Four Things Google Plus Could Do To Fix Google Plus

Four Things Google Plus Could Do To Fix Google Plus

Summary: Saturday's Google Plus user account deletion purge plunged the new social network into a crisis of user trust: the community wants it fixed.

SHARE:

Saturday's Google+ user account deletion purge plunged the new social network into a crisis of user trust. The community wants it fixed.

Saturday's deletion of multiple Google+ user accounts spanned from well-known tech figures to ordinary netizens. It was ostensibly over Google Plus' enforcement of using so-called "real names."

Google+ remained silent, and combined with contradictory actions over the weekend it's now a trust trainwreck, a growing PR shadow and a textbook-case community management nightmare.

Other social networks are now probably laughing into their morning coffee, while Google+ users are most certainly both furious and frightened.

Google+ is not warning users before deleting user accounts, and some people have reported being locked out of all Google services, including docs and Gmail.

Google+ has told some users they can now only use the names on their government ID's for their Plus profiles. Currently the policy asks that your display name is what your "friends, family, and coworkers" call you. Requiring ID seems to contradict the stated policy.

Some users were able to find favor with Google employees off of Google+ and have their accounts restored. Privileged Plussers like celebrity Arianna Huffington got the immediate and personal restoration of her account by a Google+ Community Manager while others were told to seek help in forums or submit a request for review.

By Sunday, entire posts on Google+ became dedicated to documenting double-standards users witnessed.

Ex-Google employees were deleted. Writers, musicians, programmers and more were deleted. And if you elected to edit your name you needed to be very, very careful not to raise suspicion or you were flagged for deletion as well.

Sunday evening, people began tweeting that they were voluntarily deleting their Google+ profiles as a pre-emptive, "no thank you" measure.

Robert Scoble remarked, "Google is digging a deep hole here, not because of the rules, but because of how they are implementing them."

But it is the concept of forcing users into identifying their legal names to the public as a requirement to use the social network that has people angrier at Google than I expected.

Google+ user Todd Vierling revealed that programmer "+antimatter fifteen" who created several extensions for Chrome and ChromeOS including "Cloud Save" and "CrOS Save" and "Surplus" for Google+ had his Google+ account suspended for - yes - using a pseudonym "to protect his personal identity and safety."

Google+ has left users so in the dark that people are going out of their way to create solutions for Google Plus' problem. Some are openly calling for Google+ leadership to be accountable and restore accounts.

There are now posts, threads, and even a Change.org petition to beseech Google to allow pseudonyms on services like Google+.

Page 2: [Why did Google let this happen? Can they fix a worsening disaster?]  »

One has to wonder, how did Google+ let this happen?

For complete problem and solution documentation, see Google+ Requires You To Use Your "Real" Name.

It seems impossible that the issue around name and identity - and how to implement policy, let alone understand the needs of modern social network users - could have been overlooked in the year and a half that Google+ was being created.

They created the slickest UI of any social network in the world. It is tragic that no one at Google also saw the opportunity of Google+ as an opportunity to innovate in community management.

Four Things Google+ Can Do To Fix This

It's bad enough that Google+ policy seeks to censor speech and underserved communities out of the starting gate - we are not off to a hopeful start.

But how can Google+ recover from a weekend of deletions, confusion, accusations, hypocrisy and loss of trust?

1. Leadership

Fix this. Vic GundotraBradley Horowitz and other Google+ leaders must make an immediate priority of openly addressing this issue and restore all legitimate accounts that were suspended for pseudonymity.

They should make a statement about doing so that includes a clear outline of the process and addresses all rumors and concerns that reaches every single Google+ user personally, as well as on a public-facing blog. Make a vow to eliminate all inconsistency in policies. Address actions that are being perceived as favoritism.

2. Transparency

A clearly outlined takedown and review policy, including exactly who the point person is for this issue. Lady Ada was removed in a retroactive application of the name policy: retroactive punitive measures must be avoided, and punitive acts must come with warnings.

Allow users to know when they have been flagged and what they have been flagged for. Make deletion or suspension the last thing you want to ever have to do to your community members.

Create a streamlined appeals process, allow people to take their data when you delete them, and if they do wind up deleted, make their profile URL a generic "find me at" card with a Twitter handle and a website URL.

