Google Cracks Down on Pseudonyms, Kills One Reason It Was Better than Facebook

You may have heard that Google+ started culling accounts – businesses first, which didn’t seem like such an awful thing since they’re promising special support for business accounts in the future.  But now the crackdown has extended to pseudonyms as well – that’s right, now you have to use your real name on both Plus and Buzz or you risk getting your account suspended.  According to the community standards, this means “the name your friends, family, or co-workers usually call you.” For the two of you out there who still use Google Buzz, you might have noticed some name changes this morning – as the service now requires users to use a last name. And it has to be your real last name.

Here’s an example of something that’s not a “real” name: Opensource Obscure, whose account was suspended because of this issue. A partial response from Google is the solution of having an “other names” field on the profile, noting that “we are generally working with people to change their profile to include their real name, and then use their ‘avatar-based name’ in the field that asks for other names.” Though it looks like Obscure’s account has been reinstated under this rule, that doesn’t help anyone who specifically doesn’t want to tie their online pseudonym to their real identity.

Though a lot of people don’t understand why this is an issue at all (why would you need a fake name?), there are actually a lot of people that this could inspire not to use the service. I for one have people whose real names I don’t know that I would still consider part of my social network. Good examples are people who play roleplaying games or otherwise spend a lot of time in virtual worlds online – it’s not unreasonable that you might want to interact with people in those “online only” social networks in a setting outside the game, and equally reasonable that you might not want someone that you’ve never met in person to know your real name. Or perhaps the issue is more of specifically keeping your real identity separate from another persona – maybe you participate in online communities that you don’t want your family/friends/coworkers knowing about. Using Plus’s “circles” doesn’t solve the problem of two completely separate identities.

The problem is Google assuming here that people don’t ever have separate identities. Other privacy issues aside (e.g., someone who doesn’t want to use their real name because of a stalker), the truth is that the Internet has provided a way to compartmentalize parts of our lives if we want to, and a good online social network should support that. I know plenty of people who have used Buzz, with its myriad issues, rather than Facebook, for that very reason.  If most social networks start moving toward identity verification I guess we’re stuck with Twitter and interacting in 140 characters or less.

What about you?  Do you think Google should allow pseudonyms? Do you use one?

Image Source: Big Google brother ? / Alain Bachellier /

48 Responses to Google Cracks Down on Pseudonyms, Kills One Reason It Was Better than Facebook

  1. I currently have my profile listed as First Name, Last Initial. I wouldn't have a problem sharing my full name on Google +, but doing so changes my display name for all other Google services. For example, I don't want my full name shown when I use Google Reader, etc. Google should allow users to control how their name/information appears across their services.

  2. I have an author account, with my real name. And the gmail account i have always had. i hooked both of them up on G+ but I am only active on one. I hope they don't take the old account off, because that is the only one some of my family will use.

  3. Obviously for me, it's kind of a serious security risk. If someone digs deep enough, sure, they will find my real first and last name somewhere, but they'd have to try really hard.

    I've gone by "Athena Hollow" for over 10 years now, online, and it's what most people know me as. The only people who call me by my real name are my family and people I went to school with. That's it.

    So, I guess it's just one more reason for me to not use Google +, not that there was really an incentive for me to move to it from facebook as it is, since I can't use it to promote my businesses & brand, and it has nothing for me that fb doesn't already have.

  4. My question is why Google feels the need to enforce this in the first place? What purpose does it serve?

    My concerns are the same as the ones shared above. Especially when it comes to security and privacy. As a working professional, I occasionally post items online I wouldn’t want my coworkers or business contacts to easily find. I attempt to keep my work and private life separate, and I imagine many others do the same.

    My guess is that it would be rather easy to get by with a pseudonym if you use one that sounds like it could realistically be a name. However, if you put down the name Jerky McJerkface, that’s more likely to run up red flags. (Or you could have just been one really unfortunately named kid.)

  5. Some friends and I have already been debating this issue and Opensource Obscure was one of two examples cited. I have some friends that I am aware of their real name but they absolutely oppose using their real name online. In my opinion it's a little paranoid but I still think it's that persons right to limit what info they have out there for everyone to see. I reasoned it as this, if you get on a bus every day. The people who ride it regularly are going to come to know your face, but none of the other info about you is known until you decide to share it by introducing yourself. Since your face isn't what people see over and over again and it's whatever you call yourself online, then your online persona name is what takes the place of your face.

