Google+ nymwars rage on, pseudonymous celebrity users are immune

+Soulja Boy, +T-Pain, and other pop celebrities won't have a problem using Google+ with their stage names, but internet-eccentrics who've been known in the world by non-normal names for years can't get a break—in some cases, even when those "weird" names are in fact their legal names. Tim Carmody of Wired has the latest on Google+ nymwars. Yes, it's still in beta, but boy oh boy do they seem determined to screw this pooch. (via Jillian C. York on where else, G+)

Update: via New World Notes and ReadWriteWeb, a thoughtful take on all of this by Google engineer Joseph Smarr:

"It's not just enough to offer the ability to post under a pseudonymous identifier. If you're going to make the commitment that we're not going to out your real identity, that actually takes a lot of work, right? Especially if you're using your real account to log in, and then posting under a pseudonym. And so we feel a real responsibility that if we're gonna make the claim to people, "it's safe, you're not gonna get outed", that we really think through the architecture end to end and make sure that there aren't any loopholes or gotchas where all of a sudden you get outed. And that's actually a hard thing to do in software... we don't want to do it wrong so we'd rather wait until we get it right."


  1. Google don’t seem to realise that people with a ‘nomme de net’ very likely want to use that as that’s what people online know them by and also want to keep any good online reputation that the name has connected to it.

    I have one circle on G+ where people refer to each other by their ‘net names’ Because that’s how we know each other. I don’t know who ‘John Doe’ is, but I know who ‘Net Name’ is.

    Plus it means I can keep any work morons away from my personnel life.

    1. “Google don’t seem to realise that people with a ‘nomme de net’ very
      likely want to use that as that’s what people online know them by and
      also want to keep any good online reputation that the name has connected
      to it.”

      Exactly. Though many people have more pressing reasons as well. For example, most women I know (including on Google+) alter their names at least a little bit online in a bid to mitigate cyberstalking and the possibility of RL harassment.

  2. God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to Google+: I AM has sent me to you.”  — Exodus 3:14 (paraphrased)

  3. SK just had a huge issue with forcing people to use their legal names on social networking sites, you would think that the world would learn from it’s mistakes…

    1. “you would think that the world would learn from it’s mistakes”HAHAHAHAHA When did that ever happen? :)

  4. The legalese is a lot more strict than what they’re enforcing.  The stated intent is to remove stupidity like unicode garbage names and nonesense like ‘god’, i.e. things that are definitely not identifiable.  And yes, this is a little bit of a change from the first pass, so I think very very few nicknames have actually gotten the boot at all.  Correct me if I’m wrong.

    Now, the policy most certainly needs a rewording to make this clear.  I really think cleanup could have waited.  I wish they’d keep the hell away from the poor pooch, it’s been so abused already.

  5. Does Google+ treat “Xeni Jardin” like a pseudonym or like a real name?  Where would it fall if one applied Google+’s actual terms of service?  (Just curious.)

  6. I am one of those not-so-famous Internet people posting with a (consistent) pseudonym – and I am blocked from Google+. The new fun, is to check out my Google+ Page, where I am presented with a splash page which invites me to to delete my account. Thanks, Google+!

  7. I don’t understand the hostility to a corner of the internet where you are expected to stand by your identity. Yes, the restriction is going to cause some friction and some edge cases. More free-for-all policies also cause difficult edge cases, just different ones.

    And I don’t think it’s unreasonable to differentiate professional pseudonyms and nom de plumes from someone who wants to be known as ‘sPaRkLeUnIcOrN_6782’ this month.

      1. Google+ != Google.  It’s a social network, and you don’t have to use it.  Google made a call, that the benefits of a Real Name policy outweigh the costs.  This calculation will vary for specific users, and if the Google policy presents a problem for you, there are alternatives.  If enough people don’t sign up for Google+ because they can’t be known by a pseudonym, they’ll change the rules. Maybe people could quit acting so entitled and demanding that a service operating in a free market change to meet their personal whims.

        1. And perhaps you can explain your “Google+ ≠ Google” formulation to those Google users who’s accounts were suspended when they used pseudonyms on Google+ 

          I’m sure they’d love to be enlightened by you.

        2. The mere existence of “+Soulja Boy, +T-Pain” proves that their “Real Name policy” is a joke.  The haves get special treatment; the have-nots get their accounts suspended.

          1. The idea is separating my real name from my pseudonym.  I don’t care if my activities can be tracked via Googling my pseudonym.

