Google+ and “Real Names”

In my last post, I noted the differences and similarities between the user policies of Google+ and Facebook. One of my particular concerns for a long time has been Facebook’s policy of requiring users to identify using their real names, so, while Google+ stated in its community standards that Google+ would be an “identified” service (see Google’s differentiation between unidentified, pseudonymous, and identified), I was heartened by the fact that, at the very least, they would allow users to utilize the name by which they are commonly known, thereby eliminating incidents like the one Michael Anti experienced with Facebook.

Today, I spotted my first example of Google+ cracking down on a user for violating this particular rule. Ken Wehr, who publicly posted about his experience on Google+, found his account disabled for initially using his initials (“k s w”) to identify himself.

What’s interesting is the discussion that has ensued about Ken’s experience (unfortunately, it’s occurring across various accounts, with some discussions public and others semi-private, so I won’t be able to share them all). Some people disagree with the idea that Google+ should be an “identified” service, while others are simply peeved at how the policy is or might be enforced (sample comment: “The policy actually says that I should use the name that “my friends know me by”. Nowhere does it say “unless it’s a pseudonym or nickname unrelated to my legal name”. If the policy they’re enforcing doesn’t match the policy as written, that’s a problem.”)

Still others (and I admittedly and shamefacedly–my privilege is so showing–never even considered this aspect in all of my writings on Facebook) have pointed out how this might affect transgendered people, particularly those who may not yet have changed their name or gender legally (though, I would hope that Google wouldn’t object if a person’s name and gender seemed not to match up).

First, I will say this: Google+ is still in beta, and therefore so are its policies. In this case, I think the policy needs some serious clarification. As others have pointed out, the policy states that “Google Profiles is a product that works best in the identified state”, but Google’s own definition of the identified state seems to imply the use of one’s real, legal name (in that their example is Google Checkout, which would in fact require the name on your credit card). Thus, it would seek to reason that Google+ is to be used somewhere in between the pseudonymous and identified states.

My frustration over Facebook’s policies started somewhere in the belief that people should be allowed to be anonymous, and progressed to frustration with their particular method of enforcement, rather than the policy itself. In this case, I recognize Google’s right (as I do Facebook’s) to create a policy as they wish, but also as with Facebook, I don’t particularly see the value in a selectively enforced policy, which is to say that the policy is only enforced when someone reports you for violating ToS (or, perhaps, when a name triggers some automated function, as also occurs on Facebook with certain words).

Most importantly, though, I hope that Google+ will clarify its policy and continue to allow nicknames as it claimed it would. There is a rather large difference between anonymity or “unidentified” use of a product and semi-identified use, and I respect that people who use known “handles” across multiple services might wish to do so on Google+ as well.

P.S. I should also say I’m thrilled to know that Ken was only kicked off Google+ (temporarily) and not all Google services, as I feared one might be for violating the rules.

22 replies on “Google+ and “Real Names””

Google has let me use this handle for years in its other services. While I appreciate some of the sentiments behind the “use real names!” movement, to me it should be more about owning your identity. I mentioned this in Skud’s post, but I started online relatively early in the game, when identifying as a woman had daily repercussions, especially in tech-oriented circles. I valued the non-gendered handle I use(d), as it often allowed me to participate in situations where I would otherwise have been marginalized.

I wish that didn’t still occur, but it does. I’m still a techgeek, and sometimes the guys don’t get that a woman can fit in there. So in social environments, I value my non-gendered handle.

As I’ve gotten older, and as society moves along, I’ve gotten much more open about identifying myself. But putting your real name up in very public fora still opens you up to all kinds of unwanted consequences.

The irony is, as I mentioned before, using my handle is probably a far better and unique identifier for me than my name, as my real name is incredibly common. There is another woman in my town who is my age, has the same name, goes to the same dentist/bank/pharmacy/vet as I do. I’m constantly having to identify myself by my dog breed, my particular medical condition (pharmacy), etc. It’d almost be better if I could sign up at those places with the “txvoodoo” handle!

And anyone google-searching for me on my real name would find 20 of us in my state, but first they’d have 20 google pages of a movie character who shares the name.

I really wouldn’t mind if google+ wanted me to put my real name in a field that I could then choose to display publically or not. I’d do that!

Interestingly, if you search my real name on the web, you find a lot less information about me than if you use the handle I’ve been using to identify myself with for over a decade. I find it rather intrusive on Google’s part to try to enforce a ‘real name’ policy, when unless they are having us send in copies of physical IDs, may or may not be a person’s real name at all. I understand what they are trying to do in ‘spirit’, but as it’s not enforceable, I think they risk alienating new G+ members. Not only do you have the transgender issue, but what about those who have been stalked, or younger family members who aren’t old enough to make decisions about what would be appropriate for them to engage in discussion about on the web when looking for jobs down the road?

[…] Google+ and “Real Names” Human Rights, Israel, Palestine, Politics, Zionism   colonialism, flotilla, flytilla, Human Rights, Palestine, Politics, Zionism      Waiting for the Palmer Report : Turkey Remains Firm » […]

> Ken was only kicked off Google+ (temporarily) and not all Google services,

All of Ken’s (or k s w ‘s) Google Buzz posts were missing while he was placed in the proverbial corner by the Google enforcers. Granted, they came back, but the effect of his banning did extend beyond G+. OTOH, Buzz and + already seem to be getting intermingled, so that might be part of what happened there.

I’d be happy if I could EASILY find all these policies that Google is using. I’m finding everything about + to be incredible opaque, and it’s not like I haven’t tried searching.

As another banhammer victim, I can inform you that you also get kicked off of Google Latitude and Google Places, features of Google Maps on Android. So Google’s policy basically crippled my phone for several days, even though the name in my profile was the name people know me by.

[…] A particularly interesting story or thoughts you may want to add regarding Google+ A lot of folks have mentioned Google+ as a new Great Techno Hope for bloggers and activists in repressive countries. Whether or not the privacy policy, practices and user-facing controls are robust enough for that user population, I think, remains to be seen. Google+’s “real names” policy is equally problematic as it is for activists on Facebook.  (EDIT: Google+’s name policy is actually an “identified” name policy, which is differently problematic. For a good discussion of what this means in practice, check out Jillian York’s discussion of the issue here.) […]

Add me to the list. I am slugging this out with google because cz is my identity in the real world. If googles policy is only identifiers given to you by the govt then they should state that up front, not when you have all your friends yanked from you.

Big issue. Feel free to drop by my lj and comment.


A big disappointment from Google. While I can understand they want accountability, so making one’s legal name required may be ok in the Google profile, but that doesn’t mean you should be required to share it. I should be able to have circles with people I’ve met on the Internet, but maybe I don’t feel comfortable sharing my real name. Ah well, guess I won’t be putting as many people in my circles… Sorts of defeats the purpose of social networking.

Some names appear less ‘real’ than others. I am a case in point. It was only after a full discussion with the friendly humans of Quora that they accepted my chosen name. And yes, it was chosen – nearly thirty years ago when I became aware that I was able to call myself (under UK law) any damned thing I wanted to.
Facebook denied me the right to use it, but since I was only dealing with a bot there it was simple to disguise the name, yet make it recognisable to my friends.
Google have decided that it is not acceptable, and there doesn’t seem to be a damned thing I can do about it.
So: I am not some oppressed minority, or someone who needs to hide for their safety’s sake – I’m just a guy with a kooky name.

I initailly prefered Google+ for their design and Hangouts. But as days goes by i got back to Facebook. I think it is still the best social networking site!

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