Google+, Real Names, and Groklaw's Pamela Jones

Google+, Real Names, and Groklaw's Pamela Jones

Summary: With all this talk about Google Plus and real names I thought I'd ask someone who actually has both an important online identity and trouble with keeping the public out of her private life: Groklaw's Pamela Jones.

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Around and around we go with Google+'s real name policy. Sometimes, Google seems ready to reconsider its policy of requiring Google+ social network user to use their "real name," but then Eric Schmidt, Google's Executive Chairman, "justifies" the strict real name policy by saying, "Google+ is completely optional." Sigh. That really misses the point. Rather than rehash the virtues of allowing people to use pseudonyms, I thought I'd ask someone who has both a noteworthy online identity and a long history of having trouble with keeping the public out of her private life: Groklaw's founder Pamela Jones.

For those of you who missed it, Pamela "PJ" Jones started the intellectual property (IP) legal news and analysis Groklaw site to battle the FUD SCO was throwing out about Linux violating its Unix copyrights back in 2003. In the end, SCO was destroyed and it was proven-oh the irony-that Novell actually owned Unix's IP.

In the meantime, though PJ, who's a very private person, was subjected to death threats, invasion of her privacy by junkyard journalists, and even claims that she wasn't a real person at all. There really is a PJ. I've met her, and as it happens her "real name" is Pamela Jones.

Just because she has a real name though and she's a well-known online legal expert and journalist, doesn't mean that she wants Google, or anyone else, drawing a direct line from "PJ" the paralegal and analyst/reporter and the Pamela Jones who lives at X address in Y City. So what does she think of Google's instance of making those connections from online to real-world identities?

In our conversation, Jones said, "I was going to join up with Google+ until I read about the 'real name' policy. I use my real name, actually, but if I have to send a license or some other proof to establish it, it's no different, to me, than a government ID card."

Google hasn't asked for that indeed. When presented with a South Korea's Real-Name verification law, Google dodged around it. The South Korean law requires Web sites with more than 100,000 visitors per day to force their users to use their real names. Google avoided having to comply with that law by stopping Korean YouTube users from posting comments to the site and telling them to upload video from a neighboring country's YouTube site.

That said, Jones has a point, she continued, "I realize there is one hop in the middle, but surely the government can get what they want. And in discovery, as we saw in the Sony v. George Holtz case [a case where Holtz and others jailbroke the Sony PS3's firmware], any company or nutjob who wants to sue you can get it too. They even got info on who visited his YouTube account page and who read what he wrote."

In short, if you're online today, and a company, person, or government agency really wants to track down what you're doing online, generally speaking the courts can support them in their efforts. As Jones says about posting materials online on any site, "People need to think ahead, but some just don't, so they'll have to learn the hard way."

It's not just hackers, activists, journalists, or would be revolutionaries who need to worry about their online privacy. Jones explained, "Having been put through the school of hard knocks by doing Groklaw, I see clearly the danger. But it can happen to anyone--getting a divorce someday? Leave your job and get in a legal dispute about something or other you'd never expect? There's all your stuff on display. And if you are in Google's hands because you are with an organization, it's the organization that owns everything you do and say, not you. *They* can turn it over or remove things at their will, not yours."

Jones worries that while "It's not as bad as China making you go in person to the government to prove who you are to even get an Internet account, but it's getting there."

"Having said that," Jones continued, "I totally also understand what Google faces. Dealing with the international public--all sorts of people are out there, and as Eric Schmidt said, some of them are truly evil -- it's not an easy thing. So it's a complex issue, when I look at it not as whether I should join (NO) or as how Google can keep the place decent enough that they don't get sued every time they blow their nose or because some crazy person wreaked havoc in Google+. Wreak havoc they do, you know. They really do."

So, yes Google does need some control over Google+'s users. Jones is willing to give Google the benefit of the doubt, "I think Google is trying to solve that problem, whatever else their motives might include, and trust me, it's a toughy."

