A good post around related concerns about gender being a required field when you sign up for Google+, tying back in with having to make certain information public, and risk to certain users:
(They have responded by allowing that setting to be made private, after all. He also goes into concerns about lumping everything under “Other”, which was something I had to think about signing up. Also, besides preferring to be able to keep this private anyway, I am sick of having to identify as “Other” in various contexts–including race/ethnicity here in the UK, where I could also choose “Other mixed” (how lovely!)–thanks to the limited fixed categories supplied.)
And anyone with unpopular or dissenting political opinions may choose not to risk their livelihood by identifying with a pseudonym.
As Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens put forth in deciding McIntyre v. Ohio Elections Comm’n 514 U.S. 334, 357 (1995),
“Anonymity is a shield from the tyranny of the majority. It thus exemplifies the purpose behind the Bill of Rights, and of the First Amendment in particular: to protect unpopular individuals from retaliation—and their ideas from suppression—at the hand of an intolerant society. The right to remain anonymous may be abused when it shields fraudulent conduct. But political speech by its nature will sometimes have unpalatable consequences, and, in general, our society accords greater weight to the value of free speech than to the dangers of its misuse.”
Just as using “real” names can have real consequences, mandating the use of “real” names can too, excluding from the conversation anyone who fears retribution for sharing their views. While one added value of requiring real names might be increased “civility” of the conversation, it is most certainly to the detriment of diversity.
A couple of excellent posts from Danah Boyd:
The people who most heavily rely on pseudonyms in online spaces are those who are most marginalized by systems of power. “Real names” policies aren’t empowering; they’re an authoritarian assertion of power over vulnerable people. These ideas and issues aren’t new (and I’ve even talked about this before), but what is new is that marginalized people are banding together and speaking out loudly. And thank goodness…
Worse for Google… Tech folks are VERY happy to speak LOUDLY when they’re pissed off. So while countless black and Latino folks have been using nicks all over Facebook (just like they did on MySpace btw), they never loudly challenged Facebook’s policy. There was more of a “live and let live” approach to this. Not so lucky for Google and its name-bending community. Folks are now PISSED OFF.
Personally, I’m ecstatic to see this much outrage. And I’m really really glad to see seriously privileged people take up the issue, because while they are the least likely to actually be harmed by “real names” policies, they have the authority to be able to speak truth to power. And across the web, I’m seeing people highlight that this issue has more depth to it than fun names (and is a whole lot more complicated than boiling it down to being about anonymity, as Facebook’s Randi Zuckerberg foolishly did).
What’s at stake is people’s right to protect themselves, their right to actually maintain a form of control that gives them safety. If companies like Facebook and Google are actually committed to the safety of its users, they need to take these complaints seriously. Not everyone is safer by giving out their real name. Quite the opposite; many people are far LESS safe when they are identifiable. And those who are least safe are often those who are most vulnerable.
People don’t like to be configured. They don’t like to be forcibly told how they should use a service. They don’t want to be told to behave like the designers intended them to be. Heavy-handed policies don’t make for good behavior; they make for pissed off users.
This doesn’t mean that you can’t or shouldn’t design to encourage certain behaviors. Of course you should. The whole point of design is to help create an environment where people engage in the most fruitful and healthy way possible. But designing a system to encourage the growth of healthy social norms is fundamentally different than coming in and forcefully telling people how they must behave. No one likes being spanked, especially not a crowd of opinionated adults…
Companies that build systems that people use have power. But they have to be very very very careful about how they assert that power. It’s really easy to come in and try to configure the user through force. It’s a lot harder to work diligently to design and build the ecosystem in which healthy norms emerge. Yet, the latter is of critical importance to the creation of a healthy community. Cuz you can’t get to a healthy community through force.
From Kee Hinckley:
+Sheila Marie has written an excellent post (http://j.mp/nE97nC) on the current and historical importance of name privacy in the psychiatric profession.
I was not aware of how the American Psychiatric Association was first forced to address and discuss their position on homosexuality. Unfortunately there are far too many aspects of our society where discrimination is so ingrained that those affected dare not speak up on their own behalf under their own names. That someone would have to present at a psychiatric conference wearing a mask underscores how bad the situation can get. These battles continue in the psychiatric community to this very day, as anyone who is transgender or practices BDSM will be happy to tell you—if you’re willing to talk to someone who is using a pseudonym…
We need to remember that the internet has fundamentally changed the concept of “public”. Before the internet, you could go to a demonstration or conference and speak out on an issue, and very few people outside of your peers would know that you had taken a controversial stand. The risk of your clients and neighbors finding out was relatively low. That simply isn’t true on the internet. Now everything you say publicly is available to everybody who knows, or even doesn’t know you. (How many of you have seen the random trolls who seek out particular topics just to sabotage the conversation. Do you really want one of those finding out that you live next door?)