            (AdBlock and Better Facebook do a pretty good job of making sure I’m not advertised to, btw.)

            There are NOT a “plethora of other options out there” in the Social Networking realm.  Other than Facebook, Google+ is it.  No one outside of Brazil uses Orkut; no one outside of Asia uses Friendster, no one uses MySpace period.  Most of my techie friends are on Google+, so I thought it would be worth joining.  It was – until this stupid policy reared its ugly head.

          2. Lol, they drive users to their data base, why would they?, common sense dude, common sense, bet after B-Account opens, most of these personal celebrities Acc, would get their spare to share.

      2. Yes, google is large and influential. So what?

        There is no lack of anonymity on the internet. There is no lack of ways to make your voice heard or to talk with your friends or to post rants or leak classified information or participate in socially ostracized communities. Communication in any conceivable form is not in danger on the internet. It is not in danger of being in danger. And any threats that exist on the horizon are low level technical ones, based on the hardware and protocols of the internet itself, not optional social networks.

        So why shouldn’t a service be offered that is linked to your real identity? Why is the very option that people have the choice to participate without hiding so offensive? Doesn’t mean everyone has to. Doesn’t prevent any of the current options for anonymous discussion magically disappear. Doesn’t prevent the development of new ones in the future.

        A non-anonymous social network is not going to interest everyone. And it is not going to fulfill 100% of the communication needs for those who use it. Doesn’t mean such services shouldn’t be offered. And, judging by the massive growth of G+ now and Facebook back when it was tied very tightly to real identities, it is a service that many people are interested in.

        1. You have conflated “real name” with “real identity”.  

          Is Xeni Jardin a real name?  
          Is Xeni Jardin a real identity?  

          If so, why?  If not, why?

    1. “I don’t understand the hostility[…]”

      Considering that you had this explained to you by more than one person in the last article about this, this statement is rather disingenuous.  At this point, you look rather like you’re just trying to be contrary.

  8. The Google engineer’s response is just a classic misdirection.

    Right now nobody is asking for Google’s assurance that anonymity will be preserved.

    What we do want is for Google to stop deleting fucking accounts just because someone wants to be known a different way.

  9. I have been using my pseudonym online since the early 1990s on IRC and V-rave.  I am using it on Facebook (shhh, don’t tell them).
    I tried to use it on Google+, and I’m not sure I even lasted a week before my account was suspended.  I immediately deleted all of my Google+ account and Google profile data in disgust.
    No company will tell me how I present myself online.  (Arguments that “The company will dictate how you present yourself on their FREE service.” will be met with “If a service is “free”, then you’re not the customer, you’re the product being sold.“)
    A friend sent me this link:​es/2011/07/25/whyGoogleCar​esIfYouUseYour.html
    Money quote from the article: “Here’s a very simple business reason why Google cares if they have your real name.  It means it’s possible to cross-relate your account with your buying behavior with their partners, who might be banks, retailers, supermarkets, hospitals, airlines.  To connect with your use of cell phones that might be running their mobile operating system.  To provide identity in a commerce-ready way.  And to give them information about what you do on the Internet, without obfuscation of pseudonyms.
    Simply put, a real name is worth more than a fake one. That’s really what it’s about, money.
    That’s why they want you to use their social network, and why they want you to not use Zuck’s.  Because they want the money.

    1. So a service is offering terms that you do not choose to accept. The service does not get you as a user and you continue to not use the service. Where is the problem? They are not ‘forcing’ you to present yourself through their service. They are defining the terms through which you can choose to participate.

      Unless you are somehow qualified and empowered to make the call for every other user, your opinion on their terms ends once you have made your personal decision.

      1. The terms they’ve already bent for 2 B-list rappers, you mean?
        Those other services (besides Facebook) are not social networking sites; by default only a subset of users will use them.
        The ideal of a social networking site is ubiquity – its usefulness is directly related to how large a subset of the known world is on them.  (Compare & contrast: Someone in the Philippines I used to chat with online 10 years ago just found me on Facebook; whereas when asked about Google+ I still see people saying “Well there’s not many people on it, so not much being said”).
        BTW this person found me because of my use of pseudonym on Facebook – they never knew my full real name back in the day. I’d say a good 10% of my Facebook friends don’t know my full real name (because they are friends from back in those pseudonym-using days).
        It doesn’t seem to me to be in Google’s best interest to shut people out – especially techie early adopters – of a service whose maximum utility is to have a large interconnected user base.

