Using a pseudonym on Google+? It's likely that your profile has or will be deleted by Google. Over the weekend the social network purged a bunch of accounts for "violating terms of service", reports ZDNet. The social network has gone a deletion rampage, disabling pseudonymous users because they had violated Google's "Community Standards" and "Terms of Service." Google requires users to go by their "real name" on the social network, penalizing those with Internet pseudonyms. Should the social network really be forcing its users to go by their legal names? Or does Google perhaps have the right to force its users to proclaim their identities? The tech community weighs in.
Anonymity is unethical
This isn't the first time we've seen a social network take a stand on identity. Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg has publicly said that "having two identities for yourself is an example of a lack of integrity," explains Geek.com's John Brownlee. Google+ has implemented the policy for a reason. In their terms of service they explain their reasoning behind requiring "real" names.
Google Profiles is a product that works best in the identified state. This way you can be certain you’re connecting with the right person, and others will have confidence knowing that there is someone real behind the profile they’re checking out. For this reason, Google Profiles requires you to use the name that you commonly go by in daily life.
Faux identites can be misleading. On a social network, people want interaction with genuine people, not masked characters. And yes, people abuse this veil to take advantage of others, explains ZDNet's Steven J Vaughan-Nichols. "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."
That said, some people benefit from pseudonymity
When Zuckerberg came out with his statement, Christopher Pool founder of 4Chan (a totally anonymous network), countered back saying forcing identification will ruin the Internet. "He says that the push towards single identities online will bring about the end of an almost Rousseau-esque 'age of innocence' for the Internet as we know it," explains Brownlee. Anonymity on the Web allows for experimentation and creativity, especially for people who can't afford to have a public Internet face. Pseudonymity provides a veil for those who need, believes ZDNet's Violet Blue, "The modern, open internet is one where people have control over their own names and who sees them. The reasons for this control range from personal privacy to life-and-death safety." From people with sensitive jobs to those who can be stalked or abused, many can benefit from using a fake name on Google+
Google could've handled this better
Instead of warning users beforehand, Google suspended profiles citing a terms of service violation. “Google is digging a deep hole here, not because of the rules, but because of how they are implementing them,” remarked tech blogger Robert Scoble on Google+. It was bad enough that some users had not only had their Google+ profiles deleted, but all access to other Google goodies (like G-mail) suspended. The vague blanket statements to let people know they had been denied access didn't endear Google to critics. "Issue a warning first, allowing the user to comply. Or send a notice outlining the reasons for the action -- other than the blanket unspecified 'TOS violation.' But don't just pull the plug and say nothing," wonder ZDNet's Christopher Dawson and Sam Diaz.
TechCrunch's Jon Evans is similarly unimpressed:
Worse yet, the blandly passive-aggressive language Google’s engineers are using to explain/defend this is redolent of the usual brain-dead corporate-speak you see elsewhere: Our Stupid Policy Must Be Defended, Because It’s Policy, Don’t You Understand? Even Though It’s Stupid. Oh, Google. We all thought you were better than this
ZDNet's Steven Vaughan-Nichols chimes in:
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... 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.
But really, is the policy that harsh?
The social network set the rule for a reason. It's unlikely that they didn't have this discussion as they planned out the network. They instituted the policy for a reason "It’s Google’s party and if the company thinks that you’re not playing by the rules and decides to kick you out, that its prerogative," argue Dawson and Diaz.
Google explains its reasoning in its policy and some have suggested that they would like to enrich their data mining and advertising endeavors, explain Dawson and Diaz. And, really, it's not that hard to prove your the real you. "Google appears to be willing to let you back in if you can prove your identity," adds Vaughan-Nichols. But, that assumes those who've been kicked off would like to rejoin. For writer Bill Noble the policy is a deal breaker, as he writes on Google+,
For all the good things - straight-out exciting and satisfying things - about G+, it has one GIGANTIC downside right now: make one misstep with G+ and its TOS, and everything you have in any Google system could be instantly lost when Google freezes or annihilates your cloud, email archives, docs and all.
That, for me, is an absolute deal breaker. How about you?