From Greg Laden:
This gives a couple of really frightening examples of the hatefulness a couple of female science bloggers he is friends with have been subjected to, while using pseudonyms. (At least one was targeted by members of a nearby white supremacist group strictly on the grounds that she came across as a woman, not even having started posting to her newly created blog yet! Thank goodness they didn’t get the chance to hurt her.) I have known several women who had to close their blogs or go totally passworded private due to scary shit happening, with nutjobs tracking them down IRL and threatening them and/or their kids. This was also blogging pseudonymously, and similar stories are not hard to find; no wonder a lot of people want to maintain even that level of protection! Also, from his post:
That was an example of a person using a pseudonym for valid reasons (because of his job and its conflict with his blogging) but who abused it sufficiently that he could very legitimately been tossed off a social networking system like Google+. But not because he was a pseudo… rather because he was a troublesome ass.
So, no, Google, pseudonymity is not associated with bad behavior. It is very often associated with a means of people having a voice who otherwise could not or who otherwise could have a voice only with an undue risk. Banning the use of pseudonyms is a means of shutting those people up, and that is why the policy is evil…
It is also important that pseudonymity and … I guess we’ll call it nymity … are not as distinctly different as Google+ and many other seem to think. Lots and lots and lots … maybe most … of the Google+ users have declared their name to be something other than what is written in full on the face of their credit cards or associated officially with their bank accounts. Most Jims are James, most Mandy’s are Amandas, and most Kiki’s are …. whatever Kiki usually is. Many people have a middle (or other third) name that is officially part of their name, but don’t use it normally so it is not part of their Google+ name. So what you say? Well, if part of the reason Benno and Google want everyone to use their real name is so that they can be held responsible for what they say, then using a name like Mandy Smith is totally inappropriate and should be banned. If you are a member of Google+, go to the search box and try it. Go ahead. Type in Mandy Smith and see what you get. Mandy Smith might as well be Person X.
From s.e. smith, at Tiger Beatdown:
What this is really about, of course, is capitalism, which some people advocating for legal names will admit, in a sort of roundabout, weird argument. They say ‘it’s not about safety, of course, the service wants real names because then it can sell the data,’ like this somehow ends the argument and the discussion can stop now. This is actually the core of the argument, and it’s the thing that everyone should be talking about, because it has extremely serious implications for online identity, and for the way people use the Internet.
Google+ is not a charitable service run for the benefit of users. It, like scores of other free sites, like Facebook, like Tumblr, like Twitter, like Blogger, etc. is a profit-generating machine. The owners of the site make a profit from user content, and on sites like Google+ and Facebook, there’s also a big potential to make a profit through the direct commodification of user identities. Google makes money when you use your legal name on their site. It makes less when you use a pseudonym. And that is what this about.
Many of the people advocating for pseudonymous use are activists, many of whom use the Internet for online organising and the exchange of information and ideas. They are attempting to work within a capitalist system to create change, which is essentially a losing proposition. As Flavia has already discussed here, social media as a whole is not democratic. It is a capitalist tool. If Google’s approach to this issue takes on, it could make the Internet substantially less safe for activists worldwide.
From Mary at Geek Feminism:
Here’s a separate thread for people most interested in keeping track of official, semi- and unofficial pronouncements about pseudonymity and/or privacy on Google+ in particular, in addition to the more general discussions taking place at Anti-pseudonym bingo and Social networking requirements. You can also discuss your feelings and reaction to various announcements here. warped-ellipsis, you can re-post your existing links in this thread if you like.
If you’re linking to a blog or Google+ discussion, please also include a summary or excerpt that explains why you’re linking to it. Is it a user test showing such-and-such a property of Google+? Is it a statement by Google or an employee? Is it a change or a clarification? That sort of thing. (No linking/quoting anything from G+ that isn’t marked “Public” please.)
Note: yes, Google+ is in beta/early launch/testing/something, and they’re actively seeking feedback. Please no nagging to people to send in their comments here as feedback, since they now know this for sure and presumably they have or will send it in if they want to, and if they haven’t they presumably have their reasons.
From jwz, with comments that are well worth checking out (as they are on pretty much all the posts included here!):
I hadn’t been paying much attention to the Google “Real Names” clusterfuck, because it was so obvious to me that they were going to lose this one in the press that it would all be over soon. But it’s still not over, and the Google brass appear to be digging in their heels, despite the universally bad press they’re getting over it.
