Google given the finger

Google removed journalist MG Siegler's avatar because of the posture of his middle finger. Representative Alex Joseph explained why:

As the first point of interaction with a user’s profile, all profile photos on Google+ are reviewed to make sure they are in line with our User Content and Conduct Policy. Our policy page states, “Your Profile Picture cannot include mature or offensive content.” Your profile photo was taken down as a violation of this policy.

Fair enough. Google Plus isn't a public platform. It's Google's platform.

But Google describes Plus as "sharing in real life". It describes it as an "identity service". The middle finger, pointed at no-one in particular, is hardly a scandalous gesture; here it triggers a vaguely-defined policy that's being applied to a service marketed heavily as a public venue for free expression.[1]

Google could be more honest about Plus being no such thing, or it could allow Plus to become what it claims to be. The former seems an odd proposition, given that it's so huge. But here we are, with the finger-detection squad in fine form. But is the latter really so hard? The present dissonance between representation and reality gives life to a caricature--that Plus is a sterile marketing research zone--which already seems to lurk widely in the imagination.

1. Unlike here, where if you say I look like a Brad Dourif muppet, I will replace the comment with a Nancy Reagan quote, then ban you.


  1. This is what they lobotomized Google Reader for.  This errant nonsense.  I know, this is hardly on topic, but I’m STILL taking the loss of sharing functions pretty poorly.  The fact that Google wants to act like weird arbitrary bullies– this, the “Nym Wars,” etc– is weird…like they built this playground precisely so they could be the biggest kid on the hill.

  2. What’s doubly absurd is that they screen for mature content, yet don’t allow children to use their services. So they are protecting the minds and hearts of… immature people?

    1. Actually, the profile photo can be seen by anyone doing a simple Google search, the “first point of interaction” as they say.  This policy makes total sense — find a better way to spend your holidays, people.  :)

  3. I describe Plus as… LAME! It could have been the alternative to Facebook that so many claimed to want. It’s overly complex in it’s privacy settings, when people were telling Facebook they wanted simpler privacy. And I can’t seem to take my  “identity” off public display. Sure they can’t see the details, but I don’t want tons of people from across the world, who I have no connection with and never will, asking to add me to their circle. Plus is the perfect place for “friend collectors” that can’t seem to get their Facebook friend count over 300,000 because so many people make their profile invisible to strangers. 

    1. Facebook and Google Plus are like the Democratic and Republican parties.  They have superficial differences and posture as “alternatives” to each other, but there’s nothing alternative about either.  They’re just different names for the same game.

      You want real third party social networking, use Diaspora.  We’re running out of excuses not to!

    2. No one needs to ask you to add you to a circle. There are no such requests on Google +. There are no complex privacy settings either. Yes, you have to identify to play and that’s the only thing you got right, so I’m thinking you’ve never used it other than to add your profile.

      1. Actually I’ve spent a fair bit of time using it. By requests, I mean people asking me to add them to MY circle, which I get TONS of, because Google+ is even more “aggressive” at suggesting links to other people. Facebook throws a couple up in the corner every so often. Google+ has them there on every page, and if I click the X on every one to close it, that only lasts a page view or so, lame. So I guess I got more than just one thing right no matter how much “thinking” you’ve done on the subject. You don’t just identify to play, your membership is forced as public. I DO like having my profile set as not-visible to strangers. I have a number on my house, and if someone cared to look up that house in the county registry, they would see that I own it. But I don’t put a big “Andy Reilly” sign on the front of my house. It my preference when it comes to level of privacy and that’s one of the “features” of Google+ that I find lame. I still use it occasionally to check on a friend who isn’t on Facebook, but that it. Yes, it’s like Dems and Reps, I never said one was perfect. Google promoted Plus as being more about control, but only if you agree to giving them the ultimate control. They are so far from their “don’t be evil” roots it’s not even funny.

    1. Everything is relative.

      By your reasoning, nothing you could ever complain about is legitimate because someone, somewhere has it worse.

  4. What, in 2011, did google not wreck by “improving”?

    Google, whomever was in charge c.2008, they need to be driving again. 

  5. There are probably hundreds of similar profile pictures like that on Google+, just none attached to frequent Google critic MG Siegler :p

    1. Well MG Profile pic is being displayed in Google SERP as an author to article. I don’t think Google will allow that to be displayed

      1.  True enough, but it’s still considered offensive. I don’t agree that it’s grounds for removal of the image, but if their policy is “no offensive images” you’ll have a tough time arguing that this isn’t offensive.

        The purpose of the gesture is to offend. Whether or not anyone is still offended by it (I’m certainly not) is irrelevant, because the intent is to offend.

        (I don’t mean to defend google’s actions)

        1. Intent is almost impossible to prove. MG has stated that he was using the gesture jokingly. I’m inclined to believe him, but whether someone is offended is quite apart from MG’s intent. 

