Google+ name policy

Google+ has been taking some heat for their “kafkaesque name policy.” People’s annoyance seems to me to miss a point.

An important element to keeping a secret is not letting anyone know you have one. If you are going to use a pseudonym, it follows that the best pseudonym would be a common male name other than your own. Choose a given name and a compatible surname: Jacob Miller, Alejandro Martinez, Mohammad Khan, whatever is suitable to the environment, and move on. You’ve been Mighty Thundarrr since you went online back in ’98? Take the opportunity to change, and get a fresh email address while you’re at it.

People will complain this makes it hard for others to find them. That’s largely the point for me. Why then would I use Google+? I most likely would not, and will not unless there’s some compelling reason, and the loss of privacy is balanced by some gain. If I did, I’d use my own name, or else some common name. I would not use Goofy Gonif or Bigbird777 and then complain that Google+ was repressing my freedom of expression when the enforce their terms of service.

Now I’m not particularly a defender of Google. Probably being a big corporation they’ve been heavy-handed, made foolish blunders, set up poor procedures, and let’s just say they’re rich hypocrites too. Is their policy short-sighted and unwise? Maybe. They aren’t paying me to do quality control for them. My point is, if you’re using a pseudonym they shouldn’t know it.

Finally, is it ethical to ignore a corporations stated terms of service? By having read this, you agree that it is, so we can dismiss that argument.

UPDATE 13 August 2011: See the ethics of self-naming.

UPDATE 24 August 2011:

“I hear that the not-so-good people at National Review are attacking me over something I said on my Google+ page. Except, I don’t have a Google+ page. …some people can’t find enough things to attack in what I actually say, so they’re busy creating fake quotes.” — Identity Theft, by Paul Krugman

I would never fake a quotation by Paul Krugman. Imagination simply cannot compete with the real thing.


8 Replies to “Google+ name policy”

  1. Depends on the reason for the pseudonym; if the purpose is to mislead people into thinking that you are giving your true name, when you are not, then you’re quite right.

    If your purpose is to have a nom de plume, then you want something easy to find that says something about the image you want to project. (Isn’t this the whole point behind screen names? Not sure I’d be fond of Marion as Rooster Cogburn the way I am of John….)

    If your purpose is to pursue online attachments, then your name would be what they know you as– the first internet friends I ever had still call me by my ‘nym, even though the few I’m in contact with are via facebook.

    Heck, my in person Myspace profile wouldn’t fit this right now– my name is legally changed since I made it, shortly after meeting my future husband…..

    I think google is being stupid, and that they’re trying to use a moral argument to defend their desire to be able to collect a large amount of data about real identities, thus making it easier to profit.

    1. My own blogging name is more like a pen name than a pseudonym, in that it’s chosen for effect. Too bad Remington Steele was already taken.

      There are different reasonable choices, because depending on what you’re doing the trade-offs differ. If I were a serious issue advocate I’d use my real name, and accept the consequences of being a more-or-less public person. If I were a Chinese human rights activist, I’d take the most careful security measures consistent with doing my work.

      I don’t think much of Google’s or Zukerburg’s claim that it’s an issue of morality or integrity. There is a line, certainly. Deliberately impersonating someone else is well over that line. Claiming to be something you aren’t is over the line – like claiming to be a medical doctor, or to have credentials you don’t. Other cases could be thought of.

      1. I don’t think much of Google’s or Zukerburg’s claim that it’s an issue of morality or integrity.

        *gagging noise* Yeah, Zukerburg’s original rant on it is so full of ignorance and stupidity that it’s not even quotable. “I want it so it must be right” type thinking– not surprising from a college kid, but still annoying. I don’t think anyone actually believes his claim that he thinks everyone should know everything about you, and acting differently to different people is hypocritical. Probably one of those rude folks who uses that to justify being rude, though.

        You’re quite right that there is a line– although I wouldn’t say it’s a line, I’d say there are a bunch of reasons to use names other than your legal one, some of which are bad, and some of which are for immoral purpose.

  2. To be fair, Facebook also requires you to use your real name, but no one reads terms and conditions anymore, so if no one is enforcing it, no one knows about it. This is from their terms page:

    “Facebook users provide their real names and information, and we need your help to keep it that way. Here are some commitments you make to us relating to registering and maintaining the security of your account:

    You will not provide any false personal information on Facebook, or create an account for anyone other than yourself without permission.
    You will not create more than one personal profile.
    If we disable your account, you will not create another one without our permission.
    You will not use your personal profile for your own commercial gain (such as selling your status update to an advertiser).
    You will not use Facebook if you are under 13.
    You will not use Facebook if you are a convicted sex offender.
    You will keep your contact information accurate and up-to-date.
    You will not share your password, (or in the case of developers, your secret key), let anyone else access your account, or do anything else that might jeopardize the security of your account.
    You will not transfer your account (including any page or application you administer) to anyone without first getting our written permission.
    If you select a username for your account we reserve the right to remove or reclaim it if we believe appropriate (such as when a trademark owner complains about a username that does not closely relate to a user’s actual name).”

    Perhaps it’s less binding if it’s merely a “commitment” rather than a requirement.

    1. Interesting to see that. I wonder how many people know Facebook forbids lying – “You will not provide any false personal information on Facebook”. Google’s is probably similar. I think the complaints are not that Google has the policy, but that Google has enforced it, and in a particularly heavy-handed and unreasonable way.

      1. My mother was kicked off of Facebook in a very rude and high-handed fashion, with no explanation. Since they asked her to send them verification of her identity before kicking her off, she thinks it is because the first name she used on Facebook is the first name she uses with her friends, but is not the first name on her driver’s license. Great move for Facebook –kicking off a 75-year-old grandmother who was just on Facebook to follow their grandchildren, and giving no information about it other than that she violated some unnamed policy and that “this decision cannot be appealed”.

        1. I was going to condemn Facebook for bad customer service, but then remembered someone pointing out the users aren’t the customers; their advertisers are. So maybe this is another example of a bad human resources department.

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