RIP, Google+: long ailing and finished off by a security bug

There was a time when you could get the smartest people at Google to do the stupidest things you could imagine by getting Yahoo to do them first; thankfully that era ended -- only to be replaced by an era in which every stupid thing Facebook did became a bucket-list item for Google management. Read the rest

Facebook reminds America's cops that they're not allowed to use fake accounts

Facebook's terms of service require users to use their real names; though thiis has lots of potential downsides (including allowing dictators to identify and round up opposition figures), you'd hope that it would at least be evenly applied -- for example, to law enforcement agencies like the Memphis Police Department, who use "Bob Smith" accounts to befriend and entrap activists online. Read the rest

UK security minister proposes "Digital IDs" to enforce online civility

Ben Wallach is Theresa May's security minister; he has proposed that the UK follow China's example and require that any place providing internet access use bank-account verification to affirmatively identify all the people who use the internet so they can be punished for bullying. Read the rest

It's laughably simple to buy thousands of cheap, plausible Facebook identities

Twitter draws a lot of fire for making it easy for anyone to set up an anonymous account or a bot; the argument against this says that making it easy to be anonymous also makes it easy to be shady. Read the rest

EFF's full-page Wired ad: Dear tech, delete your logs before it's too late

EFF has run a full-page ad in this month's Wired, addressed to the technology industry, under the banner "Your threat model just changed," warning them that the incoming administration has vowed to spy on and deport millions of their fellow Americans on the basis of religion and race, and that they are in grave risk of having their services conscripted to help with this effort. (Trump is also an avowed opponent of net neutrality) Read the rest

Ten principles for user-protection in hostile states

The Tor Project's "Ten Principles for User Protection in Hostile States" is both thoughtful and thought-provoking -- it's a list that excites my interest as someone who cares about the use of technology in improving lives and organizing political movements (principle 1 is "Do not rely on the law to protect systems or users" -- a call to technologists -- while number 7 is aimed at companies, "Invest in cryptographic R&D to replace non-cryptographic systems" and principle 2 says "Prepare policy commentary for quick response to crisis," which suggests that the law, while not reliable, can't be ignored); and also as a science fiction writer (check out those tags! "Acausal trade," "Pluralistic singularity" and "Golden path"! Yowza!) Read the rest

Wrong things that programmers believe, a curated list

Kevin Deldycke has collected a "curated list" of "awesome falsehoods programmers believe in," sorted by subject into meta, business, dates and time, emails, geography, human identity, networks, phone numbers, postal addresses and software engineering. Read the rest

US Customs and Border Protection wants to ask for your "online presence" at the border

The week, the US CBP published a notice in the Federal Register proposing a change to the Form I-94 Arrival/Departure Record paperwork that visitors to the US fill out when they cross the border, in which they announce plans to ask travellers to "please enter information associated with your online presence." Read the rest

Names that break databases

Jennifer Null is impossible: her name can't be entered into most modern databases (plane reservations, wedding registries) because "null" is used to separate fields in databases themselves. Read the rest

Google Plus drops "Real Names" policy

After years of criticism, Google Plus has finally dropped its controversial, Facebook-alike "Real Names" policy. Read the rest

Why are more people opting for legal name-changes than ever before?

The BBC reports that record numbers of Britons are legally changing their name by deed-poll, and speculates on the factors that account for this (escaping your past, reverting to maiden names after divorce, merging names for marriage), but they miss the big one: the fact that you can't just change what you call yourself anymore. My grandparents all had fistfulls of names -- the names they were born with, their Hebrew names, their Yiddish names, their anglicized names, their nicknames -- and their ID, papers and records use a mishmash of all of them.

I've had several passports without my middle name ("Efram") which I've never used (though I'm not embarrassed by it or anything); however all the identity documents I've received in the past decade had insisted that all my names be present and identical on every piece, thanks to the growing use of databases and the growth of the Zuckerberg doctrine that every person should have exactly one name and that name should be identical in every context.

So while Britons might earlier have gone by names of their choosing with little trouble, today, officialdom requires that what you call yourself be what the state calls you, hence all the formal name-changing.

And it looks like this could be a record year, with an estimated 58,000 people changing their name by the end of 2011 - an increase of 4,000 on the previous year. A decade ago, only 5,000 people changed their names.

Many have been inspired by celebrities or their sporting heroes.

Read the rest

Getting people's names right in software design: a LOT harder than it looks

Charlie Stross weighs in on the Nym Wars and Google Plus's braindead "real names" policy. He reprints Patrick McKenzie's prescient list of problems with name-handling in software design, a must-must-must-read for anyone thinking about the subject, and then ruminates further.

People have exactly one canonical full name.*People have exactly one full name which they go by.*People have, at this point in time, exactly one canonical full name.*People have, at this point in time, one full name which they go by.*People have exactly N names, for any value of N.*People's names fit within a certain defined amount of space.*People's names do not change.*People's names change, but only at a certain enumerated set of events.*People's names are written in ASCII.*People's names are written in any single character set.*People's names are all mapped in Unicode code points.*People's names are case sensitive.*People's names are case insensitive.

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Understanding the Nym Wars

Here's a pair of great (JWZ) posts (Kevin Marks) on the Nym Wars, in which Googlers, net users, and sensible people try to convince the G+ team that it's insane to tell people that they must socialize using their "real names," and to then try to adjudicate what a "real name" is. Both link out to the canonical essays produced to date on the subject, such as EFF and boyd, and add a lot of good context. Read the rest