          To play devil’s advocate for a moment: should Google remove a scandalous bikini photo because it offends a fundamentalist Muslim?

          Perhaps Google would be wise to institute a flagging system. If someone is offended let that user flag the image and then Google can determine whether the image is offensive or not. What they’re doing is undertaking proactive censorship (it’s like the Bush doctrine for social networks) – and that’s problematic for me.

          I think the real problem, however, is that Google is trying to fold G+ into its search engine, which is why it has to censor such images on its own. And that really gets to the heart of the issue. Is Google+ for users or for Google?

          1. I don’t see how the flagging system would help here.   

            Someone at Google would still decide what’s offensive and what’s not. 

            To take your thought experiment any further: If he did or posted  full frontal nudity in his stream, would banning that okay with you? 

            (Personally, I’d find that much less offensive, but I’m not an North American, like Google is.)

  6.  Whether or not the censorship wasn’t overstepping boundaries (it was) or probably targeted (it may have been), a middle finger at a camera by an adult is so childish to me. Actually say something shocking and poignant rather than doing something so basely crude, you know? It’s boring and still offensive and thus worthless.

    This is like that guy we all know who repeats Louis CK/Chris Rock jokes badly and says “n*****,” “f*****,” and “c***” in mixed company and refuses to change his behavior, even though everyone tells him to stop, because “It’s a free country,” despite the fact that these people are his friends and he should care if he makes them upset. Childish.

  7. [edit: oops, this is supposed to be in response to LambergaR’s comment where he asks “Overreacting a bit?”]

    I take the point to be that its a slippery slope. Google+ is inviting people to use their service as a means of communicating. And yet it seems they want to censor (or “micro manage”, or whatever word  you want to use) those communications. That’s hardly insignificant, and it begs the question of what’s next.

  8. Siegler’s not wrong. But… there’s something deeply embarrassing about listening to an adult male complain about not being able to post a picture of himself giving everyone the finger. One almost expects the next paragraph to discuss how totally bogus the student council elections are, man. 

  9. I wouldn’t have thought to call you a “Brad Dourif muppet,” Rob, mainly because I didn’t know what that meant until just now. So if you cut your hair, would that make it more of a David Caruso muppet sort of thing?

    “Mr. Beschizza! Google+ barred a guy from making a hand gesture, so he went back to Facebook!”

    “Looks like Facebook… is for the birds.”


    (This is a joke. No need to click that “ban” button.)

    1. Wait.  What part didn’t you know about?  What Brad Dourif looks like, or what a muppet is?

      Just curious.

  10. I never joined Google+ because of their name policy, and they just keep giving me more and more reasons to be glad I didn’t. They don’t even seem to have logical reasons for what they’re doing- it’s like they’re getting everything wrong just to see if they can get away with it.

  11. This post is like a fancified explanation from a 12-year-old. 

    “But you see, I’m merely using my longest digit to scratch my face…like so. WHAT?! I DIDN’T DO ANYTHING!!”

  12. I’m done with G+. At first I thought it was going to be great. I wanted it to be great. But Google seems determined to make it not fun and a place where people can’t be themselves and I do believe people can be themselves, some can be more themselves, under a fake name. 

    More and more, I miss the simple days of LiveJournal. How sad is it to say that? No ads, simple interface, no supercookie tracking, no overly intrusive rules about what could or could not be posted. For quite awhile it was ‘Here’s a journal. Do whatever the hell you want with it.’ Where is something like that now? It’s not FaceBook. It’s clearly not G+. It’s not LJ anymore.  

    1. It’s so hard to keep up with what we are supposed to be doing and think and like and agree about, isn’t it?  Thank goodness we have people who post a lot.

    2.  There does seem to have been some sort of unwritten agreement to stop using it a couple months ago by everyone I know, which is kind of funny.

      1. I’m just getting rather sick of Boing Boing trying to generate outrage about every little thing. I expect this from Fox News and their ilk, even from HuffPo, but BB should be better.

        1. You call it “complaining”, I call it “holding people responsible for doing stupid shit”.

          And I personally am thoroughly all for it.

          And I see a massive difference between this and simple fear mongering. It  matters when a company that wants to host a communication platform is dictating what sort of communications are allowed.

        2.  I agree that there have been a few BB posts that are a bit over the top with the rabble-rousing lately, but it’s still quite far from HuffPo and beyond.

          I’m always impressed with the commenters here – we’re much more likely to call out an article for being bullshit rabble-rousing than to actually get rabble-roused by it.

    1. It seems better than trivial complaining to call out something pitched as an identity service for trying to sanitize how people express their identity. 