And then the other night I had dinner with a friend which turned into an hour long argument over it, because he thought that forcing everyone to use their real names was just fine. This is someone I’ve known for decades, so to say that I was shocked and horrified by his attitude is an understatement. It was as if my friend had suddenly started beginning sentences with, “I’m not a racist, but…”
I imagine that like my friend, many of you, my readers, fit into the category of “white, middle-class males who haven’t left the cubicle farm in years”, so let me give you some reading that will hopefully make you understand why even though you have nothing to hide and live your life like an open book, pseudonyms are really important to people who do not lead the cozy existence that you do.
As Anna Pearce commented on this a little while ago:
This one is especially interesting because it allegedly quotes from internal discussions Google has had about the #nymwars issue. According to the post, Google seems no reason to allow pseuds because white dudes don’t care about it, they just care about search results.
I really hate “arguments” that amount to “white dudes are all utterly self-involved assholes.”
And, from Liz Ditz:
Social media in health care are here to stay, and as Mr. Najera’s work has shown, can advance the lay person’s understanding of public health and epidemiology. But being a strong public advocate can invite push-back from people who disagree — say, over the value, safety, and efficacy of vaccines. Not all of those who disagree are civil or even rational. Some of those who disagre elect to cause trouble in the advocate’s place of employment…which is easily discoverable if the advocate uses social media under the name on the advocate’s paycheck.
I hope this will give some people who oppose pseudonymous social-media use some pause. I hope it gives health care social media mavens some particular pause.
This has now gone from my being angry on principle to being truly AFRAID .
From Google CEO Eric Schmidt:
“The only way to manage this is true transparency and no anonymity,” Schmidt said. “In a world of asynchronous threats, it is too dangerous for there not to be some way to identify you. We need a [verified] name service for people. Governments will demand it.”(emphasis mine)
GOVERNMENTS will demand it? Didn’t Google stand up to China?
Some of us are privileged to feel safe enough speak out under our real names, some of us are NOT
This is a danger to us all.
Google, Privacy and the New Explosion of Data – Techonomy
Can’t say that increases my confidence level, no.
So, maybe this “real” name policy might not work out so well for everyone, and might not even do anything like what Google is claiming they want. Does this mean that it’s on the way out? Not so’s you’d notice; someone does not seem interested in what large segments of Google+ users have to say about the advisability of continuing on the same path. They continue enforcing a policy that can’t be sanely enforced at all (to paraphrase someone on G+ whose comment I can’t find right now), against the stated disagreement of a lot of their own employees who are expected to do the enforcing–and at least some of whom may have been gagged from talking about it publicly. I don’t know for sure what’s going on there, but the Household Google Employee here has been rather conspicuously refraining from commenting on this issue at all. I have not inquired further, since I figure they will talk about it if they want to–and I know they take work-related privacy stuff seriously, including the existence of G+ before it went public and they were able to invite other people.
On the whacked-out enforcement end of things:
This roundup also from Liz Ditz includes a lot of more general links, but also a number of links to the frustrating saga of Skud
‘s experiences with their absurd policies and enforcement, which I hadn’t tracked down for this. Definitely well worth a look, for people who have not been following that. Not too surprisingly, a lot more (and more recent stuff) having to do with the nymwars has been posted to her G+ account
whenever she has had access to it under different name variations approved and then found in violation by Google. Also included in Liz’s roundup post are a number of other people’s experiences with enforcement, well worth a look.
From Tim Carmody:
From Stigherrian, posted in spite of some of the language setting my teeth on edge because there are some excellent points, and I can understand the frustration (though, indeed, something is very, very wrong
on a societal level if “cunt” is getting thrown around a lot as an insult):
I knew this would happen sooner or later. Google, a data mining company in the United States, has the ignorant arrogance to tell me, a citizen of Australia, that my name — my legal name — doesn’t fit their scheme for how names “should” work. Well fuck you, arseholes!
What’s worse, this is how they tell you.
They suspend your profile, tell you your name is wrong, and tell you to change it…
Listen, Googlecunts. This name precisely fits your Names Policy.
This is the name I’m “commonly referred to in real life”.
Did you even look to see if that were true before acting? No. Slack cunts.
Not only that, it’s the name that I have consistently used on every legal document, from passport to Medicare card, from property leases to witness statements, for thirty… fucking… years!
Oh, you’re worried about me putting a “.” in the surname field? That’s because I had to put something in there because your stupid fucked-up data verification code demanded that I not leave that field empty, even though that would be the morally and legally correct thing for me to have done.
What’s wrong is not my name. What’s wrong is your fucked-up Names Policy…
What you also seem not to have figured out is how to open a conversation with someone about something as personal as their name.
You don’t fucking well start off by asserting they’re wrong and you’re right and they need to change. Show a bit of goddam humility, you cunts, and gently enquire whether things are as they seem. And then, only after there’s been a reasonable period for people to respond, do you start suspending services.