3. Consistency

State your official policy regarding exceptions for notable people. You have shown that Lady Ada is not allowed to use the name she goes by in business, but Lady Gaga is. Thus, two standards are being applied. Certain people are clearly famous, privileged, and/or wealthy enough to be permitted to use a pseudonym - and others are not.

It is becoming obvious that there is a policy somewhere at Google+ delineating what the cut-off point is between the two. You must explain why some people are allowed to control their own names, and others are not.

4. Acknowledge The Modern Internet and Allow Pseudonyms

I feel like we shouldn't need to have this conversation after all these years on the internet, but it looks like we must.

Some people have suggested that the name policy is to enrich Google's data mining and advertising endeavors, specifically to match names with credit headers.

Google+ seems to suggest that the name policy is to curtail abuse by creating accountability in regard to anonymous accounts. Pseudonymity is not anonymity. Significant online communities that thrive with both anonymous and pseudonymous accounts include Reddit and Hacker News.

The modern, open internet is one where people have control over their own names and who sees them. The reasons for this control range from personal privacy to life-and-death safety.

The people that need this control include those who have been bullied, people that have been assaulted, stalked, and made victims online. Domestic abuse survivors. Women. People also have sensitive jobs; some people have business names.

There are people at risk for persecution in their country, people that are at risk for violence or losing jobs, homes and family for being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. Religious and ethnic minorities. Forcing use of legal names puts all sex workers at risk for violence as well - you are singling out communities that require different names associated with their likenesses for their own personal safety.

For the record, I'm on the Advisory Board for nonprofit organization Without My Consent - a legal and general resource for people (mostly women) that are victims of having private information used against them online.

The harm to these women is grave. The victims usually have no clear path to justice and there are more victims than the organizaiton can currently help. This abuse happens when the perpetrator takes away control of the victim's name and likeness, and harms them through exposure, humiliation and harassment.

These victims need to keep their names under their control. They did not choose to be victims. I strongly feel that those who would force use of their names, or tell them they simply can not use this service - if it is indeed a social network and a public service - are then supporting the abuser.

Don't be evil, please.

Image by Chris Hayes, under Creative Commons 2.0 Generic license, via Flickr.

Topics: Social Enterprise, Apps, Browser, CXO, Google, Legal

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Talkback

209 comments
Log in or register to join the discussion
  • RE: Four Things Google Plus Could Do To Fix Google Plus

    I really have no trouble with Google's enforcing accountability. I am all for it. Many abuse cases would be avoided by not letting people hide their true identities. People must be accountable for their opinions. It's all too easy to slander others and hide.
    Brutusbiker
    • A difference between accountability and open display

      @Brutusbiker I have no problem with the real name and ID being required in the account BUT the name that is displayed to the public or even contacts should be editable. For example a teenager wants to come out as gay but fears being bullied at school or a political campaigner in a repressive state in fear of their life -just two examples where a pseudonim is more than justified. The real data is there in the event of a legitimate legal investigation - but not open to the world.
      The more I read about the way google works the less I feel it has any chance of establishing itself as the defacto social network of the world.
      cymru999
      • RE: Four Things Google Plus Could Do To Fix Google Plus

        @cymru999
        [b]+1[/b]. :)
        rhonin
      • RE: Four Things Google Plus Could Do To Fix Google Plus

        @cymru999 +1

        Requiring a name for internal purposes, fine.

        Requiring the display of that name, I'll keep Facebook.

        This is coming from an Android supporter. Google is becoming something like Apple - great ideas, poorly implemented because of draconian policies.
        clokverkorange
      • RE: Four Things Google Plus Could Do To Fix Google Plus

        @cymru999 I concur completely. Plus it seems that all Google accounts are linking - I would have no problems putting up my full name on Google Plus but when I do it alters my name for all other google services. I don't want my full name to appear in Gmail nor do I want it to display when I use my Google profile to post comments on websites, dealing with some of the issues you just mentioned.

