The Google+ Real Name Policy Is Wrong

I don’t know the motivation behind the Real Name policy.

Maybe someone at Google got scragged by an anonymous poster and is exacting his or her twisted revenge on the world.

But all it’s doing is making Google look like a bunch of amateurs and Police Statists who are more interested in forcing people to do something that people don’t want to do.

In theory, making people use their real names is good. Who doesn’t want people to stand up to the things they post online?

I’ve used my real name online as soon as I could.

Back in the days of The Source and CompuServe, people were assigned an ID. You had no idea who was behind that ID unless they revealed themselves on a bulletin board or in email.

On CompuServe, there was the C.B. Simulator, the prehistoric all-ASCII precursor to today’s Twitter. Anyone could use any damned handle they wanted. For a few days, I was Remington Steele(!). (Other handles I don’t remember.)

When I started to use Bulletin-Board Systems, I used my real name when it was available. Always.

I have a lonnnng trail of online postings. Some I’m happy with, some that make me cringe. But they’re all mine.

But using my real name is my choice.

There are many reasons people would want to use an assumed name or handle, none of which are nefarious.

One that is close to my sandbox are writers who put out work under different names.

Hell, even Stephen King did that!

Right now, there are many, many writers working in the Romance genre who do a variety of series under different pen names. They also have different Twitter accounts under these pen names to address their different markets.

In Google’s eyes, that’s fraudulent or deceptive.

In the real world, it’s what happens.

And there’s nothing wrong with that.

Here’s a real-life example that should just devastate the thinking people at Google and make them reconsider their current course:

Click = big

Come on, Google. You’re all bright over there. How could none of you have ever seen that as a possibility?

There was recently a debate on Google+ over the mandatory disclosure of gender.

That’s not an issue I participated in.

First, I’m a white male. We are seen as the rulers (no matter how far down the ladder we might be).

Second, I’m not someone who is going to use someone’s sex or transsexualism or sexual orientation against them.

Third, the people involved in the debate could speak from real life. I could not.

But when it comes to writers and writing, this is where I have something to say, dammit.

The Google+ Real Name policy is just utterly wrongheaded.

It is against human nature.

It is against Internet Culture.

It is against the reality of how many people — writers, actors, performers, singers, artists — choose to identify themselves to everyone or to different market segments.

The Real Name policy should be dropped.

And Google has to right all the damage it has done.

It has broken trust. That is the mortal sin of the 21st century.

What Google has as its loophole — though it is weak — is that Google+ is still in beta, thus they can claim they have been learning as they go along — as they did with the gender issue.

But correcting this requires humility and an apology.

And, Google, if you’ve forgotten how to do that, go read this.

As for step three there, this is What You Do;

1) Restore all accounts
2) Apologize individually by email
3) And make sure they are satisfied



Filed under Google, Socialtech, Stupid

37 responses to “The Google+ Real Name Policy Is Wrong

  1. William

    Banning people from Google+ over this name issue is bad enough, but potentially destroying somebody’s GMail history, business documents, and deleting them from all of Google’s services on top of this is truly despicable.

    Google loves to claim that they do no evil, but their actions always indicate otherwise for anything that truly matters IMO.

  2. zzz

    “Who doesn’t want people to stand up to the things they post online?”

    Certainly not the governments of Iran, China, Syria etc.


  3. I can understand the benefit of NOT using your own name. But why is everyone picking on Google now? Why haven’t they done so in the 7 years that Facebook existed? Why is this all of the sudden a problem?

    • mikecane

      For myself, it’s because I’m on G+. I don’t use FB at all and don’t give a damn if that system sinks into the earth. But also: Google is just about pervasive.

  4. Real names are total dog outs. Facebook won’t run with Doktor Snake AT ALL. I emailed FB a few times, sayin’ look I pretty much only exist as Doc. That’s how people know me. My biggest selling book is written as Doktor Snake. FB, of course, didn’t reply.

    What about Muddy Waters? The RZA? Raekwon? U-God? Lightnin’ Hopkins? Howlin’ Wolf?

    Google, Facebook, all these organizations are being pedantic and pedestrian. It’s like you have to be John motherfuckin’ Smith. Facebook say it’s so your friends from school can find you. Well fuck that. I’ve been runnin’ from them since I left school… and I hardly bothered going to school anyway.

    So Google and FB are saying we’ve all got to be good little children who went to school and had an education (I had neither) and be called John and Jane Doe. God forbid you’re creative in any way.

    The fact is, there is EMPOWERMENT in finding your own real name – like Howlin’ Wolf did, and The RZA. The creative names are the REAL names. By adopting what I call a “magical” name you stand to become all that you are and all that you can be.

    To me, this real name thing is very whitey too – note that Africans regularly name their kids with wild and colorful names.

    So I say to Google, don’t be dumb-asses! The “real name” policy ain’t cool and it ain’t rock and roll!

    • mikecane

      FB has all the people I NEVER WANT TO SEE AGAIN on it. I know this. Because I peeked. Gruesome.

