Google+ real name clampdown ignores own grace period

Google+ real name clampdown ignores own grace period

Summary: Is the real name policy at Google+ its Achilles Heel? Are they ignoring the grace period and banning users early?

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One of the major issues currently facing Google+ is the corporate policy requiring the use of real names. Unfortunately, this has raised the ire of many people who prefer to use a pseudonym when using the internet. Google's other services do not have this requirement.

Google has changed their original policy, which was to simply ban the accounts of anyone they decided had a "fake" name, and now provides a four day grace period for users to change their name to one that the Google+ admins find acceptable.

The problem with this is that there are a lot of people who are widely known by their pseudonyms. There are also people whose lives are jeopardized by having their real identities exposed to the world. And in 1995, Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens put forth the following in deciding McIntyre v. Ohio Elections Comm’n 514 U.S. 334, 357 (1995):

"Anonymity is a shield from the tyranny of the majority. It thus exemplifies the purpose behind the Bill of Rights, and of the First Amendment in particular: to protect unpopular individuals from retaliation -- and their ideas from suppression -- at the hand of an intolerant society. The right to remain anonymous may be abused when it shields fraudulent conduct. But political speech by its nature will sometimes have unpalatable consequences, and, in general, our society accords greater weight to the value of free speech than to the dangers of its misuse."

The problem gets worse. Even though there is supposed to be a 96-hour grace period, Google is apparently not abiding by it. An acquaintance of mine who goes by a pseudonym, was notified between midnight and 1:50AM on August 19th that he had until August 22nd to change his username. Maybe my math is a little fuzzy here, but that's three days, not four.

After receiving this notification, he expressed his displeasure with a well-written post at 2:00AM on Augist 19th on Google+, along with a request to Vic Gundotra not to ban his account:

It should be pointed out that Vic Gundotra is the Senior Vice-President of Social Business at Google. It should also be noted that he is the driving force behind the real names policy at Google. And it should be noted that his real name is not Vic, it's Vivek.

As you can see from the image above, "Vic" Gundotra shared the post with someone else. It was not shared publicly, so there's no way to tell who it was shared with. What is known, however, is that less than 8 hours after that post my friend found that his account had been suspended.

Even without having all of the behind the scenes information, the account was suspended way before the grace period, which means it had to be done manually. It's apparent that "Vic" Gundotra was well-aware of the post and the user account in question, since he personally used his Google+ account to share it with someone else.

Obviously my friend had a choice about changing his account name on Google+. However, he was not even given the option to exercise that choice. A polite public post, disagreeing with the real name policy, resulted in his account being suspended without being allowed to complete the grace period or to submit a proper appeal. He has since submitted an appeal and changed his account name, but it has not yet been reactivated.

When I contacted Google to investigate, I was told by a Google spokesperson, "We don't comment on the status of an individual's Google+ profile. You can attribute this to a Google spokesperson." Although I do know the name of the spokesperson, I find it ironic that they requested anonymity for the quote.

This is just one of thousands of cases. Celebrities, however, seem to get a free pass. Lady Gaga isn't required to use her real name Stefani Germanotta. Rapper 50 Cent, who has numbers in his stage name, isn't required to use his real name Curtis Jackson. Apparently regular people don't have the same rights and privileges as celebrities.

In addition to this, the determination process is completely arbitrary. If someone at Google decides that a name doesn't sound real, they can flag it for violation of the policy. Don't believe me? Ask fellow ZDNet columnist Violet Blue about her notification that her legal name was in violation of the Google+ real name policy.

Violet actually has some gravitas attached to her name. Maybe not a big-league celebrity like Lady Gaga, Violet is actually a well-known author. Violet proved her identity, and the situation proved embarrassing to Google VP Bradley Horowitz during an interview with Tim O'Reilly. Bradley Horowitz says they fixed that case, but there are many more, and Bradley Horowitz is not the driving force behind this policy and its implementation. "Vic" Gundotra is.

Blogger and tech evangelist Robert Scoble recently had a conversation with "Vic" Gundotra about the real name policy. Scoble is a former employee of Microsoft, and used to work for Gundotra. "Vic" admitted that he doesn't use his legal name, and that the issue isn't even about real names, just real-sounding ones.

He also said that they're working on a psedonym system, but there are so many other tasks to be dealt with that it won't happen immediately. And yet they were really in a hurry to implement this real names policy and write an automated system--which can be manually overridden--to disable user accounts based on arbitrary decision-making.

I think this post from Chris Bridges sums it up best. It's snarky and sarcastic, but it cuts to the heart of what is wrong with the real name policy and the way it's been implemented.

Up until this point, early adopters were singing the praises of Google+, myself included. But this policy has turned off a lot of supporters. This is the kind of corporate decision that can kill a service like this before it can really gain traction.

It's my belief that the hardcore engineering mentality at Google works at cross purposes with social media. Their previous failures with Buzz and Wave bear this out. Google finally came up with an elegant, easy to use service, and they may end up killing it by ignoring the many complaints from the people actually using it.

Topics: Apps, Google, Social Enterprise

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83 comments
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  • Using my real name has never been an issue for me.

    I take responsibility for my own actions in Public and correspondingly on the Internet.

    As it should be.
    Dietrich T. Schmitz *Your
    • Message has been deleted.

      bblackmoor@...
    • Message has been deleted.

