Friday, August 12, 2011

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Google Engineers Suggest They Get the Importance of Pseudonyms & Just Need Time to Do Them Right

Google Plus

Last night I got into an interesting conversation about Google+ with a Google developer at a bar, and of course we talked about the controversy over banning pseudonymous accounts and demanding real names, and the company's general inconsistency and incoherence on the matter. While acknowledging the company has gone a bad job explaining their policies, he (or she) insisted to me that Google does understand the importance and value of pseudonymous accounts, and just needs time to implement them correctly. That's the reason they're sticking with a "real names only" policy at the moment -- those accounts can easily be integrated into the system now, and give them time to introduce pseudonymous options later on, after they've worked out all the implications.

Now, this might have only been idle bar gossip, but I just read this post on Read Write Web, which cites Google engineer Joseph Smarr basically saying the same thing:

"It's not just enough to offer the ability to post under a pseudonymous identifier. If you're going to make the commitment that we're not going to out your real identity, that actually takes a lot of work, right? Especially if you're using your real account to log in, and then posting under a pseudonym. And so we feel a real responsibility that if we're gonna make the claim to people, "it's safe, you're not gonna get outed", that we really think through the architecture end to end and make sure that there aren't any loopholes or gotchas where all of a sudden you get outed. And that's actually a hard thing to do in software... we don't want to do it wrong so we'd rather wait until we get it right."

That raises some good points. A lot of people would prefer to use a pseudonym in various contexts, for instance, but their real name is already attached to their Gmail account. So at this point, I'm willing to take these Google guys at their word, at least until they introduce their promised pseudonym solutions.

That said, it's still the case that Google is doing a poor job communicating their plans. After all, the Smarr quote (from a video interview) was only brought to the attention of Read Write Web's Marshall Kirkpatrick by Google after he saw a new Google policy announcement and he (fairly) interpreted it as, "Google Plus Tells Pseudonym Lovers to Shove It". It's a bit weird that Google's official statements seem so unreasonable, while we get the more reasonable version from supplemental sources -- or for that matter, over beer.


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Scarp Godenot

So let me get this straight: They are REQUIRING real identity because they care about us SO much that they need to 'protect' us from being 'outed'? And those of us who want to control our online identities need to wait until they can figure out a way to make sure we are safe from the evil boogeyman internet and THEN we will be able to be in their system? .................puhleeeeeese!

I have a bridge I would like to sell you.....

Nobody has asked them to make any judgements about why people want alternative identities, people are only asking to behave the way they do EVERYWHERE ELSE IN THE ENTIRE INTERNET FOR 30 YEARS.

How hard is this to understand? Well, it isn't. They obviously have ulterior motives.

Most of us think they want to connect the real identities to their overall marketing plans. To think otherwise is to be completely naive....

Cisop Sixpence

I think while they are working on doing this right they should give some slack to those who are using pseudonyms, rather than suspend them.

Senban Babii

Regardless of all other's still Google. I trust them as far as I could comfortably spit a rat (bonus point if you spot the reference).

The truth is, their engineers aren't trying to ensure protection of identity. They're trying to work out how they can still commodify, package and sell your backside despite you using a name different to the one on your driving licence and credit cards.

Ciaran Laval

The words "Absolute Balderdash" spring to mind, and I don't mean the Second Life avatar of that name.

Incorporting pseudonyms just requires people to tick a box saying they are using a pseudonym.

Arcadia Codesmith

It's nice that they're saying the right things (buried deeply).

When they get around to doing the right things, I'll check it out.

Senban Babii

Sorry to post twice but shameless plug for my thoughts time :)

Jim Tarber

Google is too big to think that engineers have any control at all over these decisions. The official statements are all consistent: there is no flexibility in choosing a name to use. If you try, you will be banned. There are some who *may*qualify by *proving* some degree of fame with their pseudonym. But there is no sense of security with that account. Google could choose (and has chosen many times) to ban that user regardless. The video announcement last night merely reaffirms their commitment to this privacy-hostile policy.

If there was any understanding of the effects of this policy, they would postpone all suspensions until a new name policy could be implemented under new rules and service code that supports a separate display name. They are clearly showing that they have no intention of making those kinds of changes, at least at this time.

The *policy* has not changed and shows no sign of changing, regardless of whether some engineer has some optimistic thoughts based on what he sees as reasonable. I can't believe you report this as news. The news here is the COMPLETE REJECTION of pseudonyms last night.

Deoridhe Quandry

Ahhhh ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!

Oh my.

Oh yes, I can so be outed by Google. Someone might point out my gmail is my pseudonym, and then what would happen?


This just in: "If You Use a Fake Name on Google+, Your Account Is About to Be Suspended"

Winter Seale

"their real name is already attached to their Gmail account"

Uh, it is? Since when?


I'd have to agree that this is mostly nonsense. It *sounds* good to say "hey we're eventually going to allow it" but really, what he's saying is "no matter what name you use with other people, Google needs your Real ID." Because, frankly, it's an easy solution otherwise: simply don't use your real name anywhere on your Google accounts, just like sensible people haven't for the past 6 or so years. It's up to the individual to decide how private to keep their life, not Google.

Wizard Gynoid

At first I was convinced that Google's motivation, like Facebook's, was profit-driven, i.e. that they are trying to monetize their users. I think now there is more to it. In 2009, Google's chief made an announcement very similar to the one Facebook's Zuckerberg made.
Note the comment about the Patriot Act. I am beginning to think this is very significant, while at the same time I'm trying not to succumb to conspiracy theory thinking. I think some of us will be pursuing this line of thinking. Stay tuned. And follow the hashtag #nymwars

Hamlet Au

"Uh, it is? Since when?"

It is if your Gmail e-mail account is basically your RL name, which a lot of people do. For example, my Gmail account is wjamesau at gmail dot com. Doesn't take a genius to figure out who that is. :)

sirhc desantis

:) Loved this "And that's actually a hard thing to do in software"...really. And Ser A your variation on "..from a dude at the pub" priceless.

Tateru Nino

Whatever Google engineers seem inclined to think, all of the official word coming down seems to just be more variations of "no".

Given that, I don't think that anything an individual employee tells any of us outside of official channels will wind up being indicative of what the company chooses to ultimately do.

CC Columbo

There are three people in my little town in Maine with whom I share identical first and last names though none of us are related. There are tens of thousands of folks with whom I share identical first, middle, and last names in the United States alone. Only John Smith might be as common.

My GMail account (and thus all my Google-related services) are all under cchunt (at) (no spam, please), which is NOT my birth name, but one by which I've been known since the birth of the public Internet (Raise your hand if you've used ARPANET!). I'm also known by that name on other services. How or why should I use my parent-given name?

I'm not looking to use Google+ or any service as a "front" for my SL identity. Interestingly, I have an alt with a GMail address based on his SL name and /he/ got a Google+ invite. My RL identity account did not.

Lissa Pinion

I have to agree that if you look at the Patriot Act and all the work companies went thru to not give our info to the govt agencies asking for it, that they have a lot of hoops they must jump thru as well to have sites like Google+ I'm not wild about it but I know Google went to bat for us when they were ordered to give our info to the govt so I'll give them the benefit of the doubt til proven otherwise.

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