Pseudonyms on Google Plus? Wrong.

Pseudonyms on Google Plus? Wrong.

Summary: Google Plus made a small change to its "real name" policy but it still doesn't support pseudonyms.

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Today Google Plus VP of Product Bradley Horowitz posted that Google's social network is adding support for alternate names in the next few days.

Everyone announcing that G+ now supports pseudonyms is wrong.

Don't read the headlines - or Horowitz's post - and crack open the champagne thinking that people who use pseudonyms are now able to use the service.

Google Plus is now only supporting "nicknames" and names in another script in addition to the "real name" users are require to register with the service.

UPDATE: Read the results of my conversations with Google after its name policy change: Google’s Pseudonym Problem: New Implementation Revealed

Users' birth names (or names on ID) are still rooted to the account and displayed with the added name.

The change they made on this explosive issue is minor. The implementation makes it clear that this is "nickname" support and not true pseudonym support.

Clarified: You can add a nickname, but pseudonym use is not freely available. The new, very limited, G+ pseudonym application option primarily applies to new users [and can be enjoyed by those with a Google-determined status that backs up the user's claim to use that particular pseudonym].

A G-'nym is not connected to a user's pre-existing "real name" only when a user signs up for a new account using a pseudonym. According to Google, if you are able to change your name to a pseudonym from a pre-existing account, your comments and old posts will still have your "real name" on them.

The change to its pseudonym procedure is that when someone tries to use only their 'nym and it doesn't look like a "real name" their new account goes into an "appeal" to seek approval - and they may approve it, and then officially some people can run around G+ with pseudonyms. It was not previously an option. (To be approved, the 'nym must be considered "established" and get approved in Google's hazy appeal process - unless you are famous or known, like Horowitz's example, Madonna).

The significant change is that a new field will be under your Profile/About page. This is where users can now enter a "nickname."

The nickname appears either in the middle of the user's name (Example: Amy “IHaveAnAbusiveStalker” Jones) - or at the end in parenthesis - Amy Jones (IHaveAnAbusiveStalker).

There is no option here for users to show only a pseudonym.

Let's be absolutely clear here: there is a big difference between a nickname and a pseudonym, especially online. A nickname is a name someone is known by in addition to their regular name.

A pseudonym is a different name that is used in place of someone's real name, for a wide variety of legitimate reasons.

In Horowitz's Google Plus announcement post Toward a more inclusive naming policy for Google+ he acknowledges that there will be more shaping to Google+ naming policy saying, "To be clear - our work here isn’t done (...)"

Not long after Google launched Plus, it staked its citizens ability to participate in the social network and ancillary Google services on whether or not Google thought its users were operating in Plus under their “real names.”

It pitched many ordinary netizens into longstanding battles surrounding identity and anonymity online – and brought issues of privacy and safety to the fore.

In his announcement, Horowitz said:

On Google+, we try to flag names which don’t represent individuals, such as businesses or abstract ideas which should be +Pages. Sometimes we get this wrong, so starting today we’re updating our policies and processes to broaden support for established pseudonyms (...)

But even for pseudonyms, Google Plus still wants you identified on its records and tied to your government name - and the request to have use of your 'nym goes under review for days, with Google requiring proof and evidence that it is your pseudonym.

Bizarrely, this evidence could range from a URL to your scanned driver’s license. And your account remains visible with your "real name" throughout the review process.

Google+ is not accepting new pseudonyms. This apparently only for “established ones.”

Before we announce the change, let me tell you no one really needs it

Most disconcerting in the announcement was the downplaying of the "real names" issue (also known as #nymwars).

Their announcement presents the statement, "The vast majority of users sail through our signup process - in fact, only about 0.1% submit name appeals."

This might suggest that 99% of Google Plus users don't want, or need, pseudonym support.

The 99% appears to be normative in this statement - this creates an image that contrasts a "normal" user (i.e. a "real name" person) versus one that wants something unusual or weird (a person that uses a pseudonym).