Note: apparently, at this point, they have switched to giving people four days’ notice to comply before getting their entire Google profiles deactivated. How do you comply without making stuff up if your actual name does not fit the way their policy is being applied–which is not as written?
From Dan Tynan (because–surprise!–I couldn’t find the posts I was actually trying to locate again on these topics through a Google search. Not that there is anything wrong with these!):
Worse: Several of those booted are reporting that in addition to being kicked off G+, they also had all their Google account data flushed — emails, photos, videos, Google docs they had created, articles saved in Google Reader, the whole schmear…
First, Google doesn’t appear to understand the difference between names and identities. Your name might be Reginald Dwight and all your friends call you ‘Reg’, but your identity is Elton John. What should you use on your G+ account?
Second, arbitrarily deleting someone’s account just because they use a pseudonym is plain stupid. How would Google know what your friends or co-workers normally call you? There are better ways to authenticate identities – like sending a PIN code via SMS to your cell phone number, which only one person can own at any one time. The real goal should be to ensure that people use just one G+ account and use it consistently. Beyond that, who cares what they call themselves?
As for deleting people’s Google Data lock, stock, and gbarrel, it may not be related to the names issue at all. But if it’s related to another Terms of Service violation, Google has not been at all clear about what these people did wrong. Hopefully they’re just mistakes that will be corrected; still, Google’s silence on this whole matter is troubling.
When Google kills your account, what happens to your Android phone?
What if you owned an Android phone, which uses your Google ID to access all kinds of data services, and Google killed your account? Would you have a brick in your pocket?
I asked Google what would happen. The news is both good and bad.
“Your Android phone would still function, for example to make phone calls, surf the Web, send and receive texts, etc.,” sayeth a Google spokeshuman. “Obviously Gmail, Contacts and other services tied to your Google Account wouldn’t work.”
In that case, your only option would be to create a new Google account and, yes, start from scratch. That would likely involve a factory reset of your phone, so kiss your contacts, text messages, and other stored data goodbye.
Fortunately, with the exception of Google Voice, your cell number is not associated with your Google account, says the G-rep. So your phone itself isn’t banned, even if your old account name is.
What should you do? Back up all your Google data now, before the inconceivable happens. Google has set up a site called the Data Liberation Front and a service called Google Takeout designed to help you move most of your stuff off G-services. The problem? It falls down badly when it comes to Gmail – probably the most important Google service for most of us.
Want to access your Gmail messages when you’re not on Gmail? The most straightforward way is to use a third-party email client like Outlook or Thunderbird and download your email into it. (Be sure to leave a copy on the Gmail servers if you want to access it from other machines.)
From Rainyday Superstar, who has also, not surprisingly, run afoul of the names policy. Having seen some of her accounts of dealing with Google shared on G+, I have been keeping up with interest. She has included a lot of screenshots of being blocked from other services, and has a lot of other posts tagged Nymwars:
And no wonder, after all that. :(
And, like Skud, I have seen other people who were suspended by reasonably including their nym in quotes, as per standard practice.
From Gary Walker, with an experiment showing just how badly managed this whole farce is:
And, yeah, there’s a lot more there of that caliber. And some good comments, as usual.
Not sure how to wrap up here, other than to reiterate that some high-ups at Google are digging a huge hole for their entire company. Very similar to what David pointed out in a comment on the last nymwars post, they are quickly burning through any goodwill, not just with me but with an awful lot of other “early adopters” who actually work in tech. And with their own employees. I wish I were surprised that someone at Google has decided to be arsy about this, but as was well-said in a different context, “one element of bad philosophy often leads to another” (actually, maybe not such a different context, since their knowledge of users’ data brings them some power of the same type discussed there!). Even if they stop obstinately being evil, I am just about fed up with the way they’ve taken to treating people who use their services. Even if they end up offering copious apologies–which seems unlikely–that would not undo the hassle and losses incurred by users who have run afoul of said arsiness.
It makes me sorry in a way that I went ahead and signed up using my “real” name and profile photo, stubborn as I can be about organizations insisting on ridiculous things for no other reason other than that they can. ;)
I learned this the hard way, and started using a gender-neutral nym after maybe a month of getting online in, IIRC, 1993. Just try going on one of the larger IRC networks (I preferred Undernet, since the number of abusive assholes on EFnet ran me off quickly) with (a) a feminine-sounding nick, (b) a *.edu-resolving IP address, and/or (c) the assigned e-mail address based on your surname, which is still easily looked up in a student/faculty directory, rather than an alias. Try it.
That was beyond the many, many unsolicited /querys of varying degrees of subtlety and insultingness, but all unwanted. This all slowed down to a trickle, using something that appeared gender-neutral-verging-on-masculine.