    Someone else says they feel Google is just streamlining their services to be used for e-commerce and the like, but the problem there is that even when shopping, you have the option to browse and compare without ever exchanging identifying information, again, similarly to just showing your face on the bus.

    It was also mentioned that it's like the phone book, which I countered again we have options to be unlisted, to block our caller id information or to list it however we choose with initials and whatnot and we have the option to not include our address with the # in the directory listings. Also every person in the household isn't listed usually just one or two.

    Lastly, it was said that it's Google's product and Google gets to make the rules and if you don't like the rules then don't use it. And while that's true, I suspect it's not the attitude Google wants people to feel it has as a business, especially if they intend to have services that we all pay for, instead of giving us all these things free.

    My suggestion was this, integrate that 'other names' field with circles so that if you do have a circle of friends you only know from an online MMORPG site, they only see the name you give there on your Google profile. If you have friends and family that know your real name already then you can display that, or you can JUST display the name you want, and your real identity is kept as something between you and Google. If anything to be used for security if something should happen and your account is hacked, sending a copy of your photo ID would actually be a good reason to have your real name associated with your Google identity if you do as much with it online as I do. That being said, their standard of “the name your friends, family, or co-workers usually call you," depends on what group you are talking about, a LOT of people use different names depending on if it's family friends or coworkers and even friends online depending on where you met.

    I do like the idea of insisting that people realize we are all real people even if our interactions are online and it should be treated seriously as such, and to be aware a person is always potentially negatively affected by actions online. But I do believe forcing someone that doesn't feel comfortable to give their first and last name as public info is going too far.

    • My situation is more that I am an online adult performer. I have been since I turned 18, nearly 8 years ago. I don't use my real name online for the obvious reasons of stalkers, harassment, etc. I have a 5 year old child. The last thing I need is some guy or girl tracking down my address with the help of my real first and last name being readily available on the net. It's not a matter of being paranoid, it's a matter of common sense in my line of work, and I should be able to choose how I am represented on any social network, not the network choosing for me.

      • That is my exact point, it is your choice regardless. I don't feel it's fair for Google to force you to display your real name to anyone else. I only can see how it could be something they require as a security feature, and if they did, and you did not wish to use it still because of your other concerns then that is your choice, but the fact that if they tweaked the plan for alternate names the way I was suggesting you could definitely continue to use it the way you currently do. As far as being paranoid, I was specifically meaning my friends that are completely against having their real name online at all without any reason behind it. I think though that it shouldn't require some extreme circumstance to make this an option. It's about choice and who's right it is to make that choice. And I suspect given Google's user friendly stance throughout that they will address this issue with a little more care than it seems it's being given at first glance. For whatever reason they didn't realize it was going to be such an issue, but that's why those of us using Google+ are making a point to give feedback, so they WILL know.

        • I disagree to a point. It sounds like a passable name.

          That aside, I wouldn't want to risk putting the time and effort into building up a network on there, just to have them flag it for deletion. Seems like a silly waste of time.

  6. I know several people that have legitimate, serious reasons not to give their true names, and those reasons have absolutely nothing to do with trolling, affection for nicknames, avoiding exes, keeping certain family or friends in a separate sphere, or virtual gaming. If Google + wants to encourage those people to use their service, they should reevaluate the policy.

  7. I propose that Google is doing this for reasons that have nothing to do with invading our privacy. I suspect they are concerned about predators (such as the ones on Facebook/Myspace, we've all seen the headlines) and prefer not to risk inviting the danger of not knowing who you're interacting with for the sake of personal preference. If that's the case, I am all for it. It's not like you can't keep your profile private so what's the big deal? And if the issue is wanting to keep your name out of it…well if you're that paranoid maybe it's best not to join SOCIAL networks.

