A quick morning rant about “gender” and data collection

This morning I read that Google+ is going to make your name and “gender” required to be public if you want to participate.  This bothers me for several reasons:

Web sites and forms notoriously say “gender” when they mean “sex” and only put M/F or Male/Female as options. When this type of choice is required but called “gender” it erases many people who do not feel that those options cover their gender since that is actually something way more mutable than your assigned sex at birth.  Solutions: Call it “sex” which is really what those two categories are or don’t make something that is not in fact binary into a required choice of two options.

Google are so proud of being all scientific and data driven and I’m frustrated that they would not take the opportunity on their new potentially game-changing social platform to re-vamp data collection. Don’t they have the processing power to allow people to put in whatever they like as “gender” and let the power of the search sort things out in the end?  If a small number of people want to put “jedi” or “dog” let those people find each other!  Who cares if there are some people who don’t feel like Male/Female defines them?  Why Google? Why do you want to act like two boxes can cover the breadth of human experience as it relates to gender in this world?  Why can’t you innovate on the small things as well as the big things that affect human interactions?

I’d really like to see a shift in how we collect data where there is more trust that the user knows who and what they are and that they want to share this information at their comfort level and that those on the other side, let’s call them advertisers (cause isn’t that what it all comes down to?), be the ones to deal with the outliers and uniqueness of human experience instead of trying to bash everyone into a two-party system.

Sidenote: When I have collected data recently for PyStar and allowed the gender field to be a text box I have found that the expected percentage (98%) of people entered “typical” information like woman, girl, female and that those who needed to express a different response appreciated the ability to do so by entering something else.  Leaving this field to user input choice did not result in a messy, chaotic list of random words or unidentifiable descriptors.  I fear not that most people will suddenly start to be something else when given more autonomy on forms.

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