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Google: Go public on Profiles or we'll delete you

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Comment Google's efforts to get more Web2.0-social online have had an interesting but not altogether surprising side-effect: Profiles will no longer be hidden from view as of the end of this month.

The company, which is busily crafting a social network dubbed Google+, has put the policy on how it handles its user profiles on notice.

From 31 July, people who have created private profiles in, say, the ad broker's free email service Gmail will be deleted by Google unless individuals switch it to public view.

"The purpose of Google Profiles is to enable you to manage your online identity. Today, nearly all Google Profiles are public. We believe that using Google Profiles to help people find and connect with you online is how the product is best used. Private profiles don't allow this, so we have decided to require all profiles to be public," said the company.

Google said that it would only require a user's full name and gender to be displayed on the public profile. Any other information an individual doesn't want to reveal to the world can be edited or deleted.

"If you currently have a private profile but you do not wish to make your profile public, you can delete your profile. Or, you can simply do nothing. All private profiles will be deleted after July 31, 2011," said Google.

The move is part of Mountain View's wider ambition to bake social products into its search and email products.

As a result, anyone planning to use Google+ will need a public profile with, at minimum, their full name and gender displayed.

Google would argue that providing those details via its service will increase trust among participants within its social network.

The notion of identity online is currently undergoing a significant shift away from the old model of individuals having separate accounts for different parts of a web giant's online estate.

Google has arguably been at the forefront of that shift even if it has arrived late to the social party – setting aside the failed Buzz and uninspired Orkut.

Facebook has been insisting for years that users who sign up to its private network can only do so using their real names. Staggeringly, it can and does routinely ask users whose accounts are temporarily disabled to submit proof that they are who they say they are before they are allowed to return to the site.

Photocopied versions of an individual's passport or driving licence are the price. And users, more often than not, comply. Facebook temporarily stores that information on its servers.

In some circles, the method is known as "identity assurance" and the handling of such data is being considered even by the UK's Cabinet Office, which seems to think it is easier to shift the responsibility of an ID database over to any number of third parties, including social networks, rather than keep the whole thing in-house – which, as the previous Labour government learned, is a different kind of headache.

Microsoft, too, has recently made the single sign-in shift with its Windows Live estate, and some users aren't happy about it.

But the reality is that identity is becoming a lucrative and even essential part of an online business that trades its data for ad revenue. And now that the practice is seemingly industry-wide, web surfers are being forced to make decisions about what networks they want to make uneasy concessions with, or else opt out for good. ®

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