Google reverses 'real names' policy, apologizes

Google reverses 'real names' policy, apologizes

Summary: In a dramatic reversal from policy enforced since it was created three years ago, Google will now allow users to use any name they want across Google services.


In a dramatic turnaround from policy created — and enforced  — three years ago, Google has now reversed its "real names" policy. Users can now use any name they want across Google services.

The company announced, "there are no more restrictions on what name you can use." 


A post Tuesday afternoon on Google's own Plus account apologized for the policy, saying:

When we launched Google+ over three years ago, we had a lot of restrictions on what name you could use on your profile. This helped create a community made up of real people, but it also excluded a number of people who wanted to be part of it without using their real names. 

(...) Today, we are taking the last step: there are no more restrictions on what name you can use. 

We know you've been calling for this change for a while. We know that our names policy has been unclear, and this has led to some unnecessarily difficult experiences for some of our users.

For this we apologize, and we hope that today's change is a step toward making Google+ the welcoming and inclusive place that we want it to be.

Thank you for expressing your opinions so passionately, and thanks for continuing to make Google+ the thoughtful community that it is.

The change is a huge surprise after three years of user dissatisfaction, anger, and even fear of being outed by a social media giant known for being unresponsive to its users.

It's even more surprising after years of digging in its heels on the topic of "real names" -- to the point of dramatically breaking user trust. A petition from upset YouTube commenters over the policy reached over 350,000 signatures this year and appeared to fall on deaf ears.

Are the Nymwars over?

2011 was the year Google made its major social network play with the launch of Google+ — and became the year that imprinted Nymwars onto the map of wider collective consciousness.

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.”

Shortly after welcoming everyone to its new social network, Google+ quietly embarked on a sudden, mass account purge.

Google began its "real name" enforcement with mass Google+ account suspensions and deletions shortly after Google+ launched in July 2011. The whole mess is called Nymwars.

Ex-Google employees were deleted. Writers, musicians, programmers and more were deleted. Editing your name raised suspicion and still risks getting you flagged.

Google+ did not warn users before suspending user accounts. Some people reported being locked out of all Google services, including docs and Gmail.

Google+ remained silent while Nymwars raged through the headlines — until the search giant said it would allow "alternate names" — which was incorrectly reported (at first) as if Google had begin to allow pseudonyms. This was shown to be untrue when Google told ZDNet that "nicknames" had to be proven with your real name and government ID.

In the background, Google+ began "unifying" people's identities (combining its background matching of users names and profiles) in Android address books.

For LGBT, political dissidents, activists and at-risk people everywhere, Google's little Google+ project became a loaded gun pointed right at anyone whose privacy is what keeps them alive.

Users found out in January 2014 when Google+ force-integrated chat and SMS into "hangouts" in the Android 4.4 "KitKat" update.

At-risk users were disproportionately affected, most especially transgender people who needed to keep their identities separate for personal safety and employment reasons.

At launch the Google+ policy stated, "To help fight spam and prevent fake profiles, use the name your friends, family or co-workers usually call you."

Controversies and raging debates about online anonymity and pseudonyms are certainly part of the online landscape.

But Google’s mishandling of social networking in regard to user names pushed pseudonym arguments out of online community spheres, and into mainstream consciousness.

The "real names" issue and Google's handling of it also cast a dark shadow over a company once regarded as trustworthy and positive.

But can Google get its user trust back with a change that for some will be "too little, too late"?

Today's Google+ announcement that Google has reversed it stance on "real names" signifies a serious shift for the company and its social network.

It's safe to say that Google just surprised everyone by changing a major policy -- and by showing that it has begun to listen to its users.

See also: Thanks for nothing, jerkface

Topics: Google, Social Enterprise

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  • Could be too little, too late.

    "But can Google get its user trust back with a change that for some will be 'too little, too late??"

    A policy reversal that took three years, that should have taken less than a week?

    Sadly, I'd say it may indeed end up being "too little, too late."

    It's probably one of the primary reasons they didn't pick up any traction, and still haven't.

    Only time will tell, though.
  • Better late than never

    Rabid Howler Monkey
    • Also wanted to add: Congrats to Ms. Blue

      I'm sure that your in-depth coverage of the Google real-names policy along with its impacts has been a positive force for this change.

      Very good (and valuable) work. :)
      Rabid Howler Monkey
  • too late.

    absolutely nobody wants google+. The problem wasn't the service. The problem was google thinking it can use it dominance in one market to catch in a market it totally missed. And like other companies that have tried the same and failed, google now finds it cannot just bleed, but get hurt irreparably. The reason people love instagram, vine, pinterest, FB, etc, is that you arrive there without being forced into it. And yes sorry google this means you failed at social, which is probably as big if not bigger than the search engine ad revenue (aka google spam sense).
    • Given to hyperbole much?

      "absolutely nobody wants google+" - are you sure? That's a pretty damning statement! Personally, I like Google+ a lot - even go as far as saying that yes, I want it because I need something that's not FB but does allow me an element of social internet interactivity.

      Not saying it's everyone cup of tea, but I'd never dare to even think I can presume I know what anybody else wants. The moment you started off the comment with "absolutely nobody wants google+" was the moment the entire rest of your post became null and void since you demonstrated, right from the get-go, that you have seemingly no ability to be objective.
      Lost In Clouds of Data
      • Maybe he should have said...