Whereas, look at Twitter and we see that pseudonyms are actually quite normal - far more than .01% and not necessarily a cutesy nickname choice.

I believe it also incorrectly asserts that the need for pseudonyms can be measured by the amount of Google+ name appeals Google's system is processing, or willing to classify as legitimate by its standards.

Is everyone filing appeals, or do they just give up?

A new lesson about social networks and "real names" from China

The timing of Google Plus' weak announcement comes just after Chinese authorities announced plans to expand their trials of the newly revealed "real name" regulations last week.

Like Google Plus, China's cyber authorities want to attempt to enforce online accountability, by requiring and tying user accounts to real names, especially within social networks.

Also like G+, microbloggers and social site users in China will be forced to verify their accounts with official ID under the regulation.

As Hana Stewart-Smith writes about China's new "real name" policy in Unboxing Asia,

For those that favour anonymity in order to discuss or report on topics that might otherwise be censored, this would force them to face accountability in the eyes of the Chinese government.

Considering that a woman was charged with a year in a labour camp just for retweeting an activist message, these concerns are certainly not unfounded.

I shudder to think what these global "real name" policies could mean for innocent internet citizens.

For instance, take the case of web programmer Saeed Malekpour, who has recently been sentenced to death by the Iranian government for what amounts to writing an open source script for photo uploading.

The Canadian citizen will be killed for crimes against the government because the script was used by an adult website (without his knowledge) - and Iranian officials claim that because his name was the only name tied to the software, he must pay the ultimate price.

I wonder, if he had simply released the package under a pseudonym, would he not have been tortured for three years and now face execution?

Just a thought.

Google Plus and its truly problematic pseudonym policy encompasses issues of online harassment, personal safety, political speech, sexual minorities, women and gender identity, privacy, the collection and use of personal information by corporations, identity verification, and online deception.

So if you left Google Plus because you couldn't safely use a pseudonym - don't come back just yet.

Photo by Jon Lee Clark via Flickr used under Creative Commons 2.0 License.

Topics: Legal, Apps, Google, China, Social Enterprise

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23 comments
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  • RE: Pseudonyms on Google Plus? Wrong.

    Totally not surprised. This is Google trying to look like they're throwing us a bone, but they're not. Pretty damn sad really. Fortunately my Nym has been untouched, but they [i]NEVER HAD[/i] my real name, only random nyms...and the one I've been using for Google Services is one I've had for about 3 years BEFORE they started all this real name BS.
    ZazieLavender
    • RE: Pseudonyms on Google Plus? Wrong.

      @ZazieLavender And case closed. I think this real name policy is pure hypocrisy. What if one doesn't use his real name but use a real name pseudonym, like instead of putting i.e. John Maverick (real name) you put Dave Tedesco. Google accepts that but it's not your real name. As said and well said, it's all BS on Google's part.
      xpect
      • RE: Pseudonyms on Google Plus? Wrong.

        @xpect
        Various spokespeople have said pretty clearly that they no longer care if you use YOUR name or not. You can call yourself John Doe for all they care. When they talk about "challenging" a name, they only mean names like "xpect". Or "Khaimm".

        I'd also encourage you to read through Yonatan Zunger's replies here: https://plus.google.com/103389452828130864950/posts/YJbzDptWGQt. He goes into some of the reasoning behind their policies, both the original and the revised version.
        Khaimm
  • Real Names == Papers Please

    I really don't need to use G+. They can go f themselves. Oh and ZDNet? Not really pleased about having to give you a bunch of information just so I can post something here.
    ckr83
  • RE: Pseudonyms on Google Plus? Wrong.

    Er. this is exactly the same possibly Facebook already has in place and no one moans about that. Why?

    The logic is rather symbol, if you don't use your actual name, how do you expect friends to find you?
    bradavon
    • RE: Pseudonyms on Google Plus? Wrong.