      • Thing is, on Facebook, if you have a professional name, you can start a page for that pseudonym just like you can start one for Jack’s Burger Shack or whatever. The way they have enabled pages now as logins means that effectively on Facebook you can interact exactly as your pseudonym just like a real-named person.

        I can’t quite believe Google hasn’t figured out that there will need to be entities who interact as multiple online personas and/or as representatives of businesses. I saw a rumor that “G+ For Business” was supposedly coming soon, but that’s no help to the people right now who are getting wiped out!

  5. I put something similar to this on my Blog. I have an alias precisely because I AM a writer of erotica, and I don’t see the need to tie my real name with my writing name. I had a google + account, and it was pretty rockin’. Then I saw this crap coming down this weekend, and ended up deleting it. I really couldn’t risk Google deleting all of my email — especially since when I tried to download it to my home machine, it didn’t work. That would be thousands of emails that I’d lose.
    I really hope that they reverse this, but they might not. I didn’t join facebook for exactly this reason.

    Good post, but I doubt it’s going to convince the people who strongly believe that EVERYONE should use their real names.

  6. Great post. As a writer of, among other things, erotica, I know you speak the truth. I write under my real name (I’m using it right now!), but I know a lot of people who don’t, for very good reasons. I actually want to start publishing some writing for children, and if I do that, I will probably need a pen name, because of my erotica! (Bass-ackwards, ain’t it?)

    The flip side of the same coin of Ian/Emma Blair is the number of straight women who write gay male erotica under pen names. Popular, successful writers — many of them. (Not me. I’m a lesbian. A real one. Not a straight man pretending to be one. Ahem.)

    I also know a lot of bloggers who keep their identity secret because what they are writing about (or revealing about themselves) is socially stigmatized, though not illegal. This can include having mental illness, being in recovery from alcohol addition, having any disability at all, being gay, being kinky, or writing anything pertaining to sex, including extremely noncriminal activities, such as being a sexual-health educator! Violet Blue warned of what would happen because of Google+’s ridiculous sex policing, and it is coming to pass. In terms of things like disability, legal or not, employers can and will fire or refuse to hire based on disability, which is a pretty good reason to keep that confidential.

  7. Adult Halloween Costumes

    Using the “Beta” label is a common way providers of internet services can avoid legal liability for the things they do – and don’t do. Look at Farmville — its been in “beta” for years, and will never be out of it (of course, some of us who once played the game and stopped because of all the glitches and nonsense might agree its not ready for primetime. But I digress.)

    Its clear to me, as a woman, that this policy was made up by a bunch of men, who never consulted a single woman. I have to consider my own personal security and safety, even on the internet, or perhaps I should say especially on the internet, in a way a man never does. I know women who have been cyber-stalked, harrassed via email and any other way their stalker could find to trace them. I know a number of women who have been stalked in real life, heck, I’m one of them. I was stalked for a while in college, my stalker was a casual acquaintance who refused to take “no” when he asked me out. He proceeded to spend months on end following me around, chasing after me even, showing up in my classes, outside my job, he even moved in three houses down from me. I changed jobs, moved, my male friends ganged together to make sure I never left the labs at night alone, a year or two later, we ended up on the same train one night, and he still tried to follow me. This was over twenty years ago, and to this day, I guard my personal privacy zealously, not wanting to give out my phone number (unlisted) in public, removing my personal details from those “find old friends” sites that enable stalkers, making sure my name isn’t out there. (I have an unusual name, I checked the last U.S. census, only 11 people in the USA have the same name I do.)

    I have several blogs, and consequently have several google accounts to access my webmaster tools. I’ve never lied to Google, as long as they don’t plaster my name all over the place, I’ve always told them my real name and contact info. As long as my personally identifiable information is reasonably secure, fine, but the minute a company crosses the line (as Amazon apparently did when they sold or gave my name and DOB to any company they liked, which invites identity theft) and not only do I get mad, but I’ve started giving a fake birthdate to everyone but the government and employers. Damned if I’ll let Google post my real name all over the place, and for no good reason I can see.

  8. Another writer here who has published erotica. For myself, the name I use – – which, while not my FULL name, is, under most interpretations, my LEGAL name — is a pseudonym not for myself, but for the sake of my husband. We live in the Deep South USA, and my husband is a non-tenured academic at a university here. College students being what they are, connecting what I write to his career could end everything should someone decide to go all pearl clutchy (because, you know, writers who write about murders or spaceships are Making It Up, but writers who write about sex MUST be Writing From Their Sordid Lives).

    I’m waiting for Google to question me about my name.

    The part of all this I keep coming back to is that names — “real” names, or pseudonyms, or whatever — are abstractions that can be faked, along with all their documentation. There is no good way to prevent someone from creating a completely fictitious identity. If our “real names” were inviolate, identity theft wouldn’t exist, would it?

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  10. Steve

    It amazes me that so many people are so eager to get involved with corporations whose business model is, essentially,
    1. Get a lot of people to give you a shitload of personal information.
    2. Sell this information to any spammer who can meet your price.

  11. Not using my real name as Google knows it

    “I don’t know the motivation behind the Real Name policy.”

