Virtual ID Not Accepted at Google+’s Door


ADOTAS – (UPDATED WITH VIDEO AT BOTTOM) A slew of news reports are hitting the Internets about Google’s seemingly Draconian rules about identity for Google Profiles. Numerous users have had their accounts suspended because the names they submitted violate Profiles’ “community standards.”

That is, those users tried to submit virtual identities. For example, well-known Second Life user (yes, such a thing exists…) Opensource Obscure apparently is not allowed to use that moniker for his Google Profile, although he prefers not to use his given name for online services, he tells Thinq. He claims hundreds of his Second Life connections did the same and are likely to get locked out anytime.

(Of course, I wonder what’s the point of hooking up with Second Life friends through their virtual identities on Google+ — shouldn’t Obscure be demanding Second Life enhance its own features?)

The news of account suspensions follows Google’s announcement that it will delete all private profiles come the end of July. It’s not that privacy doesn’t exist on Google Profiles — the only public requirements for a Profile are name and gender (you can even enter “other”). Users control which groups of contacts can see any additional information.

The suspended accounts also include company-branded accounts, but Google has promised brand pages are imminent. Also, Google services Gmail and Blogger do not require Google Profiles.

But no, you can’t sign up with a virtual identity. It’s not Facebook where you can create accounts for pets, bands, mythical beasts, etc. (one of the funniest — and saddest — Failbooks I ever saw revolved around a Facebook account created for a fetus). You have to give Google your real name, and the company can verify your identity through its Knol service. It doesn’t want impersonators or people posing as others on Google+ — so yes, this is Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

Check out the statement at the top of Google’s page of rules regarding user identity:

“Google services support three different types of use when it comes to your identity: unidentified, pseudonymous, identified. Google Profiles is a product that works best in the identified state. This way you can be certain you’re connecting with the right person, and others will have confidence knowing that there is someone real behind the profile they’re checking out. For this reason, Google Profiles requires you to use the name that you commonly go by in daily life.”

Opensource Obscure is not a person but a persona, and Google+ is not about presenting a manufactured image of yourself to the world, but managing your online identity.

But how does Google know your name isn’t really Amanda Hugankiss, Seymour Butts, or Irving Preston Freely (Or I.P., as I call him)? The most well-regarded editor of my high-school yearbook was Richard Weed. My dad knew a guy named Richard Head, but apparently he was a jerk.

All jokes aside, what about artists with pseudonyms like Shephard Fairey or Banksy? Could Mark Twain have his own Google+ account or would it go under Samuel Clemens?

Apparently Google is making exceptions to its identity rule — check out the story of Rowan Thunder. Google seems to be giving the OK if your moniker is glued to your physical/actual identity: Iggy Pop won’t have to sign up for Google+ as James Osterberg, Jr., but I think Vanilla Ice should be forced to join as Robert Van Winkle.

What about political dissidents or corporate whistleblowers embracing anonymity for safety?

Well, they probably shouldn’t use Google+. Just like Facebook, Google+ isn’t for everyone. There are plenty of other social outlets that cater to those seeking virtual identities or anonymity — as mentioned earlier, Blogger and Gmail don’t require Google Profiles, like Google+ does.

This leads into what I was saying last week when Google announced the execution of private profiles  — more than just a social network, Google is trying to develop an online reputation management tool. What a better company to do it — your mind probably can’t wrap around how much data Big G has in its sprawl. People who use Google+ want to be identified — how much they share with the world is another matter.

The “Google still doesn’t get social!” cries are reverberating around the blogosphere, but I don’t think a lot of people get Google+. It’s not a social network, it’s not Facebook, it’s something very new.

UPDATED, July 13 @ 9:00 a.m.: Second Life user and blogger Botgirl Questi (I don’t think that’s her real name…) shared an “interview” she did with Google on the Profiles identity question.

The Real Truth About Google’s Position on Avatar Identity from Botgirl Questi on Vimeo.