      @bradavon<br><br>"this is exactly the same possibly Facebook already has in place and no one moans about that. Why?"<br><br>Facebook's enforcement is virtually non-existent. I had an alternate profile there and they never noticed or cared. I eventually shut it down because I stopped using it, but while it existed they never said anything.<br><br>Google, on the other hand, has been very heavy handed with their enforcement of this policy.<br><br>"The logic is rather symbol, if you don't use your actual name, how do you expect friends to find you? "<br><br>The answer is equally simple. They use my email address, or I give them a direct link to my profile. Works every time. Never had a problem.
      CobraA1
    • Same way they already do.

      @bradavon

      They can call me on my phone (since I gave them the number), send me an email (since I've given them my email), or even stop by my house (since I gave them my address)..

      Oh, wait... you meant [b]"Facebook friends"[/b], the people that I've never met in real life, who have never spoken to me, who have [b]zero[/b] idea about what I really like to do, what my opinions are, or any [b]real[/b] information about me? If they knew that information, I'd have already given them my TN/email/home address, & they wouldn't need Facebook to "find" me.
      spdragoo@...
      • RE: Pseudonyms on Google Plus? Wrong.

        @spdragoo@... Sounds like you have the wrong facebook friends - I've met all of mine IRL but we've since scattered across the American continent or across the globe. There are people who know me, spoken to me, know my likes and dislikes, etc. that given the time zone and distance are unable to pop on over or call. But I guess all of YOUR friends live in the same time zone and same town.
        athynz
    • RE: Pseudonyms on Google Plus? Wrong.

      @bradavon [b]The logic is rather symbol, if you don't use your actual name, how do you expect friends to find you?[/b]

      I hope your autocorrect was at work here and you meant to say the logic is [i]simple[/i] rather than symbol. But to answer your question one can give their friends their pseudonym on G+ just as they do a twitter pseudonym.
      athynz
    • Authorship info in search results

      Here's one reason, you need Google+ currently to have your authorship info like your photo appear in search results for articles you've written. Without Google+, you can't have that. So you need your real name out there in a very public way to be able to have your photo on the search results. If Google+ didn't require real names, then this wouldn't be an issue.

      This is not an issue within Facebook since there is no equivalent feature. You can prevent your name from showing up publicly in search engines within Facebook.
      Lindo_wvw
  • RE: Pseudonyms on Google Plus? Wrong.

    "The logic is rather symbol, if you don't use your actual name, how do you expect friends to find you?"<br><br>I expect my friends to find me through, as Google puts it, the name I am commonly known by, which happens to be different than the Big Brother-approved name Google wants to know me by.
    Anon4fun
  • RE: Pseudonyms on Google Plus? Wrong.

    Here's the part I find confusing: Google Plus now says that they will accept pseudonyms if they have a "meaningful online following." "Meaningful" is not defined. Nor do they seem to realize that THEY DON'T HAVE THE MANPOWER to investigate the data they receive from petitioners.

    People have been asking me all day if I'm going to get back on Google Plus (some forgetting that I AM back there under a different name.) But in the short few months since my original account was suspended, I've found that I don't miss it at all. That's what will really kill them: the people they turned away not wanting to return even if 100% pseudonymity is enabled.
    afmarcom
  • RE: Pseudonyms on Google Plus? Wrong.

    So...why not just use your name? Or change your name to your pseudonym in your Google account? You're obviously going by that enough to warrant going by that permanently if you're concerned about putting your name on a social network.

    Or make another Google account if you want to keep your private & personal life separate.

    Or don't.

    Whatever.

    Also, it literally took me 15 seconds to register with this site. Stop. Just stop.
    itched
    • You are so in alone land

      @itched
      Some of us use pseudonyms for very legitimate reason.
      btw: try opening a new gmail account - you get the g+ automatically.
      Google has set it so you can't do that.
      Even if you have a legal, personal or business reason.
      rhonin
      • RE: Pseudonyms on Google Plus? Wrong.