    • Essentially what you're saying here though is that in order to make sure we're all safe from predators, we need to tell potential predators who exactly we are. I would argue the reverse. Granted, there are predators out there, but taking away an online consumer's one true means of defense is asinine. Both my 11 year old daughter, and my 15 year old son are active internet users. The first rule I taught both of them was to never put any personal details into an online profile. Anonymity is your first line of defense, and your suggestion that those who don't wish to expose their true identity have no place in social networks is misplaced. The internet's social interaction grew out of the ability to communicate online anonymously. People who are naturally shy are able to adopt a persona that allows them to communicate freely, and you want to take that away from them?

    • I once dated a guy who turned out to have a collection on his hard drive, and I bet if you think real hard you'll know exactly which kind of collection I'm talking about. I found it by accident. I knew his name, I had gone to high school with him and we had lots of mutual friends.

      There is NO WAY that knowing someone's real name will protect you from predators. Period.

      And I resent like hell that I'm supposed to give up my privacy just so people can feel falsely protected from someone like him.

    • Yup. Very easy. They don't ask for your SSN or any identifying information unless you're on Adsense, so how will they know?

    • They'll know if you use Google Checkout, as your real name will be listed with your credit card details.

      All android users that buy apps on the market will have their real names associated with their google account because of this. That's how they will know (with them).

  8. I'm a bit old school with usernames. Back in my day (haha) your username was deliberately different to your real name – for reasons of privacy (particularly when i was a kid). This is one of the reasons i'm not a fan of facebook integration across half the websites on the tubes. I probably wouldn't mind if it didn't change all the other google accounts, though.

  9. I'm all for anonymity. With employers stalking your facebook page, crazy ex's, stalkers, and whatever else life throws at you there should be a place for you to be able to throw back and let lose. I don't want everyone knowing what I do. I just want a couple of friends. Social networking is becoming too open. Even for me…

  10. This is why I will NOT use my real name- National Security ,,, or is it ???
    This is why I will NOT use my real name- Stalkers ,,, or is it ???
    This is why I will NOT use my real name- I want to stay off the radar ,,, or is it ???
    This is why I will NOT use my real name- I dont want to ,,, or is it ???
    This is why I will NOT use my real name- Fredom of choice ,,, or is it ???
    This is why I will NOT use my real name- Because of fraud and identity theft ,,, or is it ???
    When they can give me 6 good reasons to use my real name i will delete my own account from Google+

  11. And this is why, when I was a wee internet-lass of just twelve, I made my internet handle a first and last name combination that I've used ever since. It is not even slightly close to my real name, and yet it *is* a real name, and a fairly common one at that. EAT THAT SHIT, GOOGLE, YOU CAN'T MAKE ME TELL PEOPLE MY REAL IDENTITY.

  12. Why make a service if you don't want people to use it, Google? Seriously, forcefully jeopardizing someone's anonymity is social networking suicide. I was curious about Google+ but now I'm not interested, and I dont even use a pseudonym.

    • Facebook was the exact same way! They only ever allowed pseudonyms when there were too many accounts to police.

  13. I think that everybody is acting like google+ was facebook, the real power in google+ it's that you can share what you want whith the people you want, the only thing that has to be public is the name an genere, but that's all, if you dont want to share whith people you dont know just dont make your post public, I don't think that's a big deal.

  14. Something people need to bear in mind is that Google know *every* embarrassing think you have ever searched the Internet for, every YouTube video you have watched while logged in. They can read your email if you use gmail. If you use their DNS service they know every website you have ever visited (even if they are not listed in Google). And the biggest barrier to all of this information falling into the hands of anyone who searches for your name or who has the means to access Google's databases (legally or otherwise) is the gap between your account name and your real name.

    Now the question you must ask is, do you *really* trust any company not to screw up? What would happen if a stalker obtained your full search or YouTube viewing history for example and disclosed this to your employer or family? What if you had been searching for cancer information for example? Your employer or health insurance provider might like to know this for when they are thinking of offering you a new job or insurance. What about celebrities? Rupert Murdock I'm sure would be very interested in knowing this information and surely has the means to obtain it illicitly or otherwise.

    No thankyou Google, you can keep your social network. I want no part of it if it means sacrificing one of the only means of true privacy I have left for your profit.

