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Google+ Double Down

First, a video posted last week on the official Google+ YouTube channel:

What’s that sound you hear when you push the play button?  That’s the sound of Google+ doubling down on their real name policy.

I’ve been on Google+ for just under a month now, and I’ve yet to receive any official harassment over my use of two initial in place of my real first name on my account.  But I also came online between the time that Google was under initial fire over their heavy handed assault on pseudonyms on their service and this new restatement of their policy.  I’m not sure how thoroughly they’re looking through accounts looking for people like me, but it would seem a trivial matter to make a bit of code that would spit out all accounts with two capital letters as a first name.

So are they looking for me?  I don’t know.  Will they find me?  I can’t say.  Will they care?  That’s obviously the most important of the questions.

Part of the problem is an apparent internal contradiction in their own name policy.  At first they offer the ability to use a nickname as your first name:

Google+ makes connecting with people on the web more like connecting with people in the real world. Because of this, it’s important to use your common name so that the people you want to connect with can find you. Your common name is the name your friends, family or co-workers usually call you. For example, if your legal name is Charles Jones Jr. but you normally use Chuck Jones or Junior Jones, any of these would be acceptable.

But later (emphasis mine):

If you use your full name, you’ll be able to connect with people you know and help them find you. Names that consist primarily of initials or those that include indications of membership in professional, educational, societal or religious entities, such as “Dr.”, “Rev.” or “JD” are not allowed in the first or last name fields. Names that include more than one language script aren’t allowed either.

So name variations are okay, except when they’re potentially not because they “consist primarily of initials.”  That word, “primarily,” is an odd choice.  Especially as opposed to a word like “entirely”.  Does a first or last name replaced with letters end up “primarily” made of initials?  There’s rumors of some clarifications of this policy allowing the use of initials as long as they are the correct initials, but this is me looking directly at their stated real name policy, which really is where they have to clarify issues.

There’s a bit of a war of words online that has heated up again due to the restatement of policy.  I’m not trying to be part of that here, largely because I’m using a pseudonym for marketing purposes, not for any actual worry of online harassment caused by me linking my online and offline personas (whatever that means anymore…and interesting that Firefox spell check doesn’t consider persona as a word that can be pluralized).  As with the last time I wrote about the policy, I can understand these concerns, and this isn’t a field that I’m going to wade into because I’m just not qualified to talk about it.  I’m also not trying to equate me wanting to use DL instead of David to create a little online separation from other David Thurstons with someone trying to escape physical abuse and still try to enjoy online social media.

There are plenty of people defending Google in this case, espousing their right to make people sign up for their service however the hell they want to.  And that’s perfectly correct.  I also have the right to ban anyone here from commenting if I don’t like their user name, their content, or the like.  And in both cases, people have a right not to use a website if they don’t like the terms of service.

But that doesn’t mean that people also don’t have the right to speak out against those terms of services if they disagree with them.  And here’s where the issues hit.  Yes, Google has the right to control their user base, but they’ve become so big and are trying to link so many products together that to not listen to concerns on issues such as the pseudonym issue is going to make them look tone deaf, and will ultimately drive people away from their services.  Will it be enough to hurt the company?  Perhaps not.  But I would hope that a company founded around the concept of “do more evil” would care about something other than the bottom line when making decisions like this one.

And in the end, it’ll still likely come down to a judgement call by someone, because the only thing that an algorithm can flag is plausible sounding names.  They can search for symbols, search for key words that are unlikely parts of names (common vulgarities, say), search for initials, but in the end someone using the pseudonym *BunnyLover12* is going to stand out while someone using the pseud0nym Ezekiel Spaulding will fly under the radar.  That means, in the end, that the pseudonym policy can only ever be unfairly or unequally enforced by Google unless they require some personal verification from the word go to make sure that everyone is exactly who they say they are, rather than relying on tracking people down who are already signed up and using the service.

So I will persist on Google+, largely out of a curiosity to see what will happen to my account, probably using it lightly as though tip toeing over uncertain terrain.  If I survive the next two weeks, especially with the double down in effect, I’ll see it as a tacit approval of my account name, as well as a tacit approval of accounts using their first and middle initials in place of a first name.  And if I get hit with a change name order?  Oh, you’ll hear about it, don’t worry.

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