Google tries to define a valid family. Predictable awfulness ensues

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Predictable results when a group of individuals with specific (often rarefied) life experiences sets out to discuss/dictate for an infinite diversity. My favorite such example recently was when this group:

Debated and discussed maternity leave and other women’s healthcare issues.


I was at those meetings, and we had some absurd arguments that would have been hilarious if they hadn’t been so grotesque. I’ll never forget trying to explain why it was just as important to accommodate families where the mother worked overseas as a domestic servant as it was to figure out how a family could share its media with the screens in its private yacht, summer home, and personal vehicles.

But why should Google build systems for people who aren’t winners?


A Family is a Circle of People Who Love You You Have Enough Software Licenses In Your Package To Accommodate


I’m surprised that that group is anyone’s favourite anything.


In my experience it is “tolerate you”.


“Honey, I’ve fallen in love with someone else. I’m leaving you to start a new life with them.”

“Well you can’t according to this Google Play EULA you agreed to last Christmas when you activated your new phone.”


Poor word choice on my part. Ridiculous? Exasperating? Infuriating? Depressing.


They wouldn’t have coped with my family when I was growing up then. My dad worked in the merchant navy and was only at home four months of every year. The rest of the time he was travelling between the UK and Hong Kong/Japan/Australia/New Zealand.


There’s really only one good solution.

They want me and my son to be able to share one software license, but not me and my neighbor. That makes sense - except the boundary line seems to be a fractal of dimension 37. The only way out of the dilemma is to un-ask the question. Stop licensing software. Build a different revenue model.


Wait wait.

  • A family can have only five members.
  • Individuals cannot be members of more than one family.

Have these engineers not had “the talk” with their parents yet? Like, do they literally not understand the rudiments of human reproduction?

That’s before even starting on non-reproduction-based family arrangements of course - but it’s at least not terribly surprising that they don’t understand those.


It all makes vastly more sense if you weigh the solutions according to the perceived value of the customer and the ability to sell licenses.

The only real surprise is that they appear to have ignored the matter of military families with someone deployed overseas. That one is not good PR to mess with.


“Oh honey, Google says he’s not your dad anyway!”


Maybe she could get one of these smiling judges involved in her case.


See also: keeping a family together through immigration proceedings. The US defines a family exactly the way the GOP would and no deviations are permitted. (Even when they’re biblically correct! In some parts of West Africa, men assume care of their deceased brothers’ children, for example, no formalities required. Good enough for Deuteronomy, not good enough for USCIS.)


But can’t you appreciate the extraordinary diversity of ties? All the way from navy blue to mustard yellow with a huge variety of purple in-between?


Military service members and their families are routinely shat upon by government and corporate bureaucracy alike. Mouthpieces only pay lip service when the cameras are rolling.


Easy solution is to simply change the wording. Stop using the insulting “this counts as a family and thus YOU don’t count as a family.” Instead say “Each license covers up to 5 members of your local family. More members or geographically distributed members will need an additional license… blah blah blah”


The real problem(whether because families are the intended use case; or whether ‘family’ just sounds nicer than ‘license-defined end user group’) is that they are trying to achieve results that are more or less reasonable for licensing purposes; but borrowing terms from a context pretty much entirely unsuited to the job.

I can see what they are trying to do(and to the extent that I’m willing to overlook being opposed to DRM on ideological grounds) I can sympathize: With things bound to a physical medium, ‘sharing’ mostly took care of itself. The end user could decide how they wanted to trade off between the high convenience and low risk of keeping something in their personal stash; vs. having it on the shelf in the living room, vs. loaning it to friends, etc.

If you want to sell digital downloads, people are going to get annoyed if John Smith has to log out of the xbox/roku/google-whatever because Jane Smith was the one who purchased Cartoon Merchandising Adventure to entertain Junior Smith. If you want greater user buy-in(and less informal password-sharing, which is what users usually do if they can’t get what they want through official channels; but is a security nightmare); you need to find a way for anyone in House Smith to access stuff with at least the ease of the old cabinet-o’-DVDs; which actually gets a bit tricky(you can’t use being on the same LAN as a reliable indicator, since somebody on cell data is going to be on a different network than somebody on house wifi; and that breaks the ‘equivalent to bringing a DVD over to movie night’ use case); but you don’t want to make it too easy to just authorize random friends to access your account, since the risk of loss/damage when you ‘loan’ a digital copy is zero, so people will do it a lot; and you also, if possible, want to support temporarily disconnected devices; but without making it trivial to load up a movie stash then keep it offline forever to retain the ‘rights’ to everything on it.

The trouble is that these objectives, while not entirely unrelated to ‘family’ behavior(given that families often do live in shared dwellings and informally share purchased media among themselves); definitely don’t line up with ‘family’ in any rigorous way.

They would have been a great deal better off if they had come up with a different way of branding this. At least with more expensive software, it’s quite routine for various per-install, per-concurrent-user, per-organization, etc. licensing schemes to exist, and (while often a nuisance), they don’t push any social buttons because they make no reference to human relationships, aside from the ‘per organization’ stuff, which might need to clarify whether just employees of a corporation are covered, or wholly owned subsidiaries as well; but that’s totally doable.

If Google just said “Google Play purchases can be used by up to N user accounts in a ‘license group’, the ‘group manager’ must be a legal adult; minors can only have accounts created and license group invitations accepted by their parent/guardian as defined in their jurisdiction; as a customer convenience, compatible devices on the same network as a device with a licence group member logged in may also have access to material purchased by members of the license group”; they’d have an ugly, somewhat aseptic, policy; but they wouldn’t have to say anything dumb about what ‘family’ means.

The real point of confusion is no so much about what families are; but the(frankly much creepier) notion that ‘family’ should correspond to ‘consumer software/media group licensing unit’.

The notion that Google doesn’t want one purchase of Album X to be usable for more than 5 people, even if my 40-ish member neo-tribe/polyamorous commune is a ‘real family’ isn’t terribly controversial, hard to understand, or unreasonable. The idea that Google would take ‘our desired licensing group’ and call it a ‘family’ out of laziness or a desire to co-opt warm-and-fuzzy terminology for tedious software license verbiage is far less pleasant.


There are a lot of families with more than three kids. Awkward conversation: Sorry, Billy, you aren’t part of our family this year. We’ll vote again at Christmas, but only family members get to vote.