Google rejects JWZ's 2-step plan to end the nym wars

JWZ proposed a two-step plan to help Google realize its stated goal of allowing pseudonyms on Google+:

1. Stop deleting peoples' accounts when you suspect that the name they are using is not their legal name.
2. There is no step 2.

Googlers voted up the question "can we do this?" for a response at this week's company meeting. According to JWZ's source, "To nobody's great surprise, [Larry Page's] answer was a very long-winded 'no'."

Google Nymwars, redux


  1. I got threatened with deletion for having a “First Name ‘Nickname’ ‘Last Name” on my Google+. It’s my nickname, twitter handle and gamertag. I don’t see the problem.

  2. Today I saw TWO of my friends tweeting about having their Google accounts shut down for using the aliases they’ve been using since the late eighties. One of them is saying that not only is the “export your data” tool completely not working for her, it’s also broken her Android phone – her contact list is wiped, gchat won’t work.(Oh, she’s now saying that she’s been reinstated but SHEESH.)

    1. Don’t like a movie? Don’t review it! Just don’t see it! Why do people review movies? Why do they review restaurants? Why do critics bother to talk about art?

      After all, every judgement is personal, and there is no point in discussing important underlying issues of ideology, network ecology, etc.

      MrEricSir doesn’t want to know what anyone else’s opinion is of anything, so if you don’t like something, just don’t use it (but don’t mention the fact anywhere MrEricSir might discover it).

      MrEricSir: if you don’t like discussions of Google+, don’t read them.

      1. Boycotting stuff you don’t like is a useful tool.  It tells the manufacturer/producer/whatever that the product they’re pushing is crap.  It’s really the only voice that an individual has against this sort of thing.

        1. Unfortunately Google at this point is less like a product and more like a resource. If I don’t like the quality of air in my town, I suppose that I can just stop breathing, but that’s not addressing the problem.

          (It’s an analogy. Don’t stretch it. It’ll break.)

          1. Google is a resource when it comes to searching, but not social networking.  You don’t have to use G+ if you don’t like it; your ability to search the web will not be impacted.  The same goes for your Gmail, calendar, whatever – each of these services operates independently of the others, and you can just not use whatever you don’t like.

            In your analogy (sorry, I’m going to break it) air is not something you can opt out of, and if your neighbor is polluting your air you have a right (nay, a responsibility) to do something about it.  But to suggest that using G+ is as intrinsic to our survival as breathing air is…well, as you said it’s a stretch.

            To not boycott products and services that you don’t like is to give up the most effective tool we have against this sort of tyrannical oppression (now who’s stretching things?).  To respond to Cory’s comments: yes, if a movie is crappy, you should boycott it – walk out and demand your admission money back.  And *then* write a negative review on your blog.  But to suggest that I should sit through the whole bloody movie before I can be justified in making a comment is just silly.

          2. Sorry, what I meant to say at the end there was:

            But to suggest that I should sit through the whole bloody movie even if I don’t like it is just silly.

            (Moderators: you should know that the “Edit” button is not working – I’m getting a “host not found” message when I click it.)

          3. “You don’t have to use G+ if you don’t like it”

            Obviously. We’re angry because it COULD be a good service, but they aren’t socially bright enough or are too lazy of a way to monetize a person’s identity without a real name to sell the advertisers on.

        2. A boycott may be useful, but only if it is coupled with public discussions about the boycott, its underlying reasons, and the steps that the company needs to take to end the boycott.  Without those things, a boycott is completely useless.

      2. In his defence, he didn’t say he didn’t want to know your opinion (he’s reading your blog, after all). Nor did he say he didn’t like discussions of Google+ (he’s participating in one, after all).

        I’d sort of agree with his point of view, though. Here’s my 2-step plan to end the nym wars:
        1. Pretend it’s June 27, 2011*.
        2. There is no step 2.

        Or maybe the incessant bitching about it will lead Google management to change its TOS after all. Good luck.

        * The day before the invite-only, “beta” Google+ was announced to the public.

      3. I knew about the Google+ nym policy pretty much since its introduction. Just like everybody. So, to me, it was a no-go from the get-go.
        A restaurant or a movie is for an evening. The creeping authoritarianism of “social networks” is for life.

      4.  Geez Cory, lighten up. MrEricSir was criticizing Google+, not your review.

        Due to privacy concerns, I don’t use Facebook or Google+, and I doubt that I ever will.

  3. Not surprised. When I started seeing all those tweets claiming that G+ had surrendered in the nymwars, my first thought was “as if.”

    My guess is that their idea of allowing pseudonyms is to relabel the box that lets you specify alternate names, let you choose one of them, and move it higher up in the settings page. 

  4. The longer they continue to suspend people’s accounts, the less interested I am in ever using the service again, no matter what they “support” later.

  5. You know, google not getting this might be the issue that makes me go somewhere else.  I mean, not away from Google+ because I’m not on it.  But gmail and reader.

    But of course they do “get it”.  It’s just that for them it’s about making money out of correlating our identity with what we do.   (Which is not an excuse; quite the reverse.)

