Tuesday, January 24, 2012

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Google Now Allows Fully Pseudonymous Google+ Profiles -- But Only Those Known by a "Meaningful Number" of People

Google Plus

Google is now allowing a limited number of users on its social network Google+ to have fully pseudonymous accounts, a Google representative just confirmed with me. This after Google+ VP Bradley Horowitz announced yesterday the reversal of a previous Google policy banning pseudonymous accounts. The new policy isn't to be confused with "Nicknames", a Google+ feature also announced yesterday, which are just alternate names listed in addition to an existing (real name) on the profile.

Regarding fully pseudonymous accounts, here's the key clause from Horowitz:

[S]tarting today we’re updating our policies and processes to broaden support for established pseudonyms, from [artist] trench coat to [pop star] Madonna. If we flag the name you intend to use, you can provide us with information to help confirm your established identity. This might include:
  • References to an established identity offline in print media, news articles, etc
  • Scanned official documentation, such as a driver’s license
  • Proof of an established identity online with a meaningful following
We’ll review the information and typically get back to you within a few days. We may also ask for further information, such as proof that you control a website you reference.

Does this mean you can have a Google+ account named after, say, your Second Life avatar, or your Reddit username, or whatever? Maybe. Here's where things get tricky. "It’s important to note that not all appeals will be granted," the Google spokesperson told me. "Users must show that this name is known by a meaningful number of other people."

I asked the spokesperson if that would specifically include pseudonyms based on Second Life avatars. "They include web profiles that only the avatar's owner can use," I explained. "For example, here's mine [Hamlet Au]."

Google's reply:

"Unfortunately, we don't comment on our thresholds or sources for submitting proof of identity. This is in order to prevent abuse and spam." They went on: "[I]n our first step toward updating our common name policy - we are only allowing established pseudonyms into Google+. We know that the Internet has a rich history of users that have established new identities. So in order to support these established identities, we simply ask for proof that that identity is actually in meaningful use."

So G+ pseudonyms are not limited to extremely well-known, real world persons like Madonna. "Anyone is welcome to go through the appeals process," the spokesperson told me, pointing to the three pieces of evidence Horowitz also mentioned. Overall, this is a significant improvement to Google's policy, and significantly better than the half-measure tech experts like Jamie Zawinski predicted.

All that said, and reading between the lines, my personal interpretation is that some SL avatar-based Google+ accounts are permissible -- if the account owner can show, for example, mentions of their SL avatar in the mainstream press. On that assumption, I'm pretty sure, say, New World Notes contributing writer Janine Hawkins could create a Google+ account named Iris Ophelia, since she was profiled in the New York Times with that avatar name, and has a large following on NWN. For that manner, I'd guess any SL blogger with more than a few hundred regular readers might make the cut (if they can prove to Google they own the blog in question). But random SL avatars known only by a few dozen other random avatars? Maybe not so much, and some SLers are likely to be disappointed. But as the Google policy guide says, "We’d hate to see you go, but if you choose to leave, make a copy of your Google+ data first."

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shockwave yareach

Too little, too late. Google wants to be a reputation service rather than a social service. So they can go suck vacuum; I'll not give them the time of day, much less my money or my data.

I'm known in furry fandom and in some corners of SL by this name. I've been going by "shockwave" before Google even existed. I'll be hanged before I let some computer outfit staffed by teenagers tell me whether or not my nom-de-plume is widely enough known to be permitted into their super secret club house. It's my name, my identity, and my data -- not Google's.

Ciaran Laval

The pseudonyms seem to be aimed at one name pseudonyms, such as Madonna.

They do seem to have relaxed their naming policy altogether though, suggesting people do actually have common names that can be vastly different from the names on their birth certificate.

The policy is evolving, too slowly for some I'm sure.

Tateru Nino

Google never banned all pseudonymous accounts. They always allowed them if you were "sufficiently well known" by some variable and capricious internal metric.

Melissa Yeuxdoux

Until either I'm sure I will be approved or Google explicitly states that thumbs down doesn't mean my blog on Blogger or gmail address go away or becomes unaccessible, I won't risk it. Their social network isn't that important to me.

Botgirl Questi

Here's a person whose pseudonymous identity was just approved today, using a Second Life Identity, and this link as verification: http://world.secondlife.com/group/b473c9f5-216f-afb9-dec3-3a4d7a80d938

Hamlet Au

Got a link to their G+ account?

Vanadis Falconer

Under the Swedish Constitution everyone has the right to be anonymous in broadcasting or other technical recording. So it is an offense to force anyone Avatar reveal their identity in that way such as Google and Facebook have tried. It may be interesting cases where Facebook put their servers in Luleå in northern Sweden

Ignatius Onomatopoeia

Oh Noes...the Crazy Cat Lady of SL comes to Fb.

