What was Google thinking!?

Google has been deleting some Google+ accounts. While Google have a right to do so, they certainly could have handled it better.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

When I first read Violet Blue's account of Google kicking some Google+ users out of their new social network, my first reaction was "What the he... heck Google! After due consideration, I'm no longer surprised though. In fact, I can see Google's point.

First, Google said from the start that while "Google services … support three types of use: unidentified, pseudonymous and identified" when it comes to Google+, Google "requires you to use the name that you commonly go by in daily life."

More specifically, Google states "To help fight spam and prevent fake profiles, use the name your friends, family or co-workers usually call you. For example, if your full legal name is Charles Jones Jr. but you normally use Chuck Jones or Junior Jones, either of those would be acceptable."

It appears a good number of people have been hammered for not using their 'real' names. This isn't new. Back on July 8th, Google zapped the account of "Opensource Obscure," the Second Life nom-de-plume of an Italian user. That said, Google appears to be willing to let you back in if you can prove your identity.

In addition, Google may zap your account if you it for "couples or groups of people. Additionally, you can't create a profile for a non-person entity such as a pet or business." But then again, they might not. In the very next line, Google states, "Google may continue to allow existing profiles that don't meet these criteria, as long as the profile names are unchanged."

Of course, "Pretending to be someone else could cause your profile to be deleted." So forget about impersonating someone else on Google+. Your account can also be blown away for spam, gambling, sexually explicit material, bullying behavior and so on. Last, but far from least, you can't have multiple Google+ identities.

You know what? For the most part this all makes sense to me. While anonymity can be vital for some individuals all too often it's used to simply hide mean-spirited trolls that make so many online communities utterly distasteful.

Besides, when push comes to shove, Google Plus is Google's system. They set up their rules, some people broke them, and now they're out. That's life. If you don't like it, set up your own online community.

OK, so I can see where Google is coming from, but that's not the end of the story by a long shot. I think Google has badly mishandled this.

For starters, I don't think people should be required to use their real names. Yes, I get how poisonous anonymous users can be to a social network. There's a middle way though.

As Anil Dash writes in his essay on how social Websites can go badly wrong, anonymous users are a bad idea, but "Your site should have accountable identities. No, people don't have to use their real names, or log in with Google or Facebook or Twitter unless you want them to. But truly anonymous commenting often makes it really easy to have a pile of sxxx on your website, especially if you don't have dedicated community moderators. When do newspapers publish anonymous sources? When the journalists know the actual identity and credibility of the person, and decide it is a public good to protect their identity. You may wish to follow the same principles, or you can embrace one of my favorite methods of identity: Persistent pseudonyms. Let users pick a handle that is attached to all of their contributions in a consistent way where other people can see what they've done on the site. Don't make reputation a number or a score, make it an actual representation of the person's behavior."

For example, when Pamela "PJ" Jones set up Groklaw, the intellectual property law news and analysis site, she kept her real life identity separate from the Web site. Despite numerous attempts to invade her privacy, no one with any sense doubted that PJ was a real person and that she stood behind her analysis and opinions.

So, if someone really wants to be "Linux Guru," on Google+ fine. Let them. Just make sure they know that their Google Profile e-mail will be tied forevermore to "Linux Guru" on Google+.

Next, as ex-Google employee Kirrily "Skud" Robert, who had the "pleasure" of being knocked off the Google+ service, Google is turning off these accounts without letting people know why they're being switched off. Worse still, "Honestly, if Google's support people tell me that's what I need to do [to get my Google+ account], I will do so."

Google, as far as I can tell, hasn't issued any kind of statement on what's going on with this wave of account deletions or what steps someone should take to get their account back on. Instead, it seems to be handling in an off-hand, make-it-up as we go along way.

That's not good enough. If Google wants Google Plus to be taken seriously, they need to do more than just state policies in Web documents. They need to set up a real user management system. As Robert concluded, "It would be nice if Google would provide the same sort of understanding toward us, by erring on the side of caution when wielding the ban-hammer, as we try and figure out how the system works based on, quite frankly, very little clear information."


Related Stories:

Google Plus Deleting Accounts En Masse: No Clear Answers

Google Plus: Fast, Cheap and Out of Control

Google Plus: The top 10 missing features

How to make good use of Google+'s Circles

Can Google+ be a Facebook Killer?

Editorial standards