  13. Why do you care this much about  G+? I’m doubly confounded by your mention of BB’s own policy. Inside of one post you’ve condemned one site for using very similar rights to those that your own site exercises. It’s confounding with a twist of confusion, are you opposed to all limits on speech (excepting, of course, that exercise of rights on your own boards)? Or are you just one reputational-actor vying for a sort of politico-intellectual proprietorship over the orders and rules of the supposed “free” internet; as “complete” freedom  of expression is for every other site except this one. In the end it seems like the whole issue (G+, Free Expression etc) needs to be addressed in a more fine grained and less politicized way. It seems there is more in play then just the 1st Amendment, we also have unaddressed issues of: Ownership, Money, and Class.  

  14. WTF Google? I thought you guys *got* the Internet. Don’t you know that banning someone for giving the bird means that everyone else on Plus is now going to change their avatar to show a proud middle finger?

    Idiots. Unless they have some kind of rude gesture-related secret plan? Hmmm…

    1. He wasn’t banned .. his rule breaking profile picture was taken down.

      If Siegler was caught doing 50 MPH in a 30MPH zone, would giving him a ticket be some sort of “violation”?

      Had Google wanted to censor Siegler there was lots of anti-Google drivel that would have been more appropriate to go after (for being total BS) but to enforce a rule that has blatantly been violated? I think he got what he deserved .. maybe even less than he deserved.

      If he thinks his rights have been so violated, then I suggest he go use the same picture as his Tech Crunch profile page and see if his Tech Crunch employers will put up with his childishness.

      1. “Rule breaking”, “violation”, “enforce a rule”, “deserved”, “childishness”… gosh, I so want to join your club!

  15. I tried joining G+ a few times, but they insist on thinking that I am a minor for some reason.  I wasted hours looking for somewhere to enter my actual year of birth and tried contacting them but they don’t seem to care.  So I guess I’m stuck Facebook.

    1. Guess you screwed the first time you logged for your Gmail? Otherwise, when you log for Google+ they give you the option to set your age and if you stated below the accepted then you aren’t going + anywhere, anytime soon.

      Back at Facebook.

  16. It’s in Google’s best interest to enjoy the ride for as long as this catches anyone’s attention at all. In fact, it might even do them some good to play along. Google Plus isn’t nearly dead, IMHO. But it doesn’t exactly have a very strong pulse either.

    Don’t forget to change your Google Plus profile pic (and capture the screen shot just for posterity). #changeyourgoogleplusprofilepic

  17. That middle finger was not “pointed at no-one in particular”.. If you read the threads before the picture was posted you can see that it was indeed directed at someone in particular.  Someone who politely straightened out Siegler on his “facts” regarding the Google Firefox deal.

    IMO had Siegler not been a well know personality Google would have judged him to be a 2 year old child, because that’s about the age he’s been acting lately,  and closed his account for COPA compliance.

  18. He’s a douche for posting a pic like that anyway; he probably tried the same thing with high school school yearbook picture & then again with his college picture – wouldn’t even be shocked if he tried to do it at the DMV.

    He’s got the author attribute & he knows it. His pic shows up in the search results for anything he’s written & Google doesn’t want his trash in the hallways.

    1. You seem to have him and his past all figured out.  Why are you wasting your talents here when the CIA or MI5 are waiting?

        1. You have the ability to laugh at yourself.  That’s good.  Don’t you think that’s what Finger was up to as well?

  19. I am confused when I see this kind of post linking how companies control how people use their free services and “online freedom.”

    Online freedom discussions began in earnest when DRM and the DMCA came around.  These things reduce freedom in that they do not allow you to actually own the things you own. For example, the DMCA is regressive to “freedom” in that it limits what a person can do with things they own.  This is not regressive to freedom, as it does not limit what you can do with what you own.   Freedom is not about forcing Google to let you do whatever you want with their servers and bandwidth, its about allowing you to do whatever you want with your servers and bandwidth.  SOPA is freedom-regressive because it tries to restrict what you can do with your servers and bandwidth.  It allows the gov’t (in some cases a foreign gov’t) to confiscate property (domain names) without due process or recourse, it limits what you can do with the things you own.

    Don’t conflate G+’s policies about how you can use their servers and bandwidth with internet freedom.

  20. Wow.  This is fascinating.  I honestly don’t 100% know how I feel about this, but I like the remark that this sort of thing risks Google plus becoming a “sterile marketing research zone”.

    I do think Facebook also has poor judgment in censorship.  On the one hand, they have drawn heavy criticism for censoring breastfeeding pictures.  But they err too much on the side of allowing hate groups…there are dozens of hate groups that seem to elude detection, and I’ve reported some overt hate groups against all sorts of groups, particularly Arabs and Muslims, and seen them stay up for a long time after reporting them.

  21. I wonder if they have thought through the wide range of obscene gestures available in the world.

    In Britain, traditionally, the obscene gesture would be two fingers, a V for victory sign but with the palm towards the giver. I suspect that most Americans wouldn’t recognize it. 

    In some parts of the former Persia a thumbs up sign is offensive, and in other parts of the Arab world a single finger touching the palm is offensive.

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