Years Later, Google Finally Dumps Its Ill-Advised Real Names Policy: Drops All Restrictions On Names

from the good-move dept

Three years ago, we criticized Google for going down the same mistaken path as other social networks with a “real names” policy for its Google+ system. We pointed out how Friendster had made this mistake in 2003 and Facebook had also similarly focused on such policies in 2007 (through today), without recognizing the importance of enabling anonymity and pseudonymity. While some people insist that “real names” guarantees a higher level of conversation and/or participation, there is little evidence to support that. We’ve long seen on our own site that many of the most useful and insightful comments come from anonymous users. And people using their real names will often say some really dumb things.

While it’s easy for some people to insist that there’s no big deal here, the stories of people negatively impacted by such a policy were very moving. Stories about people who had been abused or stalked, fearing being re-discovered by their tormenters. Stories of transgender people who had not “come out” to co-workers, but were “forced” to. Stories of people trying to hide from death threats. These were not minor issues. Google adjusted its policy somewhat, but not entirely.

However, today the company announced that it was completely abandoning restrictions on naming within Google+. Not only that, in its announcement, the company admits that the old policy caused harm to people:

When we launched Google+ over three years ago, we had a lot of restrictions on what name you could use on your profile. This helped create a community made up of real people, but it also excluded a number of people who wanted to be part of it without using their real names.

Over the years, as Google+ grew and its community became established, we steadily opened up this policy, from allowing +Page owners to use any name of their choosing to letting YouTube users bring their usernames into Google+. Today, we are taking the last step: there are no more restrictions on what name you can use.

We know you’ve been calling for this change for a while. We know that our names policy has been unclear, and this has led to some unnecessarily difficult experiences for some of our users. For this we apologize, and we hope that today’s change is a step toward making Google+ the welcoming and inclusive place that we want it to be. Thank you for expressing your opinions so passionately, and thanks for continuing to make Google+ the thoughtful community that it is.?

I still think that the company should have done this from the very beginning, but kudos to it for eventually coming around and recognizing that “real names” is a bad policy that can have serious unintended consequences — and that letting people use pseudonyms is not a bad thing.

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Companies: google

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Comments on “Years Later, Google Finally Dumps Its Ill-Advised Real Names Policy: Drops All Restrictions On Names”

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Rekrul says:

Re: Re: Re:

Not only that, but f****** YouTube keeps logging me in under my required Google+ name, rather than my original YT account name, even though that one is set as the default in my profile!

I would honestly like to meet the a-hole responsible for making the decision to force YouTube users to use Google+, and kick him in the nuts. Repeatedly.

art guerrilla (profile) says:

Re: Re:

the only ‘reason’ i am signed up for it, is because i was essentially tricked into it when i got my nexus tablet…

i think i have been on it a total of twice: once just to see what it was, and once to ‘like’ or ‘plus’ a friend’s daughter’s ‘stuff’ she was selling on her page…

all that ‘social media’ crap is not worth a cup of warm spit to me…

UriGagarin (profile) says:

For me, I have recognisable handle I’ve used on t’internet for nigh on 20 years – there’s someone in south Korea that uses it for Xbox gaming (and why would I care – I’m not claiming ownership over it), but that’s it as far as I know.
Its not guaranteed that’ll it’ll be me , but given my typing and grammar quirks you’d be able to spot a fake, if anyone cared .

Why would I not want to use that ?

tarquin fintim limbim bustop f’tang f’tang ole biscuit barrel.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Blackmail? What does Google have on you? C’mon, out with it – if you tell the all the world, The Big Bad G can’t blackmail you no more!

Dirty pics? Marital infidelity? Tax evasion? Did you already get some kind of demand letter from them? Have you brought in the police on this?

Or do you just not know what the term ‘blackmail’ really means?

orbitalinsertion (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I don’t know how new accounts are handled, but I can now comment on YouTube again with my original YouTube account. Which is technically respectable, even if not particularly useful or interesting, since YouTube comments tend to come from the dumbest people on the internet. No point in dipping into the SIWOTI sea.

