Google Plus Tells Pseudonym Lovers to Shove It

Google responded tonight to the widespread criticism of its controversial Real Names Policy. Some artists, abuse survivors, political activists in repressive countries and their advocates have argued vehemently against Google’s requirement that Plus accounts be registered under real names. You could call it a “go by what you are known as in real life (don’t worry Lady Gaga)” policy, too.

Tonight the Google Plus team responded to the extensive public conversation. Its decision? Instead of immediately suspending accounts that seem to violate the policy, and then letting users appeal, now Google will send warnings that users have 4 days to comply with the policy before they are suspended. In other words: the policy stays, the enforcement of it will just be slowed down.

No defense of the policy was offered by the company, just an explanation that real names reflected the intent of the social network’s creators and a pointer to the door. If you don’t like it, you’re free to export your data and leave, Google said.

Above, Google Plus product manager Saurabh Sharma delivers the Love it Or Leave it message in a video. Ironically, while real life is the rule when it comes to Identity, Sharma himself said in the very last message he posted before this video that “I refuse to hang out in person anymore.”

“Pseudonymity makes it possible for the most marginalized people in our community to communicate with us.” – Cory Doctorow

These are not the kinds of steps that help Google overcome the criticism that it “doesn’t get Social” – but did you see earlier today that you can now play casual games on Plus? It seems an all the more bitter irony that the company used the PR cover of that announcement today to offer this non-response to the criticisms it’s faced regarding Identity, safety and inclusiveness.

Perhaps the Internet isn’t about freedom, an ethereal new dimension that overcomes the limitations of time and space. Perhaps it’s really just a place to bow down before the alter of Zynga.

As an otherwise unidentified Google Plus user called Melissa Draper (is that Draper’s real name? Some sort of MadMen assumed identity reference?) posted in response to Sharma’s statement: “What about the people who are isolated in the real world because of the realities of their real world circumstances? Do they really no longer get to connect? That’s incredibly sad.”

Update: Google’s Joseph Smarr refers us to this video interview (at 9:30) he did with Alex Howard, where among other things he offers the following explanation. (Thanks to Carolyn Martin for the transcription.)

“It’s not just enough to offer the ability to post under a pseudonymous identifier. If you’re going to make the commitment that we’re not going to out your real identity, that actually takes a lot of work, right? Especially if you’re using your real account to log in, and then posting under a pseudonym. And so we feel a real responsibility that if we’re gonna make the claim to people, “it’s safe, you’re not gonna get outed”, that we really think through the architecture end to end and make sure that there aren’t any loopholes or gotchas where all of a sudden you get outed. And that’s actually a hard thing to do in software. And so, I think that’s [ ]an angle people often miss … we don’t want to do it wrong so we’d rather wait until we get it right.”

Does that sound like Google might change this policy in the future? I’ve followed up with Smarr to ask for more details.

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