        I'd contacted Google about this weeks ago, through the feedback form, apparently to no avail. Sigh. I remember them ignoring all the feedback for Wave, too....
        kymac
      • RE: Four Things Google Plus Could Do To Fix Google Plus

        @cymru999 If you fear being bullied and want to hide, then you're not really coming out, are you? This scenario would be more akin to Republican politicians or preachers who want to have their cake and eat it too.
        jgm@...
      • Content Visibility

        @cymru999 Maybe I'm not seeing something, here, but it seems like just about everyone crying out about the name policy is missing the little box under your post where you choose to whom the post will be visible...
        Yes, I think the rules should be clearer and offenders warned before such drastic action as disabling an account, but it also seems that everyone is forgetting one of the biggest things making G+ so great: super easy control of content visibility. Perhaps they ought to just add an option to control visibility of one's full last name or just show their last initial.
        SenorAlejandro
      • RE: Four Things Google Plus Could Do To Fix Google Plus

        @cymru999
        +1 -- :)
        InterWebGolem
      • RE: Four Things Google Plus Could Do To Fix Google Plus

        @cymru999
        Hmmm... you want to come out say you are gay, but you don't want others to know who you are. What's the point of "coming out"?? lol
        Astranger
      • RE: Four Things Google Plus Could Do To Fix Google Plus

        @cymru999 You're the gay teenager right?

        <a href=http://j.gs/GQw>Apple's Latest</a>
        davidfrankk
      • RE: Four Things Google Plus Could Do To Fix Google Plus

        @cymru999 Google+ is still a closed beta and invite only. They don't owe you a spot. Ask nicely and they may allow you to use Violet Blue as your na<a href="http://vb.maas1.com/">m</a>e, but if that is not the name on your driver's license, they have no obligation to do so. If you are hiding from someone, such as a stalker, you don't need to be putting yourself out on the internet. Choose another service such as facebook that allows such anonymity, or stay off the net. This also goes for poli<a href="http://www.tran33m.com/vb/">t</a>ical dissidents in other countries. Google+ is probably not the best place to plan your revolution.
        alasiri
    • RE: Four Things Google Plus Could Do To Fix Google Plus

      @Brutusbiker
      I agree, impostors and scam artists should go to facebook and stay away from google+.
      This FUD and vile campaign is driven by google's lame competition!
      Linux Geek
      • RE: Four Things Google Plus Could Do To Fix Google Plus

        @Linux Geek Is linux geek your real name? How do you get your oxygen supply since you keep your nose stuck up google's rectum all the time?
        sackbut
      • RE: Four Things Google Plus Could Do To Fix Google Plus

        @Linux Geek dont kid yourself that the scammers wont find a way - that is their business! However individuals should be free to protect their identity from public viewing if they wish - I note that you dont post with your real name!!
        cymru999
      • RE: Four Things Google Plus Could Do To Fix Google Plus

        cymru999
        07/25/2011 09:58 AM

        Then do not use Google+
        Knowles2
      • RE: Four Things Google Plus Could Do To Fix Google Plus

        @Linux Geek
        Every conmpany strives to protect their core business. Google's vore business is serving up Ads. That is why they give so much stuff away for free...it all is driven by the need to find new ways to serve up more Ads or target Ads better (charging a premium for an Ad). Google+ is only created so they can monetize it with advertising...this is why they need to know more about you.
        I do agree though that a way needs to be found where scammer/spammers and name squatters are kept of social networks. I think spammers could addressed with contact/traffic monitoring ut as far as name squatting goes...well I don't want someone telling someone else they can't use a name because they have a higher profile...that smacks of bullying.
        global.philosopher
      • RE: Four Things Google Plus Could Do To Fix Google Plus

        @Linux Geek I agree that Google+ is not an Internet forum where anonymity are valued. It's intended as a social network where the user is representing him/herself... not posting random crap or flaming people as XxXxKillaMastaxXxX. There's a place for fake names, and G+ really isn't it. People see my real name if they visit my G+ profile page, but they don't see anything else unless I flag it as publicly visible.
        That said, I do very much agree with the author's points regarding warnings and clear rules. Insta-banning a "perceived" violation is extremely frustrating, but if other things are locked out, too, it can be a pretty serious deal--especially if you have _other_ services (banking, PayPal, work, school) directly tied in to your now-inaccessible email.
        SenorAlejandro
    • RE: Four Things Google Plus Could Do To Fix Google Plus

      @Brutusbiker I agree with you.
      nhirsch@...
      • RE: Four Things Google Plus Could Do To Fix Google Plus

        @nhirsch@... Publish YOUR real name if you think google is so righteous in this matter.
        sackbut
    • RE: Four Things Google Plus Could Do To Fix Google Plus

      @Brutusbiker --- Pretty much BS out of your lame a$$ED mouth since Brutusbiker sure as hell ain't YOUR real name.
      sackbut