She can meet every one of Google's criteria. Okay, maybe not number 2..."official documentation" is proof of techncommie spying on our personal lives.

For now at least, Google is safe. For now.

foneco zuzu

Not interested, I was both services beta tester, and as ll i did while being beta (Eve, Lienage2, guid wars, Hi5, Sp3 internet services and a few more i can't remember, as soon as they got final i just drop using them!

A. T.

Swedish constitution may give nice promises on paper but it didn't stop Swedish government to push down Swedish public's throats that global (towards rest of world) wiretap law, pull into dirty story Assange and drive through court TPB.org case for pleasure of MPAA-and-alike. In other words, as one of US founders said -- right is not what is given/promised to you, right is nobody can withhold from you. Don't over-rely on Swedish (or any other country's) law anymore - countries are weak and large corpos are inserting their strings attached. Just like Google -- "just introduces its own rules" and they don't bloody care what Swedish law says. Try to prove opposite in Swedish court - we will laugh together (see why above).

Adeon Writer

"First of all, you might ask why we have a names policy at all. (i.e., why we don’t simply go with the JWZ proposal) One thing which we have discovered, while putting some miles on the system, is that it is indeed important to have a name-based service rather than a handle-based service. This isn’t a matter of functionality so much as of community: You get a different kind of community when people are known as Mary Smith than when they are known as captaincrunch42, and for a social product in particular we decided that the first kind of community is the one we want to build. In order to do that, we want to establish a general norm that the names you put in to the system should be names, not handles. "

It sounds to me that they simply want "Name-sounding" names, rather than gamer tags:

"Our name check is therefore looking, not for things that don’t look like “your” name, but for things which don’t look like names, period. In fact, we do not give a damn whether the name posted is “your” name or not: we will not challenge you on this basis, nor is there any mechanism for other users to cause you to be challenged for this. "

shockwave yareach

@Adeon - so this multibillion dollar company is being run by the whims of west coast interns who get to decide if a name sounds "funny" or not? What about people with non-Western names? A friend of mine was kicked out for being named Robin Hood, and that's his legal name! Showed them a drivers license and everything -- still banned.

This is NOT how to run a billion dollar corporation. And central to the issue is that Google's concept of community (where nobody has any secrets) isn't the same as everyone elses (where we share some things with our communities, but not everything). And the names we use in many communities -- most of which predate the very existance or even concept of the internet -- are not our given, legal names.

We use our pseudonyms to a) separate professional and personal lives, b) keep crazy people from looking us up at 3am(it only takes a phone book), and c) be more easily identifiable and locatable by our own subculture. Google's sin is in thinking that its concept of community is the only one there is. But they are very wrong, and as a result, their search system will forever be gravely incomplete.

Funny that you can now search for somebody's dog tagged in google plus, but you aren't allowed to be searchable by your fandom name. Dogs matter more than communities I guess.

Hiro Pendragon

@Shockwave - most multi-billion dollar companies have customer-facing staff that are entry level and can have a tremendous impact on individual customers. 'Tis the nature of consumer products and services. However, what Google has done has added a little bit of process and standards so that people can better appeal their case if one of these customer service level staff uses poor choice in their discretion.

@Hamlet - thanks for reporting this.

Botgirl Questi

Here's the link to the Google+ profile page of the person I mentioned above who validated a pseudonymous identity via a Second Life reference:

https://plus.google.com/108580562690057205363/about

Pussycat Catnap

Quick!

Everybody go make comments on my blog so I can be 'important'. :D

...

I dunno... I want to say I don't think anybody would actually be 'pathetic enough' to invite spamming of themselves so as to become relevant enough to pass Google's "standards", but I'm certain it's only a matter of days from happening.

Now, don't forget to spam my blog. :D

Pussycat Catnap

"However, what Google has done has added a little bit of process and standards so that people can better appeal their case if one of these customer service level staff uses poor choice in their discretion."

Every company does that. the problem is they outsource the policy people to high school interns in some part of the world with a different culture than the company's core customer base...

- The review folks usually have even -less- idea about what's going on than the front facing entry levels...

The asylum is policed by the circus, which gets managed by the zoo.

Archie L. Mendicant

I've watched the online story comments from two local newspapers.

One allows user-chosen handles (PackersFan42 etc.), which means the identities are local to that site's comments threads ... and the level of discourse is horrible. Commenters tend to be uncivil and hurtful.