      CobraA1
      • RE: Google real name clampdown ignores own grace period

        Okay, I had maybe a little too much fun with Diet's name. But seriously, was it that bad?<br><br>I'm honestly getting a bit sick of "Your Linux Advocate" in every post he writes, ever. I got the point a long time ago.
        CobraA1
    • RE: Google real name clampdown ignores own grace period

      @Dietrich T. Schmitz * Your Linux Advocate
      Yawn!!
      Stan57
    • RE: Google real name clampdown ignores own grace period

      @Dietrich T. Schmitz * Your Linux Advocate

      So do I. What's your point?
      The One True Fnerd
    • RE: Google real name clampdown ignores own grace period

      @Dietrich T. Schmitz * Your Linux Advocate

      As do I. However, I see the value of not disclosing my personal information to an organization that is not entitled to it. I also recognize that political dissidents, stalking victims, and celebrities have legitimate reasons not to use their real names in certain forums.

      In your simplistic "Google can do no wrong, Microsoft can do no right" world, how would you feel if Microsoft were to require your real name for every purchase and would disable your software if you happened to have a name like Moon Unit Zappa? Your support of Google is disingenuous and hypocritical.
      Your Non Advocate
      • RE: Google real name clampdown ignores own grace period

        @facebook@... Funny you should mention Microsoft, since the person behind the policy at Google used to be a general manager at Microsoft. :-)
        Scott Raymond
      • RE: Google real name clampdown ignores own grace period

        @Scott Raymond

        Which is why he probably left Microsoft and went to Google since Microsoft doesn't condone that sort of behavior but Google does ;)
        audidiablo
      • RE: Google real name clampdown ignores own grace period

        @audidiablo

        Any proof of that?

        I thought not...
        ScorpioBlue
    • RE: Google real name clampdown ignores own grace period

      @Dietrich T. Schmitz * Your Linux Advocate<br><br>I'm reminded of a gag from a Woody Allen movie where, distraught over his latest relationship failures, he accosts a young couple walking down the street, demanding: "What about you? How do you two stay together?" And they go on to admit they are just two incredibly dull and boring people, so of course they get along just fine.<br><br>Good for them, and good for you, I guess! But just because you can use your real name for expressing certain milquetoast thoughts and opinions, doesn't mean it's good advice for the rest of us.
      Conan776
    • RE: Google real name clampdown ignores own grace period

      @Dietrich T. Schmitz * Your Linux Advocate

      I an ideal world, I'd do the same. I wish we all would. I'm a little jealous!

      Unfortunately, some percentage of today's population is psychotic. Another set is so unyieldingly "passionate" and proactive about their cause that their actions are unpredictable.

      For those who speak out on those causes--hopefully not the Linux/Windows debate--using your real name can attract to your life miscellaneous picketers, spray-painters, rock-throwers, DDOS-ers, and people who throw around carefully worded almost-death-threats.

      I'm with you in spirit. I just won't subject my family, home, business, or body to their "freedom of speech with a spray can."
      archetuthus
    • RE: Google real name clampdown ignores own grace period

      @Dietrich T. Schmitz * Your Linux Advocate I've already detailed the reasons why people would want to use a pseudonym so I won't bore you again... I do agree that one should take responsibility for their own actions both online and off - I'm not one to change my pseudonym like others on here tend to do. My own pseudonym is a phonetic spelling of my real last name and one I've used since my dial up AOHell days many many moons ago... I wonder if I changed my Google+ name (my real name that is on my birth certificate) to the variation of it from my paternal grandfather's country if good old "Vic" would ban me? I may have to try it and see.

      While I do use my real name with Google+ and Facebook and understand the reasoning behind it Google's haphazard policies regarding the whole issue is pure crap IMHO.
      athynz
    • RE: Google real name clampdown ignores own grace period

      @Dietrich T. Schmitz * Your Linux Advocate I've never used my real name and never will. My Google plus account has never been suspended or mentioned as a problem.

      You have your way. I like mine. You like chocolate. I like peanut butter. They might be good together or someone else may hate the combination. It is not "as it "should" be" to use one's own name. It's a free world. I don't have to give you my real name if I meet you on the street. Why would I be any different online? My choice.
      blueskip
    • RE: Google real name clampdown ignores own grace period

      @Dietrich T. Schmitz

      "I take responsibility for my own actions in Public and correspondingly on the Internet."

      It isn't about responsibility, it's about freedom.
      CobraA1
    • RE: Google real name clampdown ignores own grace period

      @Dietrich T. Schmitz * Your Linux Advocate <br>You are about 1 of 2 people who posted on this forum with your real name (if that is your real name). Hooray for you.
      global.philosopher
    • RE: Google real name clampdown ignores own grace period

      @Dietrich T. Schmitz * Your Linux Advocate
      Only bully's or ignorants (ignorant that there are psychos out there that with one rash decision can effect people in so many ways) do not fear at some point or another to use their Real Name. So effectively Google have said we only want bully's and ignoramouses posting opinions. Googd luck with that one.
      global.philosopher
    • RE: Google real name clampdown ignores own grace period

      @Dietrich T. Schmitz * Your Linux Advocate
      You seriously think that's what Google cares about, your actions? They care about advertising, that's why you should use your real name.
      But of course you knew that, you just like to troll this forum because you don't have anything better to do then to keep annoying us, provoking even dumber answers so you can feel superior...
      belli_bettens@...
  • doomed by a stupid policy

    Google+ is a great service, but they have doomed it with this ill-considered and technologically unenforceable policy. They have had more than enough time to correct this mistake. If they don't abolish this nonsense by August 31, I will be cancelling my Google+ account, and actively discouraging anyone I know from creating one. http://www.blackgate.net/blog/on-the-value-of-pseudonyms/
    bblackmoor@...
    • RE: Google real name clampdown ignores own grace period

      @bblackmoor@...

      +1
      audidiablo