Jones doesn't think, though, that a real name policy is the answer though. Instead, she believes that you keep an online community on track by moderating people's use of the service. Jones said, "You have to get rid of people based on what they *do wrong*, not who they are or even who they pretend to be, unless it's a celebrity. I had to remove "Darl McBride" [Former SCO CEO] as a member more than once, and it was never really him. You have to protect people from that, because a lot of folks try it, just for kicks."

On Groklaw, Jones "let people use whatever [name] they feel they need to. If they want cred, they use one [pseudo]nym. But we have had several [people]who wanted one nym for some stuff and another for another, depending on employment issues, worries about tracking, blah blah."

"That doesn't mean I didn't know, usually, or couldn't find out eventually, but I've left people largely alone to act like adults," Jones continued. If they *don't*, that's when I get into the mix. We've had issues with trolls, using Tor [a network proxy system that makes it difficult to track users on the Internet], and other proxies, and that can make things more complex when you are trying to figure out what is happening."

"So, our strategy was to act on problem *people* as things came up, not problem names. To me what Google does is like spying on the entire population instead of figuring out who is a probable cause person and spying on just that person," said Jones.

Jones admits that "Google may be too big to do what we did. One reason I didn't let Google in, except in a limited way, was because I was trying to stay small enough to be able to handle administrative tasks like this, with a team, of course, but volunteers are different from employees. And for sure, it's a strategy that requires people to handle things as they come up. There is no bot with the necessary discernment."

I'm in complete agreement in Jones on this point. Google needs to back Google+ with a staff that can handle problems in a prompt and friendly manner.

Jones added, "Even us humans don't always know for sure if a person is trolling or just dumb as a rock, no? But you can do a lot, if you try, and if you are committed to anonymous people being able to contribute. Some of our best comments and best contributions were anonymous. No kidding."

Now, if only Google could see it that way, or at least allow pseudonyms, Google could put the real name issue behind it and focus on making the best-possible next generation social network.

Related Stories:

Google: Don't like real name policy? Don't use Google+

Google revises Google+ real name management policy

Three simple steps to setting Google+ straight

Google refuses compliance with Korean Real-Name law but imposes it on G+ users

Google Plus: Too Much Unnecessary Drama

Topics: Social Enterprise, Apps, Google

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18 comments
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  • Do you carry an id card in your wallet? Why?

    The only people I know who intentionally don't carry id on their person are generally hardened criminals who have outstanding warrants against them.

    You know, they use 'aliases' when asked for names.

    Society and our State and Federal Laws require varying forms of identification. Everyone accepts carrying an appropriate level of identification, which is for the most part today a Driver's License, perhaps a Visa with Photo ID, even a Birth Certificate is asked for now and then for credentialing transactions.

    So, *why* not follow the same principle on the Internet?
    This is the question.
    It is a matter of 'accountability' and a clear expectation that when you go onto the Internet, you are as responsible for your conduct/behavior there as you are when in the general public.

    If you are concerned about privacy, then don't air your laundry on the Internet. Common sense should apply and prevail--keep your private business private.
    Dietrich T. Schmitz *Your
    • Totally clueless

      @Dietrich T. Schmitz * Your Linux Advocate <br>Do you demand to see the government-issued identification of every person with whom you interact throughout your day? The girl who takes your credit card information over the phone? The man who makes your burrito for lunch? The customer service representative who helps you save $70 in cable TV fees by taking advantage of a special promotion?<br><br>Then why would you demand it from someone who is reading your opinion of a video game on a web site?
      bblackmoor@...
      • How does that differ from in public?

        @bblackmoor@...

        Go to a public place/function and offer your opinion there.
        You'll not get asked necessarily for your identity, depending on, of course, the purpose.

        It's not hard to understand.
        Dietrich T. Schmitz *Your
    • RE: Google+, Real Names, and Groklaw's Pamela Jones

      @Dietrich T. Schmitz * Your Linux Advocate Dietrich, Dietrich, Dietrich - we've had this discussion before...

