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.