The other uses Facebook, so that if you make a comment on a story, your Facebook name and profile pic appear next to your comment. The general understanding is that these are real people who vote and show up to council meetings and such in the same persona they're presenting online. It's not one aspect of a person, which so many of our online identities represent. The idea is that this is part of the community civic dialogue. My observation: the dialogue on this site is much more civil and respectful because there's a sense of dealing with real people.

I know that this conversation is about Google+ but I think the principle at play is much the same. I'm definitely ambivalent on this issue (heck, I'm using my SL and not my RL name to post here!) because I see valid arguments from multiple sides.

shockwave yareach

@Archie - just because I use a psuedonym does not automatically make me an immature jerk using anonymity as a shield to be a troll. A great many of us have used anonymity for decades before the internet even existed. As databases grew and the ability to datamine and connect wide seas of dots appeared, the need to be able to separate your personal and professional life became even more important.

Besides, within a community like mine, my psuedonym is known while my RL name is not. It doesn't mean I'm a troll. It means I don't want people who are a part of one circle (fandom) knowing my real name, looking me up in the phone book, and paying me a visit at 3am. Just because I want to enjoy a community doesn't mean I have to tell everyone there every detail about my life, my SSN, my bank account info, or anything else I choose to withhold from that community. It's MY data and my life -- not Google's. And if I don't want the world to connect the dots between RL name and fandom name, that's my business.

But do not for one second think that people using psuedonyms simply so they can maintain a shred of privacy still are all neer-do-wells and trouble makers. Because we aren't.

Pussycat Catnap

"@Adeon - so this multibillion dollar company is being run by the whims of west coast interns who get to decide if a name sounds "funny" or not?"

This shows a complete lack of comprehension of the American West Coast, and Silicon Valley in particular.

This is the most multi-ethnic place on Earth. I can guarantee you that those folks working here at Google come from at least 216 different countries. I've known several of them personally, and worked with many of those 'interns' who are actually contractors that rotate between companies like Google, Yahoo, and others.

You cannot find a more diverse set of people anywhere on Earth.

Most of them are immigrants or foreigners living in the USA.

And these are also folks who will have among them people with real life names like 'Sunshine Hopeful' thanks to the white population around here who in the 60s started naming their kids oddly...

You've also got a good number of folks with names that are different in language or ethnicity from the person themselves, because we're just -that- multicultural out here.

And you have to be some kind of strange extremist here to not have personal friends who are of different races, or even different nationalities, than yourself. The population is so mixed up here, you have to work hard to avoid mixing. This isn't Idaho were you'd have trouble finding someone from 'out there', this is 'out there'.

'Robin Hood', while a legal name, may have been banned for too strong an identity with certain other cultural themes. This can happen. There are plenty of real life people who have limits on how they can use their names because 'trademark' or other iconic elements own that turf.

Friend of mine once taught in a school with a kid who was named 'Colegate' because the poor boy's mother liked that brand of toothpaste... There's someone who would not be able to use their name, even though its on their birth certificate, in a normal manner.

Ciaran Laval

@Archie, the problem with Facebook comments is that they put some people off commenting, especially those who are bound by social networking policies in the workplace.

However there are plenty of examples, on Facebook itself, with people going off the rails and being horrid to each other. Which of the two newspapers has the most comments?

On the issue itself, Yonatan Zunger, one of the Google team had this to say:

"So, interesting thing: when we first launched G+, we thought that people would be total bastards if they weren't tied to their own, very durable, identity. (Which was one of the drivers behind the original names policy) As we got more miles on the system, this was replaced with the concern that people are total bastards, period. We are therefore putting some nontrivial work into hunting down general antisocial behavior and dealing with that directly, quite independently of names."

Which is something I definitely agree with.

Mimetix Chronowire

So much for Googles' claim to allow pseudonymous accounts. I have just checked and my Google+ account is still suspended until I change my name to something they approve of. I have appealed their decision and they haven't even got the good manners to reply.

Mimetix Chronowire

Google and Facebook are behaving like bullies over this names business with their 'My way or the highway' approach. The day will come when a competitor will offer a similar service that accepts pseudonymous accounts and respects its' users privacy. When that happens G+ and FB will die their well deserved death.
Until then we have to put up with pissy know-it-all bullies who think that their ability to string together a few lines of code gives them a right to order other peoples' lives around.

Mimetix Chronowire

Ciaran, the only people acting like bastards in this case are Google and Facebook. Their argument demanding the use of 'real-life' names is bogus. They already have the technology to deal with trolls and griefers: it's the data-mining and tracking software that is the basis of their business model.

shockwave yareach

Well, I and my identity will stay on Livejournal where I don't have to show a driver's license and only people who are friends have to see what I write. Works for me. I don't need Google to handle my identity -- I've done it myself for years.