  6. Yesterday two of my friends got their G+ accounts deleted. One of them had already been deleted and reinstated. This time the deletion nuked the contacts on her Android phone and wouldn’t let her sign into GTalk.

    I’m using my real name on G+, but I’m looking at my Android phone – which I *dearly love* – and thinking that it might be time for an iPhone. Steve never cared what I called myself, he just cared that I used his products. Larry Page on the other hand is picky about names, and fucked up a friend’s phone because he didn’t like hers. What else might he decide about what I choose to do offends him next?

    So of course I put a rant about this on G+>

  7. Ok, I am making an account just to complain and that makes me feel f’ing old. This new web design… gads. When I first came across Google search I felt the first sense of peace on the internet: calm, quiet, simple. Boing Boing used to be similiar. Now I scroll down the posts and “FOLLOW ME ON TWITTER!” jumps out and obscures the title of the post and I have to just sit there and wait for it to go away. Then those frigging jumping, snuggling furries in sheep costumes. I am a New Zealander and I will tell you Air New Zealand is the best airline on the planet and no one can come close to their service, but seeing them snuggle and scribble help and jump on the right hand promotional bar that used to at least scroll out of sight has made me want to gouge my eyes out. I swear, my partner will not open Boing Boing until I tell him those sheep have stopped their antics.  That right hand promotional bar… make it go away or calm the f down. There, you made me rant like an old lady.

    1. Yes!  The author profile popup deal is super annoying!  BoingBoing, seriously, does it have to sit there for >5 seconds when you mouse off it?  It just prevents me from enjoying BoingBoing.

  8. I would love to read a transcript of what Larry Page said. If only there were some way for someone to anonymously submit it to a service that could make it available to the world…

  9. “We’re angry because it COULD be a good service, but they aren’t socially bright enough or are too lazy of a way to monetize a person’s identity without a real name to sell the advertisers on.”

    So make a better one.

    1. “So make a better one.” 

      Reasonable advice assuming you’ve never complained about a single fucking thing in your entire life.  Which I doubt.

      Can you remind me again what’s wrong with people expressing negative opinions about an existing service?

  10. I really don’t understand Google’s stance here. The percentage of people who would likely use nyms is pretty small so they will still be getting very good data from everyone else. Moreover, most nyms will be easily connectable to actual people from other Google services they use. This seems like a large amount of fighting for them over marginal gain.

    My tentative conclusion is that the people at the top  like Larry Page are engaging in a classical irrational behavior. Humans have a lot of trouble saying “Oops” or even just backing down when they are in the right but where it isn’t worth it to fight over. People easily invest emotion in arguments they have, and will do so even more when it occurs in a public setting. Even worse, if one actually loses resources over the stand, one will then have all sorts of other cognitive biases come into play (fallacy of invested effort/sunk cost fallacy, cognitive dissonance from not being able to admit that one lost resources for stupid reasons, etc.). 

    The take away message that everyone should get from this is that it is very easy to be irrational. Being smart, creative and successful doesn’t stop the standard biases from impacting you. Everyone is vulnerable to cognitive biases and everyone needs to be on the look-out for them. Above all, be ready to say “oops” when you need to. Admitting a mistake can be painful, but it is far better to admit a mistake early than to keep shoving the mistake through causing more damage.

  11. Why do people review movies? Why do they review restaurants? Why do critics bother to talk about art?

    So that people can not use/attend it, without making an investment of time or money.

  12. I use a pseudonym on G+ and it’s very blatant. I got in on G+ during the closed beta and I swear the Eula and small print said I had to register under my real name but that I could change my screen name once I made my account – I did. I haven’t been hit by G+ yet. I have about 1700 people in my circles and I have about 2K followers. So either I’m grandfather in under what I thought I read and followed correctly when I joined or G+ hasn’t gotten around to busting me or you have to be reported by someone and I just haven’t been reported yet. Don’t know. G+’s sign up clearly state’s something different now than when I created my account.

    But I feel like all these connections I’m making may be for not if G+ cuts my account because I sure as hell won’t be posting under my real name. Not that I’m all troll happy, but in today’s age what you post online can very well affect your job. I don’t want to loose a job because some d-bag in HR doesn’t like my political views.

    And hat tip to Maggie’s science circle!

  13. eek. I use a pseudonym or three all over the internet, including G+, for the specific reason that having a life outside work where I’m, you know, a person and not an automaton, where I have political views or want to talk about anything controversial can not only get ME fired, but can get family members fired from their high security jobs too! I’m easily connectable to those pseudonyms for RL people who know me, it’s not really anonymity. But it keeps me off the radar for work. I have a G+ account for work and one for personal. I guess people like me are just supposed to pretend we don’t have any personal opinions or experiences that aren’t finance-sector and government-sector approved… Not to mention, some of us have had problems with stalkers and harassment and avoid using our names because they are not common names and would be easily found by the harasser. Does that mean those people just shouldn’t connect with their friends and family online at all? There’s plenty of entirely valid reasons why someone would NOT use their real name.

    1. I haven’t read any hate mail against LinkedIn where using a nym is also prohibited (without too much complaint that I can see).