      [b]The only people I know who intentionally don't carry id on their person are generally hardened criminals who have outstanding warrants against them.[/b]

      Agreed but this is not about carrying an ID on one's person.[b]

      You know, they use 'aliases' when asked for names.[/b]

      And those aliases are included on their record... but again, this is really not relevant to the discussion here.[b]

      Society and our State and Federal Laws require varying forms of identification. Everyone accepts carrying an appropriate level of identification, which is for the most part today a Driver's License, perhaps a Visa with Photo ID, even a Birth Certificate is asked for now and then for credentialing transactions.[/b]

      Part of the price for living in an advanced society - but again having little to nothing to do with Google's policy.[b]

      So, *why* not follow the same principle on the Internet?
      This is the question.
      It is a matter of 'accountability' and a clear expectation that when you go onto the Internet, you are as responsible for your conduct/behavior there as you are when in the general public.[/b]

      Now we get to the point... And while I tend to agree with you for the most part about the accountability online it's up to site moderators to enforce the rules and to members and mods to spot the infractions. My former pseudonym was from my AOHell days now it's my real name and former pseudonym... because I have nothing to hide and am more than willing to be accountable for my actions and opinions. However I can also understand the desire or need to be anonymous online due to a variety of reasons.[b]

      If you are concerned about privacy, then don't air your laundry on the Internet. Common sense should apply and prevail--keep your private business private.[/b]

      Indeed. But here's the thing - what is on the internet is pretty much on there forever... and can be used against someone at any time. Let's say if the 'net had been around in my younger days - when I saw a lot of things in black and white terms - and mouthed off as young people tend to do without any thought for consequences. And fast forward many years and a young person's tendency to see black and white evolves to see shades of gray... and I apply for a job. And do not get it due to a youthful indiscretion that some HR person found online. Or I miss out on a job opportunity due to my holding a beer in a pic and the hiring manager is firmly against alcohol use.
      athynz
      • RE: Google+, Real Names, and Groklaw's Pamela Jones

        @Pete"athynz" Athens

        "Let's say if the 'net had been around in my younger days - when I saw a lot of things in black and white terms - and mouthed off as young people tend to do without any thought for consequences. And fast forward many years and a young person's tendency to see black and white evolves to see shades of gray... and I apply for a job."

        That ain't the half of it. Like I said in an earlier comment (now mysteriously vanished), all the political opinions, social affiliations, lifestyle choices, medical conditions etc -- past and present -- that you expose online under your real name should be considered part of the resume you're handing to the next employer you want to work for.
        Anon4fun
    • RE: Google+, Real Names, and Groklaw's Pamela Jones

      @Dietrich T. Schmitz * Your Linux Advocate

      In fact, US society specifically does not require identification. There is absolutely no requirement that you identify yourself to anyone in the US. That said, not doing so does exclude you from some social activities.

      I had a friend who was very tight about identifying himself, where he was, what he was doing. He always, always used pseudonyms online. Why? Was he a criminal? Was he wanted? No, he had an insane relative who tried to murder him repeatedly and succeeded in shooting him in the back with a long range rifle paralyzing him. Why? Because the crazy relative thought killing my friend would make his wife love him. Of course, you can't even prosecute something like that because the person would have to get caught first. You just know that they are lurking somewhere and could pop out of a bush at any moment and take you out. So you limit your exposure. Is it right to force this person to completely drop of out society because of a crazy relative? I don't think so.

      So, please, consider that there are reasons well beyond your limited view of the world for people to remain anonymous.

      EDIT: And by "was" I mean his funeral is tomorrow...
      cabdriverjim
    • RE: Google+, Real Names, and Groklaw's Pamela Jones

      @Dietrich T. Schmitz * Your Linux Advocate

      Oh no you didn't!

      You actually suggested that we should identify ourselves, so we can be responsible for our actions. You do realise most of these bloggers are Americans, where no one believes government is well intentioned. I'm surprised Fascism, Nazism, socialism and the end of the world as we know it, haven't been mentioned already.

      So rare as it might be, I have to bite the bullet and agree with DTS.
      tonymcs@...
      • Oh yes I did!