        No one with half a brain wants G+
        Its a horrid buggy insecure wannabe page which instills in its users severe cases of Unwarranted self importance. Look at a bunch of business pages and youll find the same theme repeated 'Im going to make my customers sign up for G+ because everything else is crap'
        Sadly, Google itself has this same severe case of USI to the extent that android users cannot even rate google play products UNLESS they sign up for a G+ profile.... and if youre dumb enough to use googlemail, youll get spammed with G+ mails, requiring you to, you guessed it, sign up and create a profile, to block google+ messages, to delete your profile.
        • *EDIT*

          Or it would be if i could, 'wannabe page' should be 'wannabe social media site'
        • you told him right!

          "Lost In Clouds of Data" was stupid enough to say that he likes a website that you don't like, but you had the courage to insult him over his preferences. That will teach him!
        • Nobody With Half a Brain Wants Google+ - True!!!

          People with half a brain are happy with Facebook.

          Fortunately Google+ is the home of many intelligent and fascinating people. I live there.

          The ability to discuss things privately with my family, or business circles, or talk to everybody is a winner.

          I visit Facebook every month or so, but I will never use it for anything serious. Google plus is a quarter of the size of Facebook at this point, but even at that I find everything I want.
  • All Hail Hypno-Toad !

    Sorry, I meant Google. But seriously, three years to realise a mistake. Me thinks they're forgetting their motto, "Do no Evil." which is similar to, 'don't play stupid games with with customers data.'
  • My musician identity was always more real

    than my birth certificate name anyway, so the thing struck me as odd. An attempt at Facebook mimicry, I guess.
  • Real Names Preferred

    While I understand the reasons for not using your real name in many instances, what happens a lot of the time is people make all sorts of rude and offensive remarks hiding behind a fake name. Misogyny, racism and general abuse are sadly often shielded by the mask of anonymity.
    On the Microsoft Community forums, I use my real name in helping to provide support to other users. I actually had an idiot who did not enjoy some of his factual errors in his emotional rant politely discussed. He looked up my home phone number and try to intimidate me while pretending to be tech support.
    It is a sad day when you cannot even use your real name for fear that the trolls will come out of the woodwork.
    • IS there evidence they don't do it with their real name?

      "what happens a lot of the time is people make all sorts of rude and offensive remarks hiding behind a fake name."

      I've heard this parroted a lot.

      . . . but where is the evidence?

      IS there evidence they don't do it with their real name?

      From what I can tell, social networks have focused a lot on being centered around a friends list you control and filters you control - and most people would simply filter out or unfriend people who are rude and offensive to them. It's my opinion that it's these controls, not the "real names" policies, that really keep the rudeness and offensive remarks at bay.
      • Why would you do that?

        What a silly statement. Why would someone with more mouth than brain shoot off homophobic bullying horrific racist things with their real name in a way they can be called out on it when they can hide behind this bullshit internet anonymity? THE SOLE REASON people fight so hard for anonimity has got sweet f.a. to do with 'privacy' and everything to do with 'I wanna say whatever crap i like and not face any consequences' you know, like cyberbullying the bejeezus out of someone until they hang themselves. Its about time this anonimity crap ended.
        • PotKettleBlack, Noneofyourdamnbusiness

          Interesting how you bemoan anonymity yet use an anonymous name -- unless, of course, you're being sarcastic.
        • Still waiting on that evidence.

          "I wanna say whatever crap i like and not face any consequences"

          The big question is, are those "consequences" real, or just an excuse for the policy? Do people really care about those supposed (and unproven) "consequences"?

          Still waiting on that evidence.

          . . . and people on Facebook and Google+ do have a recourse: They can unfriend or block the person. A lot of these problems tend to pop up when users don't have much of a recourse (public forums, comments sections, etc).

          So the question is: Is it really the naming policy that is making the difference, or the fact that social networks operate in a unique way where users have more control over whose content they can see?
          • Anonymity Factor

            I stopped commenting on YouTube when Google required one's real name even though I've always used my real name -- JJ Brannon -- for comments online for the last 37 years.

            It's the principle: America was founded on anonymous pamphleteering. What I shall do freely I shan't be compelled to do.

            My family and childhoods friends may call me by diminutives of my middle or first names, but for the four decades of my career in letters, I prefer my initials as my standard. Google doesn't respect that.

            Yes, CobraA1, the psychology of deindividuation has been studied for well over a century, with the anonymity of mob violence, indoctrinated military desensitivity to the humanity of the enemy, road rage, treatment of prisoners, and the Holocaust, all the way from the Madness of Crowds & Mass Hysteria through Stanly Milgram to the present.

            There's a simple cure for most of this bullying and trolling: toughen up and ignore it. Somebody will be offended by something and there will always be jerks to take a poke at someone.

            JJ Brannon
        • you are funny

          what is your name?
    • Just as you said, 'RalphEllis',

      "It is a sad day when you cannot even use your real name for fear that the trolls will come out of the woodwork." Exactamundo.

      The infection of being public means you are deemed fair game by those who like you a lot, even more than by those who would attack you if they could find you. Not to mention, identity theft, fraud, and a myriad of other things.

      IT IS COMPLETELY EVIL FOR GOOGLE TO DEMAND YOU USE YOUR REAL NAME. Same, for many other social sites. Thoughtless evil is the worst kind. The Government and whoever you pay for goods/services has a right to know your real name, so to verify payment, etc. Everyone else? No right at all. That is solely your right to give up, and you should alone have sovereignty in the matter.
      • Why government?

        Who works for whom? *We* institute governments, to serve *our* needs. Not the other way around!