Even though they offer to link my YouTube and Google accounts, I’ve always declined. I’ve also declined all the Google+ “upgrade” notices.

Give it a whirl. Maybe they won’t force the whole + racket on you.

velox (profile) says:

Google can track you despite your Pseudonym.

Most likely Google is willing to drop this policy because they are now so sophisticated at tracking users across the web that they believe they will be able to identify users as unique individuals, even when a user displays a pseudonym on Google+.
This is an improvement – so long as you aren’t afraid of what Google itself does with your personal information, or what a government agency might do with it after extracting the information from Google, but at least a person can now discuss issues, and express an opinion without everyone else knowing who they are in the rest of their life.
Even in a country that supposedly has freedom of speech, professionals who want to keep their career persona separate from their political expressions have stayed away from Google+, and have curtailed their Facebook activity precisely for this reason. Note that Twitter, which does allow anonymity, has certainly benefited from this dynamic.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Google can track you despite your Pseudonym.

I don’t think you understood that comment.

Of course Google can track the person who is logged in. What Google wants to make sure they can do is link the information from people who are not logged in with the identities of people who are logged in. Real names allowed them to do that easily. They’ve gotten better at making correlations, and now they don’t need real names.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Google can track you despite your Pseudonym.

“Freedom of Speech is a government-citizen issue.”

What is your point – that Freedom of Speech and the government-citizen relationship isn’t relevant to Google Plus because Google isn’t the government?

Surely it hasn’t esacped you that governments around the world read what people write on social media sites.

At least with the elimination of the real name policy Google might be able to plausibly claim that they don’t know who a poster is when a government wants to know who criticised them.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Ummm I’ve won insightful, funny, & done 2 tours of favorites… no one knows who the hell I am IRL.

While I am an established nym, I am still anonymous to everyone. I posted as an AC for a while before taking this name for myself.

While some of us are established “names” I have no idea who many of them are IRL. They are able to post things that sound right because they lack the concern/fear/etc that a comment is going to get back to someone higher up.

I am a poster child for this, if not for being anonymous in much of what I post, I’d be fending off all sorts of lawsuits and dirty tricks from some “law firms” who dislike what I have to say about them. TAC is an easy identifier, but is still well removed from my real life.

Anonymous Coward says:

I’ve never been one for Google’s services. In a nutshell I hate ads with a passion and I am not comfortable with an email that browses your contents for purposes of serving ads. We’ll not even get into the NSA aspect of it.

Nor am I good with the requirement of giving a real name. I’m not a spammer, I have no intention of being disruptive, but I highly value my anonymity.

Google will never get my name as a sign up requirement. Two other services that I was once a long time member for years have also found that out, demanding name, address, and phone number. I’ve dropped both of them over that requirement.

They can require all they want but in the long run it is I, not them, that chooses what service I will use, when, and under what conditions.

Cowardly anonanym says:

Re: Bullshit

“I tried to post a review of a car dealership on google+ using a pseudonym and google+ suspended my profile to investigate my “name change”.”

— You need to clear your cookies and cache in your browser before you mess with this. I once accidentally clicked a bounced google mail invite and decided to make a new email account. It took them around 15 minutes to decide that I was the same person.

wallyb132 (profile) says:

Bullshit Bullshit Bullshit!

Google+ team
to: wallyb132
date: Tue, Jul 15, 2014 at 10:02 AM
subject: Your Google+ Appeal


After reviewing your appeal, we have determined that your name does not comply with the Google+ Names Policy.

We want users to be able to find each other using the name they already use with their friends, family, and coworkers. For most people this is their legal name, or some variant of it, but we recognize that this isn’t always the case, and we allow for other common names in Google+ — specifically, those that represent an individual with an established online identity with a meaningful following. If you haven’t already done so, you can provide us with additional information regarding an established identity by re-submitting an appeal that includes references to where you are known by this name either in online or offline settings.

