How Google Documentation Problems Can Lead to Public Relations Nightmares

Views: 558

UPDATE (October 1, 2018): Please Don’t Ask! There Are No “Google Explainers”

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Google has been going through something of a public relations nightmare over the last week or so, all related to a new feature that was added to their Chrome browser — that actually was an excellent, user-positive feature! (Please see: “Ignore the Silly Panic over Google Chrome’s New Auto-Login Feature” – https://lauren.vortex.com/2018/09/24/ignore-the-silly-panic-over-google-chromes-new-auto-login-feature).

After a massive backlash — which I personally feel was almost entirely uninformed and unnecessary — Google has announced that they’ll provide a way for users to disable this useful feature (my recommendation to users is to leave it enabled).

But how did we get to this point?

This entire brouhaha relates to Chrome browser sync, which enables the synchronization of data — bookmarks, passwords, browsing history, etc. — between multiple devices running Chrome. It’s a fantastically useful feature that unfortunately is widely misunderstood.

Part of the reason for the confusion is that it really is not well documented — the associated help materials can be misunderstood even by hardcore techies, and obviously this can be even more troublesome for non-technical users. This has been exacerbated by some aspects of the associated user interface, but Google documentation and other help resources are primarily at fault.

The triggering event for this Google PR mess was the false assumption by some observers that the new Chrome auto-login feature would automatically enable Chrome sync. It doesn’t, and it never did.

But how many Chrome users realize how much flexibility actually exists in the sync system?

For example, while the default settings will sync all categories of data, there are customization options that permit users to specify exactly which classes of data they wish to sync or not sync. I tend to sync bookmarks and not much else.

The main concern expressed about sync during this controversy relates to Google seeing your synced browsing history (which again, I stress has always been possible for users to disable in the sync system).

But how many users realize that you can choose to sync any or all data classes between your devices without Google being able to interpret them at all, simply by specifying a sync “pass phrase” that encrypts the data so that it only exists in unencrypted form on your own devices — not at Google. Doing this means that Google can’t provide various centralized value-added features, but that’s your choice!

If all of this had been better documented (in ways understandable to a wide variety of users of different technical skill levels) much or all of this entire controversy could have been avoided.

While Google has made significant strides in their help and documentation resources over the years, they still have a long, long way to go, especially when dealing with the non-technical users who make up a large and growing segment of their user population. 

I have long asserted that Google (and its users!) would greatly benefit from a new class of Google-related documentation and help systems, created and maintained specifically to assist all users — including especially non-technical users — to better understand these necessarily complex systems and environments. 

I would suggest that these include textual materials specifically written for this purpose, with supplemental video content as well. Call them “Google Explainers” or whatever, but in Google parlance I would assert that ongoing deficiencies in this area represent a “Code Yellow” (extremely important) class of issues for both Google and its users.

–Lauren– 

Ignore the Silly Panic over Google Chrome’s New Auto-Login Feature

Views: 2334

UPDATE (September 27, 2018): How Google Documentation Problems Can Lead to Public Relations Nightmares

UPDATE (September 25, 2018): In response to complaints about this actually very positive and useful new feature, Google has announced that an upcoming version of Chrome will provide an option for users to disable this functionality. But I recommend that you leave it enabled — I certainly will.

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You may have seen stories going around over the last couple of days with various observers and so-called “experts” going all wacko panicky over a new feature in Google’s Chrome that automatically logs you into the browser when you log into a Google account.

In reality, this is a major privacy-positive move by Google, not any kind of negative as those breathless articles are trying to make you believe!

Over time, many users — especially in situations where multiple people use the same computer — have come to me confused about who was really logged into what. They’d login to their own Google accounts but later discover that the browser was still logged in as someone else entirely, not only causing confusion, but the potential for significant user errors as well.

I applaud Google changing this. It improves user privacy and user security, by helping to assure that the browser and Google Accounts are using the same identities, and that you’re not accidentally screwing around with someone else’s browser data.

Some panicky observers are loudly proclaiming that they never want to login to the browser. They seem on the whole to be rather confused. You can still use the browser as Guest. You can still switch user identities on the browser via the “Manage People” function in settings.

The key functionalities of browser login are to keep track of different users’ browser settings, and to provide sync capabilities. And the sync system isn’t automatically turned on by these new changes. If you want to sync bookmarks or passwords or whatever, you still need to enable this explicitly and you still have complete control over what is being synced, just like before.

Google should be getting applause for this new Chrome auto-login feature, not silly complaints.

Kudos to the Chrome team.

–Lauren–

More Bull from the Google Haters: Search Results and Trump’s Travel Ban

Views: 650

Here we go again. There are new stories today being breathlessly spouted by the alt-right, and being picked up by mainstream media, about internal Google emails showing employees discussing possible ways to “leverage” search results to help push back against Trump’s racist travel ban in January 2017, shortly after his inauguration.

The key aspect to note about this media brouhaha is that NONE of those ideas were EVER implemented. And the discussions themselves include participants noting why they shouldn’t be.

These discussions were the personal thoughts of individual Googlers, who are encouraged by Google to speak as openly as possible internally to help assure that Google has a wide range of opinions as input to decision-making on an ongoing basis.