    • @Botgirl: Great video! I’m going to embed it in the story. You hit the nail on the head — Google+ is about managing your actual identity online, not a virtual one. In other words, it’s not for everyone — but Google is notorious for flipping its rules on their heads, so stay tuned.

      @Danielle — Google has socialized your contact list, but given you control over how and what you communicate with various individuals. If you sign up for Google+. Eventually your social profile data will be used to personalize all of Google’s services (including search). Believe it or not, it’s what the market demanded — Google needed some kind of answer to Facebook. Americans already spend more time on the social network than Google, and the Bing/Facebook integration was threatening its search product.

      However, Google+ and Google Profiles are completely opt in (that’s what it promised with Buzz, but it wasn’t the case; hopefully a class action suit and the FTC breathing down its neck has made the company more careful this time around ). If you like Gmail and Blogger as they are, you don’t have to sign up for Google+ (but you will be prodded).

  1. In my case, I have spent 3 years involving and connecting my name as preparation for changing it legally (for several reasons). I have my graphic and 3D work under that name, my photo albums and portfolios, my writing.

    This has been a deliberate plan and an identity which is just as solid as my “real name” and certainly as solid in reputation and consistency (more so, because as an old netizen I understood the nature of information on the net very long ago and am very careful about my personal data).

    My use of name is no different from that of Jo Murphy, Sam Clemons, James Osterburg or thousands of other artists throughout time. If someone needs to profile me to market to me, my eyes see exactly the same thing; my interests are the same; my wallet is the same. I’m there; I see the ads.

    Any reasoning beyond this smacks of collusion and an attempt to end-run a lot of laws and regulations, starting with the US Constitution.

  2. Don’t misrepresent Facebook. Their policy is actually much clearer than Google; real names only. There are famous joke accounts on Facebook largely because those are clearly jokes (such as petbooks) and unless people are annoyed by them, Facebook allows them to stay.

    Facebook by turn does remove people who on accusations of not using their “real” identity, even if the name they’re using is in fact the name they use in real life and among their social circles.

    People are troubled by Google’s initial statements because their actual policy is vaguely written, and some of Google’s “first response” emergency PR has been rather evasive.

  3. “Opensource Obscure is not a person but a persona, and Google+ is not about presenting a manufactured image of yourself to the world, but managing your online identity.”

    OpenSource Obscure is as much of a person as Mark Twain. Your online identity includes even manufactured images of yourself, and subsequent personae involved. Google+ does *not* therefore, manage your online identity, it merely is trying to mask (poorly) the fact that it wishes only to manage root identities – even if such violates the international right to privacy.

    You will find many more references to Aeonix Aeon or Darian Knight on a search engine than you will find with my root identity – because those two pseudonyms are the ones most people know me by, even in real life (aside from family).

    So I respectfully ignore your assertion that pseudonyms are not “real people”. Mark Twain would have put you, and Google, in the proper place.

    • @KAD — Great point. Facebook requires your “real name” but allows you to display a pseudonym. Definitely not the case on Google+.

      @Will/Darian/Aeonix — it would be an honor to have Mark Twain put me in my place. But I’m sure Mark Twain would get an exception from Google, same with David Bowie, Iggy Pop and likely you. I think your points are very valid — just like Mark Twain, it sounds like your virtual identity (as well as @Miso’s) has become a widely acknowledged root identity. The way it is set up now, Google+ seems aimed at users seeking to manage and socialize via their root identities, and it’s attempting to navigate the nuances of pseudonyms and virtual (online or offline) identities.

      The more debate I see over the issue, the more it feels like that’s a futile quest that Google should give up. Exceptions for everyone!

  4. If Opensource Obscure read the terms of service, this wouldn’t be a surprise to him. Really, any social network that isn’t trying to be the next dead-by-the-roadside mess as happened to Orkut, Livejournal and Myspace expect you to be yourself.


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