SEX when the choices offered are “female” and “male.” If info about GENDER is requested them “feminine” and “masculine” should be among the options given. But, ideally, ethical business owners should NOT ask for biological sex or gender info unless they can certify they cannot equally deliver their services to all people without this personal information. For examples of a wider range of options for drop-down menus for sex and gender questions, see my blog post: http://thegendercompanion.blogspot.com/2011/07/anobbmo-for-sex-and-gender-questions.html

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