        @tonymcs@...
        Hah!
        Dietrich T. Schmitz *Your
    • In your bag

      @Dietrich T. Schmitz * Your Linux Advocate
      And you keep that ID in your bag unless your have a need to identify yourself. Only police officers may ask for it if they have good reason.
      bezoeker
    • RE: Google+, Real Names, and Groklaw's Pamela Jones

      @Dietrich T. Schmitz * Your Linux Advocate Carrying an ID card in you wallet is quite different from enlarging your ID and pinning it to your shirt as you walk about.

      As bblackmoor says, you don't given everyone in public your ID. If someone I didn't know walked up to me on the street and asked for my license, I would say no. Who knows what they're using it for?! If it's a cop I would certainly turn over my ID, but even then only if it were for a legitimate purpose (just walking on the street? No. Pulled over? Yes) ...but not everyone on the internet is a cop with a legitimate purpose - why then, does everyone get to see my ID?
      kymac
  • Social networking

    I've never understood the concept of joining a social networking site with a name that isn't yours. The entire point is to keep in contact with people you know but might not deal with every day. Why join the website if you're going to hide your identity? Who is adding you as a friend if you're not who you say you are? Maybe you're only joining something like Google+ to add some celebrities to your following list and track their commentary (ala Twitter). If so ... I guess I just don't understand.

    Sure, I socialize on the web on some forums with people who probably have no clue what my name is. But, that's generally because my name doesn't make a good character in a game and that's the forums in question. But, there are dedicated forums to various games, topics, etc etc etc. If people want to be anonymous on Groklaw .. great. Actually kind of makes sense. Kind of like being anonymous on a support group forums for diseases and other potentially embarrassing things.

    But, when the entire point of the website is "social networking" and you're not who you say you are ... what's the point?
    Ididar
    • even more clueless

      @Ididar
      Your problem is a lack of information. http://www.blackgate.net/blog/why-the-google-profiles-or-any-real-name-policy-is-important-to-me/
      bblackmoor@...
  • RE: Google+, Real Names, and Groklaw's Pamela Jones

    "In short, if you're online today, and a company, person, or government agency really wants to track down what you're doing online, generally speaking the courts can support them in their efforts."

    This is so, but why make the discovery process easier for bad actors and the generally unauthorized by going public under your real name? For example, the HR department at the next job you apply for does not have a "need to know" concerning your political opinions and lifestyle choices.
    Anon4fun
  • ha-ha

    Hello, Google?<br>Requiring real names is optional.<br>But I understand real names will benefit you far more than otherwise, enabling you to link and analyze people's activities with ever greater reckless abandon.<br>Looking forward to your google+ on-line and mobile payment system! (not)
    dogbreath1
  • People

    People who surrender their essential identities today to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither -- Benjamin Franklin.
    Your Non Advocate
    • Did Ben Franklin use Android or an iPhone to access his Schwab account?

      @facebook@... Technology has trumped Ben Franklin's wisdom here. :)
      Joe.Smetona
  • RE: Google+, Real Names, and Groklaw's Pamela Jones

    Pete "athynz" Athens said: "Let's say if the 'net had been around in my younger days - when I saw a lot of things in black and white terms - and mouthed off as young people tend to do without any thought for consequences. And fast forward many years and a young person's tendency to see black and white evolves to see shades of gray... and I apply for a job."

    That ain't the half of it. Like I said in an earlier comment (now mysteriously vanished), all the political opinions, social affiliations, lifestyle choices, medical history etc -- past and present -- that you expose online under your real name should be considered part of the resume you're handing to the next employer you want to work for.
    Anon4fun
  • It seems same craziness spread as after 9/11

    It seems that bad people succeed again in making good people to be prosecuted and harassed instead. That is like in the airports where US scan everybody. Is that a free country ? Not, it is a scared country, and its life quality is damaged because of that reason.

    Because of same reason, tourists avoid to travel there - and for a good reason. It's like when someone coming to your house, and you stop him at the door and tell him: "because I was invaded by fleas and bugs, I am forced to ask you to enter naked in my house". So you tell him "f@#K you" and turn him your back and leave, right ?

    For such an attitude, such an answer ...
    bestreader