Google has recently started banning google+ accounts for their names.
Question: When is a name not a name?
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Answer: When Google says it’s not.
In case you haven’t heard, the issue comes down to the banning of google+ accounts when people are not using their “real” name.
This all started when several business entities started Google+ accounts under their business names. One of the largest examples is Mashable. Google immediately started suspending those accounts.
Here’s the message that these shocked account holders received from Google:
Your profile is suspended
After reviewing your profile, we determined that some of the content (e.g. text, images, name) violates our Community Standards or our Names Policy. Please remember that we are currently limiting profiles to real people and will be launching a profile for businesses and other entities later this year.
If you believe that your profile has been suspended in error, or you have recently edited your profile to comply with our Community Standards or Names Policy please submit your profile for reconsideration. Your profile will be reviewed again and unblocked if it complies with our Community Standards.
Mashable was able to address this with a workaraound by changing it’s account name to the name of their founder, Pete Cashmore. Then it was business as usual…
Except that this policy sparked some controversy on the internet about Google’s naming policy, which leads us to the current events.
This weekend, Google started enforcing their broader naming policy, which is outlined in section 13 of their user Content and Conduct Policy:
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.
Which would be fine and dandy, but unfortunately that doesn’t appear to be the way that Google is enforcing their own policy. Google appears to be banning people whenever they use anything other than their full legal name. People are getting banned for a number of different factors:
- Simply not using their full legal name
- If your name is less than two words long
- If your name is more than two wods long
- Names with titles
- Or if Google simply suspects your name isn’t real
What’s more galling is that even the strictist reading of google’s naming policy allows the use of nicknames. Afterall, in theory I can pick a name that any of my friends of family usually call me.
Many people have an online identity that is connected with a pseudonym rather than their full legal name. There can be a variety of reasons people use a pseudonym. Those reasons can include branding as well as privacy.
It’s easy for Google to say that they are banning all these nicknames in order to prevent spam, but I find that reason pretty flimsy. I’ve gotten plenty of spam from people using their real names.
Well then, is it to protect people from internet stalkers and such? I wouldn’t buy that as a reason either. If someone is committing a crime online, simply using a nickname wouldn’t hide their identity. Law enforcement could simply issue a subpoena for your identifying information, including your real name and even your ip address.
Many people are struggling to find a real compelling reason for Google’s policy.
At the same time, there are legitimate reasons why people want to use a nickname.
A Story about a Pseudonym
In 1722, a series of letters appeared in a newspaper. (The equivalent social media outlet of that time)
The letters were written by a middle-aged widow named Silence Dogood. They poked fun at various aspects of life in America at that time. Mixed into those letters were discussions regarding the persection of women and religious hypocracy. Within the wit and charm of these letters were subtle messages regarding women, the state of religion and even education.
Silence often rediculed Harvard, complaining that it had been ruined by corruption and elitism. Even stating that the students there learned nothing except how to be conceipted.
Readers of the newspaper found Silence to be witty and charming. They enjoyed reading her letters. So much so, that some would be suitors even sent in marriage proposals to the author.
At the end of it all, it turned out that Silence Dogood was not the real name of the author.
The true author of those letters was a young 16 year old by the name of Benjamin Franklin.
Benjamin Franklin at the time was a young apprentice for the newspaper. He was intelligent and a quick learner, but had a desire to publish. However, he believed that his older brother, who ran the newspaper at the time, wouldn’t have allowed him to publish, so he invented the persona, Silence Dogood.
To this day, those letters are kept as national treasures documenting Benjamin Franklin’s young life.
While Benjamin Franklin had several pseudonyms, Silence Dogood is one of the most famous.
These writings were often satirical and mocked local business practices, politics, the status of women, marriage, etc…
Without those writings we would have lost a significant part of our national heritage.
Did Ben Franklin have a legitimate reason for using a pen name to write his letters?
Would those letters have ever happened if Google was in charge of the newspaper?
Just think, Ben Franklin’s older brother James spent two weeks in jail when he published a newspaper story that the government didn’t like.
At the same time, Ben Franklin was a young man. He feared that his brother would not have allowed him to publish the articles himself. Also, one might imagine that there was a general feeling of oppression amongst the colonists at the time. Was there a fear of repercusion for poking fun at colonial life?
Just like Ben Franklin, people these days have different personas. They create online personas to give themselves some privacy in their personal lives. Sometimes they have online personas so that they can discuss controversial topics and shield themselves from repercussions, such as the online activists in China.
Here’s what a Chinese Activist wrote on his Google+
Please Google+, when you are deciding regulations, you must consider Chinese usage, especially from users in mainland China.
Be sure to consider the user’s actual situation. Please do not force them to use a real-name system. Otherwise, I think that Google will be violating its principle of ‘don’t be evil’. (Source: Google real name policy pisses off online activists in China)
Other people have complete online identities that they use as their brand.
All of these reasons go by the wayside at Google these days.
Is there a good reason for this naming policy?