Note that if you’re trying to set up a page for a business, band, group, or other organization, please sign up with your own name and then create a Google+ Page. If you’re trying to add an alternate name (such as a nickname, maiden name or name in another script), please sign up with your full name; you can add this alternate name (which will appear alongside your full name) once you’ve signed up.

You may re-appeal with additional information, if you have not already done so. If you’re already using Google+, your current name will continue to be used.

The Google+ team.

Laroquod (profile) says:

Google Revises History - Again

Google’s description of the history of its own service is not just woefully lacking, but glaringly propagandistic.

Google Plus did NOT begin by requiring real name. It began with a wild exuberant party to which absolutely everyone with any sort of Google identity was invited. Google had never asked for a real name before in any of its products, and it didn’t start with G+.

A few months later, AFTER the service had its jumpstart into wide adoption helped along by a whole lot of unmitigatedly positive buzz, Google pulled what should now be a bait-and-switch so infamous that their PR should not be able to lie about it without having egg all over their face. After getting everyone to sign up, Google suddenly started suspending accounts indiscriminately, subjecting them to a draconian ‘real names’ review process which involved for the first time ever, for Google, real name documentation. We were all completely blindsided by this.

As we all recall, there was a great hue and cry. Google said you could close your G+ account without affecting much else. They lied. People tried it and a fair number lost access to years of Gmail over this. Google had to fix that.

A few months and tons of spilled digital ink later, Google put out a press release that they were no longer requiring real names. Another lie. They were still requiring real names, but would let you choose a pseudonym in slightly more circumstances than they had been before (you could get permission to use a pseudonym if you were a minor celebrity instead of a major celebrity – ordinary unknown grunts could still go pound sand).

A few months after that, Google announced that they were liberating their real names policy even more, which was odd, since they said they had sort of stopped it before, but apparently they were stopping it again. Only they didn’t really stop it, I guess, because here we are a couple of years later, and they are stopping the crappy harmful that they already claimed they stopped, once again.

Well it’s too fucking late. I don’t believe Google’s promises anymore, and even if I did, I closed my G+ account ages ago, and a whitewashed revisionist history of the situation is no way to make amends.

*Forever G Minus

vegetaman (profile) says:

Re: Google Revises History - Again

I concur to an extent. They do change the rules a lot, and various services have a bad habit of going poof… Which is disappointing. I now use duckduckgo for my searches and have pared back to just a gmail and google sites page. My youtube account has a G+ account for no damn reason other than google has arbitrary stupid rules for no reason (did i mention it was stupid?).

Laroquod (profile) says:

Re: Re: Google Revises History - Again

Duckduckgo is primarily Yahoo with a different skin. If you like Yahoo’s search engine but don’t want Yahoo to be able to track you, use Duckduckgo. If, like me, however, you have always found Yahoo’s search to be the most piss poor pile or irrelevance in the universe, then the fact that Duckduckgo is providing you with a condom for using it is not going to sound very attractive.

Besides which, Duckduckgo is based in the USA, which means regardless of what they claim to their users, the US govt can serve them with a National Security Letter (NSL) that will force them to turn on logging software in order to track you. NSLs automatically include a gag order preventing them from revealing to the public that the US govt has secretly forced them to do the precise opposite of what they claimed. (This is why Lavabit shutdown – it was either that or be forced to lie.)

So the salient question a person with a healthy, accurate dose of modern paranoia should ask about Duckduckgo is not, ‘What do they claim about my privacy?’ but rather ‘Is this a company I trust to GO OUT OF BUSINESS rather than obey a secret govt order to do the opposite of what they claim about privacy?’

The only rational answer to this question is, ‘No.’ That is why the American gov’t has completely destroyed the credibility of the American tech industry when it comes to privacy. Repairing this problem is going to be very, very difficult, and considering the incredible role that privacy and govt-enforced secrecy have played, convincing people that they are not being lied to when told that the problem is repaired is going to be nearly impossible, for a long, long time.

Laroquod says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Google Revises History - Again

Interesting. It has always been Yahoo from the start. Later on it seems you are right b/c they’ve added Bing as an option, which is not much of an improvement in my book.