@Pussycat - please, spare me. I didn't say a single thing about the multicultural scene at Google. I said that this multiBILLION dollar company is putting the success or failure of Plus in the hands of a bunch of kids. And the sole basis of whether or not I get to be in the Honeycomb Hideout rests solely on whether or not my name makes one of these youth giggle. And that's an idiotic way to run one's multiBILLION dollar company.

I have said it many times -- I have no issues with giving my name to Google for the account creation. But I don't want to display that name for all the world and all its HR departments to see. My interests, pictures, notes, travels and activities are my business and I should be able to share and NOT share them with whoever I wish. That includes choosing to be unsearchable by my real name and chose to be searchable by my fandom nom-de-plume.

I keep my private and personal lives separated. I always have, and it has served me well through the years. I always shall, even if that means not getting to enter the great Plus tree fort with the rest of the neighborhood kids.

Dysonian Xenobuilder

Google never bothered me. I can use my Google+ account but they banned my partner, Mimetix, because they don't approve of his name. He's still locked out of Google+. At least we can hang out together in Second Life... somewhere where good sense prevails.

Dysonian Xenobuilder

So basically Googles' words words aren't even worth the breath they're spoken with, the paper they're written on or the electrons they're transmitted with.

Pussycat Catnap

"@Pussycat - please, spare me. I didn't say a single thing about the multicultural scene at Google. I said that this multiBILLION dollar company is putting the success or failure of Plus in the hands of a bunch of kids."

No you made a mini-rant at west coasters as if we were out of touch. So I corrected you and pointed out that we're a global community - able to be "in touch" with people anywhere in the world. We on the west coast of the USA have a better sense of international dynamics than anywhere else in the USA, and probably anywhere else in the world. No where else in Europe, Asia, Africa, Latin or North America will you find this global a mix. Not even at the UN HQ will find a presence like you can find here, and here you'll find it just walking down the street.

Here is your slighting comment, again:

"@Adeon - so this multibillion dollar company is being run by the whims of west coast interns who get to decide if a name sounds "funny" or not?"

- Note the 'west coat' bit... You followed that up with a claim that we would not grasp names of varying cultures, and I pointed out that we're better positioned than anywhere else in the world to have an understanding of varied naming systems around the world.

Pussycat Catnap

Yes anonymous commenting can lead some people to become cyber-bullies. Some people just are bullies.

The official SL forums have gone through a spate of perma-bans in recent months clearing out such people.

I'm reminded of that because it contradicts what I was going to comment here, and the notion suddenly popped into my head.

I wanted to say that, even 'anonymous avatars' learn to watch how they behave over time as the avatar consolidates into an identity...

This is the difference between your local paper that lets any old username, and the Facebook one. The Facebook one is not more civil because it ties to birth certificates (thus why Facebook banned Salman Rushdie until he took them to task for it), but because that forum requires a consolidated identity.

Once people form an identity around a username, it becomes as much a predictor of character as tying them to the birth cert. Actually, it becomes a -MORE- reliable predictor...

A consolidated anonymous identity reveals your true nature. A birth cert identity reveals your censored public face identity.

A pure anonymous unconsolidated handle just reveals your stream of consciousness at that moment.

My problem with this stance jumps back to what I said about the forums. Some people over time come out with a consolidated bullying nature. They reveal just how ugly they are on the inside by being hurtful over and over again towards others.

They might likely still do this if tied to a birth-cert name, or they might not.

But I would wager that there is vastly greater value in letting people consolidate their true inner selves into an identity that can consistently express that inner nature than there is in just having them show their accepted public face. The 'public face' identity is of very little value for actual discourse. Its even of spurious value for 'marketing' - it doesn't really tell you what they person wants to buy / have sold to them. Its just a front.

Your birth cert name is more fake than your pseudonym.

shockwave yareach

I said West Coast as that's where Google Headquarters is located. That's all. No shots at who lives there or the tolerance for funny names was implied -- simply the physical location of the company. But I can see how that could have been misinterpreted, and I apologize if it offended. That was not my intentions.

As a man of letters, you'll know when I chose to give offense. :)

Mimetix Chronowire

Meh, my G+ account is still blocked. I can log into it but I get a huge notice about their names policy and such stuff. I'm unable to post anything on my G+ feed page or whatever they call it :-(((

Yes, I suppose Google is right: Google+ isn't for me. I'll find somewhere nicer that respects my choice of name and privacy.

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