      2. I derive value from a social networking site by being able to communicate to people with it. If some of my friends who value their anonymity (seriously, there are a lot of creeps out there. Stalking is not some rare problem) can’t join Google+, then I’ll go where they can go. I want to be able to invite everyone over for a holiday at once, not log in to three sites and call eight individuals.

        So although I personally am not opposed to using my real name judiciously on the internet, I’m only interested in sites that’ll accommodate all the people I interact with. Thus the people making a fuss about Google+’s policy are doing me a favor: now that I realize it’s probably objectionable to my more private friends, I can avoid it.

        This is how the free market works. People who have problems with a service can let everybody know, and we can then use that information to make informed decisions for ourselves.

  10. I just don’t understand the way people talk about this.  I can see why people might want to post on Google+ with a pseudonym, but why talk like you should have the right?

    Google have said “we are going to build a service where people can post stuff as their real world identities”.  That is obviously going to be a different service to one where you post stuff as a pseudonym.  Better or worse doesn’t even come into it, just different.  There are a million and one places to post as a with a pseudonym, like here for example.  What about people of an older generation for whom this whole internet thing is new?  Maybe they’re more comfortable if people use their real names?  Do they not get a say.

    If you don’t like it use twitter, or myspace or Boing Boing, or flickr or picassa, or facebook (actually I don’t really know where they stand) or twitter or yahoo groups or geocities…

  11. When I was 14 I was in Air Cadets and I was promoted to Sergeant. My mother called me Sarge and it stuck. I’m in my 50’s and everybody knows me as Sarge. So, what’s my “real” name? The one on my birth certificate that I almost never use, or the one the whole world knows me by?

  12. I’ve noticed Google+ traffic is already way down.

    It’d hurt to have my Google account deleted, but I’m not really keen on random people being able to find me by real name, so have mostly written it off as well.  The sooner it dies of self-asphyxiation the better.

  13. Another detail worth pointing out to all the commenters above (such as Ryan_T_H, PJDK and Fred Ochsenhirt inter alia) who have expressed puzzlement with the #nymwars outrage, is that quite a number of the cases of people getting suspended off of google have been so even for their legal names — when their legal names are odd enough.

    Exampliae Gratiae:
     * Sai; who has a legal mononym. Suspended, re-animated, and then re-suspended.
     * Fox Circe. Suspended, later re-animated.
     * 3ric (I don’t remember his last name). Last I heard, he was still suspended.

    And these examples don’t even touch on the very well-established identities that are disallowed — people who go by some name distinct from their birth name for some reason or other — such as Doctor Popular, Riot Nrrrd above, aestetix, et.c.

    The core reason why _I_ care enough to argue and bitch about it is that I find the software and the stated aims do many things right. Google+ is the social network I _want_ to be in. But their policies are driving away a bizarrely large amount of my friends, and I find it utterly unacceptable that people can get suspended for the mere “transgression” of having a common name that Google’s community engineers do not recognize as being a common name.

  14. I’ve been having a lovely time de-Google-ing my technology usage over the last week. I feel like I have shed dozens of unsightly pounds.

  15. The weird thing is, people will still have fake names…they’ll just disguise them as name+surname combinations. I’ve been on Google+ for about two months under a fake name (and a rather obvious one at that), but since it more or less looks like a real one, I didn’t get banned. I’ve been doing the same thing on Facebook since I first registered there. So, maybe Riot Nrrd should adopt a slightly modified version (like, humm…Riotte Nerde ? Rriot Nred ? Rjöt Nërdj ?) that more-or-less looks like a foreign name ?

    I mean, it still is a stupid decision. I’m merely pointing out that it’s easy to bypass.

  16. Would it be wrong to point out that the people arguing for “real” names appear doing it under nyms? Perhaps they would like to post a link to the discussion with their “real” data on 4chan.

    Although G+ not enforcing their policy as written may seem like a good idea, in some ways it may be worse than strict enforcement. The laxness means that everything is in the hands of whatever young twit reads the complaints or the filter reports, with arbitrary and capricious (and responsive to privilege) decisions as the norm.

    Oh, and if they wanted “real” names they wouldn’t have started with an architecture that insists on firstname lastname with no middle, no titles, no honorifics. That won’t even make it through the first tier of non-english-speaking countries.

  17. Ok, that’s just BS… it’s not that hard to do. You just allow the user to sign in using a user name, any user name. Other computers systems have been doing it that way for decades. If I sign in as user 4564743.. or whatever..and that UID is the only ID I use, how are you going to know it’s me?