      1. That’s because LinkedIn is only useful for getting a new job. It’s by definition work-related, and any pseudonyms there are probably registered DBA names (such as stage or pen names). I’m not using LinkedIn to send Occupy links to my friends, for instance. Sending stuff like that in my own name would almost certainly get me fired from my finance-sector job. So would, say, commenting on the blogs I use this pseudonym to comment on. The odds of my passing along a boing boing story under my own name are virtually nil, but that’s not a concern on LinkedIn because the odds I would be using LinkedIn for something like that are also virtually nil.

        1. That’s because LinkedIn is only useful for getting a new job.

          It’s dead useful for checking out trolls.

          1. Not really. If I claim I’m John Smith, you have no idea which one I am. There’s only about 20k of those in the US alone, probably thousands of those on LinkedIn. And you’re not going to find a non-legal-name handle on LinkedIn, so no checking trolls that way. If you’re a mod you may have access to AN email address (not sure how disqus deals with mod-access to that, but someone has access to that login info even if you don’t personally), but the email address someone uses to post pseudonymously is highly unlikely to be the same one they use for work-related matters. Mine sure isn’t. The point of my reply is that Google+ and LinkedIn serve very different functions so what is appropriate on one (forced real names on LinkedIn, which is a job resource you are likely to give to a potential employer) may not be appropriate on the other (forced legal name and scans of your legal ID on Google+ where you are supposed to be connecting with your friends, who probably know you by a nickname online, not your legal name, and forcing your name to be public for all the world to see — you can’t make it private).

          2. If I claim I’m John Smith, you have no idea which one I am.

            Pish. I have your IP as well, which I can geolocate.  When I google a name, I always get LinkedIn, which provides me with a tidy little list of people and their locations.  Compare to IP and it’s a solid lead.  Next thing you know, I’m checking out your vacation photos on Flickr.

            Even without the IP, I can do it backward.  Google your username, find out from your social networking or your photos where you live and use LinkedIn to figure out where you went to school and where you work.  Unless you’re smart enough to have separate IDs for everything that you do online.

          3. Unless you’re smart enough to have separate IDs for everything that you do online.

            Ding ding ding we have a winner. Not everything gets a unique id, but I group them. Things that can hurt my job are totally separate. If you google quartz99 you get all kinds of stuff but the only one that is related to me at all is my disqus profile. There are other people who use that handle elsewhere so if you followed any of those, you might find a name, but it wouldn’t be mine. If you google my email, you’ll get no hits at all. That’s the point of a pseudonym. And anyone trolling who hasn’t made that same separation is pretty stupid and deserves to be found.

            Now, if I’d done something illegal and they were tracing me back it wouldn’t be hard because they’d have access to hidden information through subpoena, but I’m not trying to be truly anonymous, just to keep casual connections from being made between my name and my political activities where they can hurt my or a family members’ jobs. I am less worried about you taking my information here and tracing back to my real name than I am about someone searching for my real name and coming up with my comments here.

            (Edit – actually you can trace me back via email. This is the email I use for gaming and I’ve given it to a couple people on posts that are apparently public now and even though my google profile is “friends only” and not supposed to show up in searches, it still shows in searches now. Damn Google. *shrug* I’m not trying to hide from moderators. I’m more concerned about things going the other direction.)

          4. With an e-mail and an IP, I can track most people, but even just a username and one slip of the tongue about location, profession, hobby, I can find about a quarter of commenters.  People will troll a political forum and then post their home address on the crocheting message board under the same username.

  14. Hi there glad that this issue is reopened.  I would like to say that it is possible for people to change their minds after all.  A few months ago I got in a fairly unpleasant (for this site) mini-flame-war thing about anonymity.  I was against it (anonymity).  Now, after having pondered things a bit, read Cory’s excellent “Little Brother” and actually seen the dawn of an honest-to-God protest movement (and honest-to-God crackdowns), I must recant and declare buy support of anonymity,  Which, as techies will point out, is redundant anyway, but… anyhow.  I will still maintain my use of my own name as a personal check on my own rhetorical fervor.

    I still think people should be polite though.  Even if they are anonymously so.

  15. That has supposed to be “declare my support for anonymity”.  Don’t know how “buy” got in there.  Probably Google cookies that were planted on my laptop to subliminally support the capitalist system.

  16. I’m sympathetic to the cause of getting Google to accept pseudonyms instead of real names. And Google’s trashing of peoples’ information for the sin of violating their G+ TOS is unacceptable. 

    What has been curious about this situation is that I usually think of social networking sites as sites used by people who do want to get their names out there (like the front-pagers here, whose name recognition is probably essential to their livelihood). What’s also been curious is the rants about it, as if the people condemning Google think they have the right to dictate how Google should operate a service that Google wholly owns, a service that didn’t exist (for all intents and purposes) prior to June 28, 2011. So it’s been interesting to wrap my head around the various arguments.

    Where the “restaurant/movie review” analogy breaks down is, somewhere around the third or fourth review you posted about the same restaurant, where you dinged it for exactly the same reason you did the last time, I’d start saying, Why don’t you post a review of a place you like and think we might like, instead?

    Anyway, maybe Jamie should start #OccupyGooglePlus. 

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