Google has tweaked the structure of Google+ by giving users the option of concealing their gender on public profiles. Before, open profiles were required to choose between male, female, or other, and this status — even for businesses, which don’t have a gender — needed to be public. Starting this week, users will be able to conceal their gender on their profiles, or give only user-specified Circles access to this information.
This may seem like small potatoes, but it will reduce the confusion — and impropriety — of assigning genders to businesses, and is also, in its own quiet way, a step in the right direction toward a more open and accepting social network.
Once the change goes through, Google+ will use gender-neutral pronouns to reference those who have chosen to privative their gender information. For instance, a message would read “Brennon added you to their Circles” rather than “Brennon added you to his Circles.”
Google product manager Frances Haugen acknowledged in a YouTube announcement that this is “grammatically questionable” but when you consider the alternatives for people profiles, flubbing grammar is better than referring to a human being as “it.”
Facebook is somewhat on par with Google+ in this respect. Users have the option of hiding gender information on their Facebook profiles, but are still have to choose between male and female. In terms of LGBT equality, both Google+ and Facebook have options for “in a civil union” and “in a domestic partnership” in their relationship statuses.