        @rhonin
        You can have a Gmail account without G+. I'm not sure if there's a way to skip creating one, but I do know that you can delete your G+ account immediately and just keep the email.
        Khaimm
    • RE: Pseudonyms on Google Plus? Wrong.

      @itched

      "So...why not just use your name?"

      Ask somebody in a witness protection program. It's actually a matter of life and death for some people.

      "Or change your name to your pseudonym in your Google account?"

      The way Google works right now, that will get you flagged. They'll revoke access to anything that uses your profile. Have fun with that.
      CobraA1
      • RE: Pseudonyms on Google Plus? Wrong.

        @CobraA1
        If you're in witness protection and Google knows your real name you're screwed. In fact, if you even get challenged (by Google or anyone else) on the validity of your new name, you're probably dead already. That's ignoring the stupidity of joining a social network at all when you're in witness protection.
        Khaimm
  • RE: Pseudonyms on Google Plus? Wrong.

    I never expected to take on my name. A Native American medicine man gave me the totem animal of the cougar in a sweat in 1990. I thought it was weird and gave no more thought to it.

    The time came when I wanted to join a pagan listserv in 1992 where everyone used very strange spiritual names, from my point of view. I was flummoxed. Then I remembered my experience with the medicine man.

    When I moved to San Francisco from Canada, I suddenly found myself among people who only recognized me from my online name. This grew, without my willing it, into the only thing my friends called me.

    Then I had a job as a senior technical writer in a company with four managers who had my given name. To decrease confusion, I offered my nickname. Suddenly, my spiritual name became my everyday name, including the name on my resume.

    I never intended this process to occur. It was a natural evolution that I like.

    However, Google Plus would never allow this sort of evolution of identity to occur. Thus, I consider Google Plus to be evil.

    What ever happened to the Google policy to Do No Evil?
    cougar.b@...
    • RE: Pseudonyms on Google Plus? Wrong.

      @cougar.b@...
      That sounds like plenty of evidence to justify whatever-your-name-is, so if it's a question of joining G+ right now, I would give it a shot.

      If you're talking about how the current policies don't seem to allow changing your name, remember that the service is less than a year old. We're not even halfway between your medicine man and the pagan listserv. It's kind of closeminded to assume that, two years from now, when a user with an active two-year-old account tries to change their name they'll be denied.
      Khaimm
  • Google+ Appeal snafu...

    Well, it took some time after I appealed - twice - but I finally got word that my single name Bambi . is good with them, and they were wrong to disallow it (under their new rules), so they sent an email saying all is good:<blockquote><br><br> Hello,<br><br>Thanks for sending us your appeal. You're right: your name does comply with the Google+ Names Policy. Your name has been updated on your Google+ profile. If you submitted the appeal during sign up, your profile has now been restored . Log in to Google+: <a href="https://plus.google.com/up/?hl=" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">https://plus.google.com/up/?hl=</a> [en_my_info_was_here].<br>Sorry for the inconvenience,<br><br>The Google+ team.</blockquote>
    <br><br>BTW: This is a noreply email and NONE of the Q&A steps to contact them are right. Why can't I just email someone in charge of this mess!?!<br><br>Great! I click on the link, login, just like I do my GMail which was always still working as was Google Docs, and Picasa is working too, but Google+ was a problem with my old name, so I figured I would appeal and use just Bambi for a first name a dot/period for the last name. Of course, it didn't like that and thought it was not legit. I appealed it, twice.<br><br>Then today, I think yea! All is good! <br><br>But no way...they want me to UPGRADE to the Google+ account when I log in and go to Google+, and then it fails again and wants me to appeal yet again!<br><br>They said they had restored my Google+ account, so why do I need to UPGRADE and get told to appeal again?!<br><br>Sigh...<br><br>I am getting really sick of this crap!<br><br>This is like some sort of nightmare...
    LilBambi_z