I experienced this firsthand during the period ending several years ago when I consulted to Google. I had never seen such an open exchange of ideas at any large firm before. I was absolutely in awe of this — and actively participated in many internal discussions — because such interchange is an incredibly important asset — not only to Google, but to its users and to the world at large.

You want to avoid whenever possible having employees self-censoring internally about controversial matters. You want the maximum practicable interchange of ideas, many of which by definition will never actually be implemented.

We’d frankly have a much better world if such open internal discussions took place at all firms and other organizations.

What’s so appalling about this situation is that there are (or were) individuals inside Google who would purposely leak such internal discussions, obviously in the hopes of generating exactly the kinds of fanatical Google hate being demonstrated by the alt-right and their allies, and to try stifle the kinds of open internal discussions that are so important to us all.

–Lauren–

What We See on the Leaked TGIF Video Makes Us Proud of Google

Views: 707

Ever since an online right-wing rag recently released a leaked copy of a corporate “TGIF” meeting at Google (recorded a couple of days after the election of Donald Trump), I’ve been receiving emails from various Trump supporters pointing at various short, out of context clips from that video to try make the argument that a vast, conspiratorial political bias by Google is on display.

This is utter nonsense. And a viewing of the entire now public meeting recording (https://lauren.vortex.com/g-tgif) not only reveals a lack of bias, but should inspire a completely different set of reactions — namely confidence and pride.

For in this video we see exactly what I for one would have hoped to see from the leaders of a powerful corporation under such circumstances — expressions of personal concern, but a clear determination not to permit personal feelings to skew or bias Google search engine or other services.

As I watched this video, I found myself almost constantly nodding my head in agreement. Frankly, if I had been up there on that stage I would have been sorely tempted to state my concerns regarding the election’s outcome in somewhat stronger language. And let’s face it, events in the ensuing nearly two years since that election have proven these kinds of concerns to have been utterly justified.

The motives of the Google or ex-Googler who originally leaked this TGIF video are obvious enough — to try feed into the alt-right’s false narratives of claimed political bias at Google. 

In this respect that person failed miserably, because any fair-minded individual viewing the entire video cannot fail to see corporate leaders explicitly keeping their personal feelings separate from corporate policies. 

That’s not to say that this nefarious leaker hasn’t done real damage inside Google. Reportedly, internal access to TGIF videos has been greatly restricted in the wake of the leak. That’s bad news all around — open discussion of sometimes controversial issues inside Google is key not only to Google’s success, but is important to Google’s users and the global community as well.

And of course the leaker has now spawned a plethora of additional right-wing articles attacking various Google execs, and a range of new wacky false conspiracy theories, including the bizarre notion that the beanie propeller hats typically worn by new Google employees are actually some kind of creepy cult symbolism. Give me a break! Apparently these conspiracy idiots never saw “Beany & Cecil” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cMdReHP9cb0).

Google — like all firms — is made up of human beings, and a person hasn’t walked this planet who qualifies as perfect. But when I watch this video, I see a group of people working very hard to do the right thing, to keep Google firmly on an unbiased and even keel despite personal disappointments.

And yes, that makes me very proud of Google and Googlers.

–Lauren–

Google Backs Off on Unwise URL Hiding Scheme, but Only Temporarily

Views: 752

In previous posts, including “Here’s How to Disable Google Chrome’s Confusing New URL Hiding Scheme” (https://lauren.vortex.com/2018/09/07/heres-how-to-disable-google-chromes-confusing-new-url-hiding-scheme), I’ve noted the serious security and other problems related to Google Chrome’s new policy of hiding parts of site URLs.

Google has now — sort of, temporarily — backed off on these changes.

In a post over on the Chromium blog, at:

https://bugs.chromium.org/p/chromium/issues/detail?id=883038

they note that URL subdomain hiding (Google uses the term “elide” — how often do you see that one?) is being rolled back in Chrome M69, but the post also says that they plan to begin hiding — I mean “eliding” — www again in M70, but not “m” (no doubt because they realized what a potential mess that made over on Tumblr). They also say that they’ll initiate a discussion with standards bodies about this to reserve “www or m” as hidden subdomains.

The comments on that Chromium post appear to be virtually universally opposed to Google’s hiding any elements of URLs. At the very least, it’s obvious that Google should not begin such URL modifications again until after such a time (if ever) that standards bodies have acted in these regards, and I would argue that these bodies should not do so in the manner that Google is now pushing.

The www and m subdomains have been integral parts of the user experience on the Web for decades. Tampering with them now (especially www) makes no sense, and (along with the other action that Google took at the same time — hiding the crucial http:// and https:// prefixes that are key signals regarding communications security) just puts users in an even more vulnerable position, as I discussed in “Chrome Is Hiding URL Details — and It’s Confusing People Already!” (https://lauren.vortex.com/2018/07/10/chrome-is-hiding-url-details-and-its-confusing-people-already).

We can certainly have a vibrant discussion regarding additional signals that could help users to detect phishing and other URL-related attacks, but any and all changes to URL displays (including involving http, https, m, www, and so on) should only take place if and after there is broad community agreement that such changes are actually user positive.

Google should completely cease all of these URL changes, permanently, unless such criteria are met.

–Lauren–