  15. CLUELESS author of this article!

    Facebook's policy has always been to not allow pseudonyms, and disabled many accounts back in the day when there weren't so many people on it that it was possible for them to afford the resource to keep an eye on this kind of thing.

    They only got liberal about it (by there being too many accounts to police) in the last 2 yrs or so. So this isn't really a "screw G+" thing because it's the Exact Same Behavior as FB when it was the same age.

    Well actually, back then, FB, you had to be using a college email account, so FB was actually the more strict of the 2 at age 0.

  16. Funny thing, most of my friends on G+ are not using their real name. This is a scare article that's not even accurate at all.

  17. I have no problem using my real name, and I think part of the reason why Google wants you to use your real name is to limit accounts used for spam or other purposes that go against what G+ or Buzz is to be used for. I do think that a nickname should be allowed (under 'other names'), and then you can choose which name you want shown, but I think the real name should be used for ID purposes by Google.

  18. This seems to be a problem with people who use the internet only as an extension of 'real life.' They don't need it for privacy or security in order to talk with people like them. These people view internet handles as things to hide behind so that people can shout opinions without being called out for it. They don't realize that many people use the same internet name over several communities, and that it is also pretty easy to track down different usernames and figure out if they are from the same person or not. Except for random comments at newspapers, this business of anonymous hackers is capable of being defeated without having everyone identify themselves.

    Also: Define real name. I am a trans person who will be getting a name change. What, are they going to require me to put down my legal name? Is that real?

  19. Neither allows them.

    Both have them regardless.

    I have 100+ people with pseudonyms on Facebook. Including myself.

    Sorry, but you just don't have a clue. Article is utterly pointless social networking pep rally ranting.

  20. Facebook is still culling accounts; earlier this week hundreds of roleplay accounts were shut down. One or two non-RP accounts were shut down in the process (just because if pseudonyms). Then there was that poor 35 year old guy in Florida whose real name was unfortunately Justin Bieber, and he lost his FB account because someone complained – despite it being his REAL name. No one is 100% safe.

  21. There is no other reason to be doing this except to monitor our purchasing habits and tailor make adverts to suit us. Its quite a powerful technology – imagine if they knew what products made you impulse buy and you had those adverts scrolling past your field of vision all the time?

  22. If you used a fake name that sounded real, how would they know? Also, does this apply to celebrities? I mean, 50 Cent is truly not his real name but that's what his account is listed as. Will J.K. Rowling be allowed to use her pseudonym or will they force her to use her "real" name? Hmmm….

  23. I am furious that I would be forced to use my birth name when social networking using my name as a promoter and designer is HOW I NETWORK and PROMOTE myself, it would fail and be moot to post link and tag with my 'birth' name. People with a dog and two kids and only work and mom on their profile don't get how important and useful a recognizable 'work name' is for artists and designers who NETWORK. It has to be recognizable and memorable,- nobody bothers adding following or sharing a promoter, dj, or model with a common name, it isn't done, and only people with no grasp of social interactions outside of an office and daycare fail to grasp this. Also, if you are say, a topless fire dancer, or an industrial dj marketing club nights, why the hell should you be forced to share that, by way of your name and basic profile pic, which are your key ad points, with grandma and any asshole stalker and fan loony that wants to search your address and family?? You wouldn't HIDE the marketable eye catching stuff in a sub folder where only some people could see- how is that useful for collecting more people to attend and participate?? APPALLING.

  24. I just had YEARS of tags of my design work, contacts around the world, and conversations containg business info details ERASED WITHOUT WARNING by facebook because my last name was the one I have been using for design work and modelling for a decade instead of my 'birth name' which would be utterly innapproprate and also FAIL at getting people to browse my profile and add me. Because people WANT and EXPECT interesting, topical working names from those in entertainment. FB suggested I make a 'page' instead-which does not allow me to see the feed of everything that people are attending and promoting- something I need to do to find events for regular work and gage popular styles and trends. I could not get added to the feeds of all the same people with a common name, because people only have so much space, and don't want lurkers. This birth name garbage cripples the grassrooots arts and entertainment industry

  25. I am now trying to make a Google + account to avoid being deleted for (gasp) topless art photos in private albums of my own artwork or using my designer name- but if I will be treated the same way there as well, why would I swich?

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