At the Edinburgh International TV Festival, NPR's Andy Carvin asks Google Exec. Chairman Eric Schmidt about privacy, nymwars, and Google+.
Andy (@acarvin) has done some innovative and valuable journalism on the Twitter platform this past year, retweeting, curating, and factchecking tweets from activists, reporters, and "regular people" on the street in popular uprisings throughout the Middle East. Many of those Twitter sources use nyms, because revealing their "real names" is a matter of life and death under despotic regimes such as the ones in Libya or Syria.
So with that experience in mind, Andy asked Eric how he justifies Google's apparent "real names or go home" stance, given that real identities could put people at risk?
He replied by saying that G+ was build primarily as an identity service, so fundamentally, it depends on people using their real names if they're going to build future products that leverage that information.
Regarding people who are concerned about their safety, he said G+ is completely optional. No one is forcing you to use it. It's obvious for people at risk if they use their real names, they shouldn't use G+. Regarding countries like Iran and Syria, people there have no expectation of privacy anyway due to their government's own policies, which implies there's no point of even trying to have a service that allows pseudonyms.
He also said the internet would be better if we knew you were a real person rather than a dog or a fake person. Some people are just evil and we should be able to ID them and rank them downward.
Comment thread on Andy's G+ stream is here.
Google's Bradley Horowitz articulates a somewhat different view here, in an interview with Tim O'Reilly. From what I can tell, there is a diversity of opinion within Google, and even within the Google+ team, on how best to handle the admittedly complex matter of personal identity. It will be interesting to see how this develops.
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