    It’s only if you insist on the users using their real name, somewhere in your system, that it becomes hard, because then you have to firewall that real name from the user name or pseudonym.

    So, what they’re saying is that they, the google engineers, some of the smartest people around, can’t add on pseudonyms to the accounts because they’re making the users sign up with their real name…and it’s too hard to firewall that!

    The solution then is obvious. Don’t make the users sign in with their real name… it offers no benefit to them and it compromises security. In point of fact, the only reason I can think of that Google would insist on real names is so *they* can associate your data with your RLID.. draw your own conclusions people… how does google make money off this service do you think?

  18. We run The SF Egotist ( anonymously so that we can discuss creativity and focus on the message, not the messenger. We’ve been using Google+ and love it, but it sounds like we’re going to be booted off. Too bad Google. We were turning people on to Google+, but now we won’t be.

  19. Google’s actions, however unintentionally, are racist. If your name sounds white, you won’t get suspended.

    However, if your name doesn’t sound white, you might, even if the name you are using is your real, legal name. This has already happened.

  20. To use some services on my android phone I needed a google account, so I created an account using the serial number of the phone. In the future will google force me to register with my own name to use their android services?

  21. Publicly reporting on a network site which is only accessible by exclusive invitation to selected VIP’s for months like this is cruel, and develops lasting unfavorable sentiments.

    It’s like reading prison inmate news and conditions from the outside.

    Only the incarcerated care.

    1. Only the incarcerated care.

      Surely I’m not the only one who cruises the prison personals.

      Hello? Hello?

  22. I won’t get a G+ account because I like my gmail too much. Whether or not I plan to use a nym, the fact that Google will terminate a completely unrelated service for ANYTHING gives it a negative value. 

    Besides, selective enforcement is a universal evil. If we can’t use nyms, neither should celebrities. 

  23. Joseph Smarr is well intentioned, but he’s stalling. No other network promises secure pseudonymity, why should Google. Secondly, who said I had to use my pseudonym under my primary account? He’s right, that’s a security nightmare; what if they were hacked like South Korea’s real name fiasco? For the record, I have two Google+ accounts, one real name, one pseudonym. Works like a charm.
    Google hopes that if they say, “it might be coming” then we’ll go away and they won’t have to worry about it.

  24. You know, I use a pseudonym, obviously.

    Although my friends and family know my real name AND my online handle, there are quite a few people who know me ONLY by my pseudonym, and I’d prefer to keep it that way. I’m sure, due to the circumstances of our acquaintance, that most of them would agree with me that they are more comfortable with me only knowing THEIR pseudonym, as well.

    I have no intention of getting my Gmail account deleted because I signed in to a totally unrelated service and used the online name I’ve had for over 6 years.

    I am unable to comprehend any legitimate reason Google would want to know my real name; the only reason to collect such data is to USE it for something, and the only reason a search company would want to use that kind of information is to make money off it in some way.

    My real name and private information aren’t a profit engine for some corporation, and shouldn’t be. One reason I decided to go with a pseudonym in the first place was because I don’t necessarily WANT my real name to be public knowledge; I am already annoyed by the volume of junk mail we receive at my home, and giving out my real name to a company that seems to have selling my information, or at least making it freely public for anyone to use would inevitably result in an avalanche of marketing that frankly I can live without.

    I was looking forward to Google+.

    I don’t like Facebook, and only use it because it is the easiest way, currently, to stay in touch with a lot of my geographically dispersed friends and family.

    Google should read these comments; I’m sure they don’t, but if they bother, I will state outright that I uncategorically refuse to join or use their service unless I am allowed to keep my identity private. They don’t have a right to sell my real name and browsing habits; I have no intention of giving them an opportunity to do so; and as such I will remain with the competition, and never use the Google+ service.

    If they want people to vote with their feet and wallets, by all means, I will gladly oblige them. I wish them all the best with their tiny, tiny userbase.

  25. Joseph’s argument is disingenuous.

    1. You’d be a fool to use a pseudonym as a subaccount of your real identity. Have they learned nothing from being targeted by the Chinese? You do not want your real name associated with your pseudonym, even if it’s “hidden” in some service provider’s database. If I’m going to use a pseudonym with Google (and I do), I am going to do so under a completely separate account. And that doesn’t require any special technical genius, in fact, it works just fine right now.

    2. No other social network claims to provide secure pseudonyms, why does Google think they are required to?

    I’m sure he’s well meaning, and he really thinks there *is* a technical solution, but if we all go away and wait until the provide one, they’ll decide they don’t have to.

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