Back

Google misadventures

May 2013

Broken feedback feature

The main reason which prompted me to write this short text was when I noticed that it was impossible to use the "Feedback" feature to report a serious problem. We could call this the cherry on the sunday. Basically, this appears to be a message stating that accounts like mine are unwelcome to report the fact that it is unnacceptable that nothing works anymore because of the refusal to adhere to Google+.

When attempting to send feedback, a popup box appears asking to sign-in. If attempting to continue, a popup box asks again for the email address and password, despite my account already being logged in. If filing them out, the box just closes as if nothing had happened, and repeating the procedure yielded in the same lack of functionality.

Broken Youtube account channel

When I noticed that my Youtube account (or channel, there seems to be internal confusion) was apparently automatically tied with Google+, a service I never had any intention to use, I noticed the settings option to disassociate with Google+, with "delete all my Google+ data". I wasn't supposed to have any Google+ data, so I proceeded. Google services users later learned that to force Google+ unto them, most user data technically became Google+ data, which has been "integrated" within the various services.

However, this also deleted the channel, along with all comments which had been posted using it, and the avatar image (although the Youtube help claims that it was "disabled"). The help also had various outdated entries on procedures to re-enable or access such "disabled" channels, which procedures no longer worked (such as attempting to login with the old Youtube account name rather than using the global email address ID). It however specified elsewhere that a re-enabled channel would indeed have lost its associated comments. It seems that this data loss was inevitable.

But for a few weeks, the account was basically useless. Attempting to comment, to access the channel, inbox, etc, all resulted in a "channel setup" popup requester, about the creation of a channel and Google+ profile, with the only option to proceed. But proceeding would then just popup a "Working...", then waiting indefinitely. When opening the Firefox web developer console, I could see a few errors due to bugs in the JS code of the site, but one especially seemed relevant about "submit" no longer being a function, as it had been overriden by a variable in the scripts.

A few weeks later, after having taken a break from Youtube, that same popup requester finally seemed to work. It annoyingly suggested a change of name, actually asking for my full name. But there fortunately was the option to continue using the old user-name, which I used. A new blank channel was created, and the contacts, as well as "likes" were restored, but the avatar image, as well as all previous comments, were lost.

This is most unfortunate, as the only reason I had created an account was to be able to post comments. Well gone they were, as if all those tech or science oriented, well-thought-out comments, strategically composed to be able to fit into the constrainted 400 characters limit, never had been posted. Thanks for the waste of time.

Now knowing first hand how futile user data is to Google, other than for advertizing or mining purposes, should I ever use any of their "cloud" storage or online tools? I doubt so. I should have known better in the first place (and seemed to know better, until I decided that the urge to be able to post comments appeared worth creating an account). I also liked my avatar image, but it seems that I can't easily locate it again, and it's not worth restoring anyway, as I have learned. Who knows when such inadvertent channel deletion will occur again. I'll likely delete the account or leave it expire out of inactivity.

Other major annoyances

Some will remember of the Microsoft paperclip. Well, this paperclip was invasive, but it could be disabled easily, and could be ignored. However, regularily invasive unavoidable popup requesters have bugged me on Youtube, attempting to hand-hold me though generally overly limited choices. If attempting to skip them by not taking the action it was intended to force the user into, these keep popping up interfering with functionality.

Examples:

The short comment limit, and necessity to cripple links for them to pass, even those to Youtube videos, are also annoying. But nothing was more annoying than the loss of every comment which had been posted, especially that the only reason I had created an account was to be able to post comments. But the comment length restriction should probably be a warning sign of Youtube only being a toy platform. The low general quality of these comments are notable, and the few who attempt to post decent ones also seem discouraged to do so. Especially if they realize that these may also all suddenly be deleted anytime, including by the channel owner who may not agree with it.

I expect services to support an expert option and to attempt to be the least annoying possible instead of constantly interfering. I need settings to allow to tweak every possible option, and for those settings to never be tempered or reset without explicit user action. Moreover, I expect software to be stable, instead of in constant flux and breaking constantly. Version systems support development branches and developers should test their software internally before public deployment. A company with as many resources is also expected to have good testing teams and regression-testing software.

Oh well. Another unreliable, unsuitable system for real communication. A glorified toy, afterall.

Services "integration"

It's not necessary to mention that the over-integration of what used to be separate services has security and privacy implication issues. The advent of OpenID does not help at all, and sites may favor particular "OpenID providers". This means that XSS exploits become worth trying by attackers even more, and that the providers can log whenever we connect to another service via their ID.

Resulting reaction

Considering that Google services can not be considered reliable or dependable, I have decided to not use an account anymore.

Facing reality

Online storage trends and "the cloud"

Because of the easy of use of offline storage, and redundancy of data access this provides, offline storage to remote clusters over the internet is quickly becomming ubiquitous. This has the following implications:

Monopolistic communication service providers

Another issue is how pervasive some systems have become for a particular purpose. To name a few examples, GMail for email, Facebook for social networking or chatting, etc. The illusion of "free market" quickly dissipates when we realize how much centralized are common services used by the masses. At a point where there are fears that the actual internet might become an underground technical thing (as opposed to internet neutrality), when access to a few web services only would be provided by some browsers, devices or ISPs.

We are faced with a new generation of users who have no idea that they could run their own SMTP server and POP3S/IMAPS clients, their own IRC servers and clients (including with SSL support, and/or connect to large IRC networks), not to mention some other existing protocols; and users who have no idea about the existence of PGP. Online stores, banks and brokers now commonly use unsigned, and uncrypted email, when they are critical services which should systematically use PGP. The advent of web mail clients makes using PGP harder, unless the browser has some site-specific plugin support, or unless the user trusts the remote client site to hold their private key. Similarily, very few organizations know that they could (and possibly should in some cases), run their own SSL certificate authority.

This in an era when we discover that our communications are systematically recorded, monitored and analyzed. We are criminals by default, living under a type of electronic oppression. This not only has freedom implications, but also commercial espionnage, and thus, unethical competitive ones.