    My guess is that they are trying to create a utopic online version of a small, mid western American town, where everyone knows everyone else’s name. The way they keep going on and on about hangouts being like “people sitting out their front porch” is the clue.

    They appear to be under a misguided belief that real names in public will improve discourse – as someone who has been involved in flame-fests with people using their real names (from work email addresses no less) I’m convinced it’s not going to work anywhere near as well as they think it will.

    Like all Utopia building exercises, it is doomed to fail. The questions are when it will fail, how it will fail and what the consequences to Google as a whole are.

  12. Steve is right there. I do all my stuff on my site. That’s where I’m at. And I do what I like. So I’m not interested in the big corps. Don’t need ’em.

    I just find it a wind up about names. Like I say, look at the old blues boys and modern hip-hop and rapper people. You find your real name later. A lot of the time it’s not what you were named by your parents. It’s not on your birth certificate.

    And you can legally change your name, anyway. So to me all this “real name” insistence is lunacy. Then again the vast majority of people in the world stick with their born names. So Google is probably doing the right thing – it don’t want no outlaws joining up…

    • mikecane

      Love it how companies that were formed by rebels suddenly become the new Police State Overlords. First Apple, now Google. The worst kind of hypocrisy.

      • Shock Me

        If they were ACTUAL police state overlords they would shut down your board and put you against the wall for showing counter-revolutionary tendencies. I try to avoid the worst kind of hyperbole.

        I agree with your sentiment. But, as bad a policy as Google’s new one is, there are GENUINE evil people in the world and Sergei Brin is a rank amateur compared to them.

  13. This is absolutely spot on. My gorilla suit is both a persona and a brand. Silly policy. If Google doesn’t relent on this, G+ is going to be even more quiet and lonely than it already is.

  14. I write my blog under this pseudonym because of the need to protect real life personnel from the sometimes sensitive material I discuss there. I’ve developed an entire set of relationships derived from my ‘Pandora’ identity, and since Google+ is (in general) way better than the likes of Facebook for interacting and sharing, I was hoping to maintain those relationships there, as well as potentially develop new ones.

    But I fear that I’m about to get axed.

    So yeah – basically, I agree with you! Excellent post.

  15. Spartacus

    I don’t want to follow real people!

    No Mad-Hatter! No Bat-Man & Robin! No Cat in the Hat!

    This is not a world I can exist in.. It’s very sad because some of us think that Google is just a little different from the other big boys. Not quite such a pig. But this, is bollox.

    I feel betrayed..

  16. What exactly is wrong with pseudonyms? Millions of people use online identities for a hundred legitimate reasons. In a world where everything is online, it is actually smart not to put all your information out there ‘visible to everybody’. Current and potential employers, enemies, rivals, stalkers, rapists, criminals, political opponents- there are many good reasons to keep certain activities like blogging, commenting, etc separate from your common identity.

    Google shows once again why they’ve always failed at social: they simply don’t get human behaviour. They’re like the Mr Spock of tech, seeing everything through the eyes of algorithms. Twitter grew because people are allowed to use pseudonyms. It’s what customers want. It’s the nature of the web. It is surprising that Google of all companies, seems to know so little about the Internet.

  17. Mark C

    So far Google+ hasn’t shown they’re much more than a Facebook clone, and Facebook has been doing this for years. Of course, getting banned from Facebook is really no biggie.

  18. Shock Me

    As an undergraduate, I was in a restaurant ordering a pizza. The clerk asked me, “Can I have a name?” “yes, of course!” I enthusiastically responded with the first name that popped into my head “Tom”.

    If I ever needed to use Google+, which I suspect is highly unlikely, and they asked me for a name, I’d give them one. It wouldn’t necessarily be mine though.

  19. "Jack"

    It’s slightly naive to believe that Google’s intent is to reunite high school friends, or “to create a utopic (sic) online version of a small, mid western American town,” or any similar altruistic goals.
    “Steve” (July 24) said it best, above. This is about data mining, plain and simple. It’s about how corporations can tempt people to reveal information about themselves that will help marketing people reach them more precisely with more specifically targeted advertising. That’s it.
    As corporations, they don’t have feelings, don’t want friends, don’t need to be liked–all the things that social networks exploit to gather information. They just want profit. And their profit comes from the information they sell about us. So real names apparently command a higher price than fake names. That makes perfect sense from a marketing perspective.
    Why would anyone expect Google to be motivated by anything other than profit? They are a profit-making business.
    If you’re signing up for a service whose purpose is to collect and sell your information to 3rd parties, it seems silly to complain about their attempt to max their profit.

  20. Confuzled

    Great post. Here, here.

  21. I basically agree. My problem is that I’ve been using this pen name for over a decade all over the web, but Google doesn’t appreciate that. I gave them 11,000 pages mentioning me indexed by their own search engine. They don’t care and insist I’m a fake person. It’s really insulting and frustrating.

  22. All I will say is GREAT POST, and hopefully Google is listening.


  23. anonymous

    The solution to your problem is simple. If you don’t like their policy don’t use their service.

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