So is Google evil after all?

Or, more specifically, are they evil because they are (or may be) deleting (or forbidding, or something) “google plus” accounts that are opened using SL avatar names, or usenet or forum pseudonyms, or basically anything else that fails some kind of naive “real name” sniff-test?

I dunno. Maybe. Or probably. Or maybe not. Probably not, really. But is this guy a jerk?

If you see a person with an obviously fake name, go to their profile and find the “Report Profile” link in the bottom of the left column. Report it as a “Fake Profile”. We want Google+ to be place for real people to connect with other real people.

There has certainly been something of a flurry of concern about it. I sent him a little note after reading some of the furor:

I think you really meant something like “if you see a ‘person’ that is obviously a company or a spammer, go to their…”. Real people use all sorts of names, “Fake” and otherwise. It’s the fake people you want to keep out, not the real people with “fake” names…

No reply yet, but he has now come back with one of those “wait, wait, what I meant was…” posts (which I can’t figure out how to link directly to; scroll down on the one above):

Holy cow. I was offline most of yesterday and it looks like I started a firestorm by accident.

Kevin McCurley’s comment sums up the spirit of my post better than I did: “In the meantime please interpret this post in the loosest possible sense – only flag things that are clearly not representations of a real person. We’re not out to ostracize people or enforce unreasonable conditions. Businesses and organizations will have their own profiles in the future”

The policy page (http://www.google.com/support/profiles/bin/answer.py?answer=1228271) leaves some room for interpretation and says: “For this reason, Google Profiles requires you to use the name that you commonly go by in daily life”

It doesn’t say anything about your legal name.

I’d better not say anything more about this since: a) I’m an engineer and b) there are plenty of edge cases that I’m sure are legitimate and not explicitly covered in the ToS.

… and (c) he’d like to remain employed if that is still possible at this point.

Which does more or less correspond to what I said. But still, “commonly go by in daily life” certainly does leave some (“some”) room for interpretation.

And really this whole thing gives me a creepy feeling. Why is Google policing the appropriateness of names and the “realness” of accounts, anyway? (As opposed to, say, the spamminess or otherwise of behavior.) The full quote from that policy page is:

Google services support three different types of use when it comes to your identity: unidentified, pseudonymous, identified. 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.

This is actually pretty stupid. (Botgirl’s autotuned version is at least amusing!) How do they, in the 21st century Internet, know how their just-launched product “works best”? And why do they feel it necessary to forbid other ways of using it? The fact that someone is using the name “Fred Muggs” rather than “Teh Fredster!!” doesn’t mean anyone “can be certain you’re connecting with the right person”, or that anyone “will have confidence knowing that there is someone real behind the profile they’re checking out”; names are not magic.

And really, “checking out”? That phrase plus the fact that initially google plus required not only a “real” first and last name, but also a (publicly viewable) gender, makes me wonder…

Is Google Plus really intended as a dating service?

It would explain alot, anyway. Maybe they will notice that they didn’t really plan to take over the world with a dating service, allow pseudonyms as long as they aren’t being used to spam or defraud, and this will all blow over. I continue to think, at least in my crotchety moments, that maybe all of the boring people will vanish into Facebook and Google Plus, and the rest of us can go back to using the rest of the Internet. The end of the Endless September? If Google could give us that, I think I’d forgive them for a certain amount of arguable low-grade evil… :)

(Thanks to the NY Daily News for the nice little evil-Google graphic, heh heh.)

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11 Responses

  1. Like many, I’ve been glued (when I can) to the storm of SL blog coverage over Google+ deleting of accounts, but this is the first post on that issue that had a CALMING effect on me – so thanks! :)

    It helped very much to read the original post where the controversy started and it seems to me that all the hysteria is based on a careless post by a Google engineer who has essentially withdrawn his comment. I don’t think he had any intention of unleashing all the tricky implications of what he said and seems he’s not in a position to anyway.

    I hope this accidental controversy settles down, and Google stick with their initial policies once I finally see an official stance (and re-instate accounts). Aside from being trigger happy with shutting down accounts on their brand new service, I don’t see that they have officially reversed any policies, have they?

    • Thanks very! Yeah, that post was either an offhand mistake, or (if your mind runs that way) a cleverly deniable trial balloon by Google to see whether people really value the ability to use pseudonyms. One or the other. :)

      The only policy that I know they’ve reversed is the requirement that everyone publicly declare for either “male”, “female” or “other”; reversing that is a very positive step, but requiring it in the first place seems amazingly clueless.

      Don’t really want to minimize the initial trigger-happiness, either. Opensource Obscure and Imnotgoing Sideways both seem to have had their google plus account suspended or whatever because of having funny names, and I’m sure there are lots more examples. So SOMEONE at Google with some power certainly hasn’t internalized the “real people with fake names” idea. But with any luck, as you say, it’s just a bit of new-service confusion. We’ll see!

    • It’s nice to see so many non-avatars posting there with the same concerns. Just people who genuinely use an alias on the net.

    • Thanks much for the pointer, Gwyneth! I think this quote is more evidence that even some of the more enlightened people at google start out by Not Getting It:

      “Google+ is committed to helping people connect with people they know and to feel safe sharing and communicating. We believe using real names and real profile pictures is the best way to create that kind of environment.”

      (i.e. they think that real name and real pictures are naturally always the best way to find people that you know, and to feel safe sharing and communicating). But since lots of people from various circumstances are pointing out in public, right there on the page, that that’s far from always true, Google has a great opportunity here to Get It.

      If they succeed, I will be very impressed and pleased! I might even sign up with Google Plus someday. Maybe. :)

  2. FWIW my account was reinstated today and I see a bunch of other SL av name peeps reporting their accounts were reinstated too. A bunch haven’t yet been, though, so keeping an eye out..

    • Good to hear, thanks Fleep! And it’ll definitely be interesting to see what happens to the ones that haven’t yet…

  3. It would be fascinating to know the chain of reasoning and internal discussion that led Google take their original position on pseudonymity, and what factors caused them to reconsider and start reinstating people with obvious avatar accounts.

    • It would be very interesting to hear the internal discussions. Maybe there’ll be a book someday. :) Already though it’s interesting to see the in-public discussions, some involving more than one Google person, on the subject. From the outside, it looks like the original policy may have been made off the cuff without all that much thought (sort of a nodding echo-chamber sort of thing); and now we get to see if they’re responsive enough to be able to change, and what narrative they present about it if so (and even if not)…

  4. I imagine it went something like this:

    from above: “Hey I hear we’re upsetting people, what gives?”

    from below: “Sorry Sir, can’t hear you amid all these Google gears! Please repeat!”

    from above: “People want to choose the way they want to present themselves on the internet. Hell, I did it myself when I was younger!”

    from below: “Yes Sir, but we’re running out of things to SEARCH for, and the only untapped resource is the people who use our service! And there’s millions of them!”

    from above: “I know Facebook has had a big influence, but please settle down, we’re Google, so compose yourself! – How are we going to rule the world unless we’re NOT FaceBook.

    from above : Please find some other um, “less sensitive” information resource and start to drill it immediately!

    from below: “Yes thine almighty Googleness, Sir”

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