Anyway, even if they were reskinning Google itself, if they are based in the US they are in the same legal position as Google. I don’t think Google is evil. I think their moves have been partially dictated by a sort of risk management analysis following the lead of an overweeningly intrusive government that holds all the cards. Duckduckgo operates under that same regime – this is the main takeaway point I’d like to make, regardless of what’s under the hood.

Laroquod (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Google Revises History - Again

So this here is the post that was thrown in the moderation queue. What could have triggered this? Let’s see… no swearing. No aggressiveness. No insults. Not even so much as an ad hominem. No links. There is nothing in the moderated post that I am replying to that could be interpreted by any rational spam algorithm as questionable in any way.

Unless… ‘Google is evil’? That’s got to be it. The only conclusion I can really come to from this incident is either (1) Techdirt puts any post in a moderation queue if it combines the words ‘Google’ and ‘evil’ or (2) because I recently criticised Google a lot in another thread, including taking Mike personally to task on his opinion, I’ve been put in a category of poster where I personally cannot post things like ‘Google is evil’ without being put in a moderation queue.

Either way, this kind of moderation obviously reflects very badly on Techdirt. Even though I agree with 99% of stuff posted here, I am really starting suspect that the haters are onto something when it comes to Techdirt and Google.

TestPilotDummy says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Google Revises History - Again

whatever did I said?
Maybe just give it time?
With Moderators, Websites, domains, Hosting, and Bogons.
Time Cures most things generally.
On the other hand, there maybe someone you finally put that horrid taste in their mouth?

I’ve done it before and regretted it.

Michael (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Google Revises History - Again

In case you didn’t notice, my views on this site very often align with the views of the authors of the posts.

I have had a good bit of comments held. There is an automated algorithm picking them up and while I don’t know the inner workings, I can tell you that I have had comments in which I agree and ones in which I disagree held on me. It seems unlikely that the views of the commenter play into the system.

AC says:

I Call Bullshit on google

This does not work it still requires a first and last name and if you put in a nickname it only puts that in the middle of your name. If we are really allowed to have any name we want we should be able to put in one name and leave it at that. I dont need a first and last name showing. Google plus still sucks the big one.

Laroquod (profile) says:

Re: I had to use my real name?

Your advice is useless because

(1) People’s ‘real names’ don’t get audited until other users complain about them, so if you said nothing controversial or that ever pissed anyone off, ever in your life, you were probably never going to have your ‘real name’ audited, anyway. You could have chosen ‘Cookie Monster’ as your name, and as long as you never actually posted anything for anyone to find objectionable, you would never be audited. Therefore, people’s anecdotal stories of how they were able to use weird names are not really relevant to the situation being discussed – they misunderstand the way the policy operates. It operates on people who aren’t shrinking ‘violet’s.

(2) People don’t want just any name. The point of choosing a name is to be able to choose the pseudonym YOU WANT. Not the pseudonyms left over after Google has disqualified anything remotely interesting. People want to choose the names they had already branded themselves with in other media, not ‘Kirk Jones’ #356.

So, all you people who come out with things like, ‘I just did it the way Google wanted me to do it, and I had no problem.’ WAY TO MISS THE DAMNED POINT

Sheogorath (user link) says:

Real names a bunch of crap

The whole ‘real name’ policy is a nonsense, any way. If I make a new Google account in which I call myself ‘Mike Jones’ (not my actual name) then go on Google+ with that, how is Google to know that my real name is actually something entirely different? Then there’s the fact that Facebook’s ‘real name’ policy never stopped griefers vandalising users’ memorial walls. The stupid, it burns!

hopponit says:

user names

I used to get on Google, and youtube a lot. When they started this policy they also cut off the old account I had and made it so that I couldn’t keep my old favorites. I started avoiding Google and especially Youtube. Is there any way to get back our old accounts now? Maybe some other folks will come back if they make it possible. I had been using Youtube before Google bought it and liked my old account.

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