Google+, Day 5: The "Real Names" Debate
30 Days With Google+: Day 5
Google ruffled feathers when it simply shut down thousands of Google+ accounts citing a policy that you must use your real name for your Google+ profile. Google since backed off a little on how aggressive it is with enforcement, but the policy itself sparked an online debate about the virtues of pseudonyms and the value of using your real name.
What's In a Name?
It basically comes down to this--Google has a policy in place that is designed to cut down on the possibility of social network spam and phishing attacks by ensuring that everyone on Google+ is transparent, and really is who they say they are. The policy states, "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."
Opponents argue that banning the use of pseudonyms changes the social networking dynamic, or that dissidents in some nations could place themselves in danger by using their real name, and they need an outlet for sharing information without risking their lives. If you break the Google policy down, though, it doesn't really seem to enforce the use of a "real" name.
Define "Real Name"
Why? Well, there is never any valid authentication or validation of my identity when I set up a Google profile. I can set up a Gmail account without any proof at all of my identity. The closest it comes to verifying who I am is that it requires a verification code via either text message or voice call. I chose text message, and Google could ostensibly associate my Google profile with the identity tied to that mobile phone number--but it is also possible that I asked to borrow a stranger's mobile phone for a minute just to receive the verification text. Google doesn't know one way or the other.
When I receive an email invitation, or click on a Google+ invitation link to set up a Google+ profile, it automatically populates the first and last name with the information I supplied for my Gmail account. Again, Google has no idea if this information is valid or not, and it doesn't make any attempt to authenticate my identity. Google just takes my word for it.
What the Google policy on real names states is that you must use your full first and last name in a single language, avoid the use of unusual characters, your profile must represent an individual (not a couple, team, group, business, etc.), and that you can't impersonate anyone. But, since Google has no identity validation process you don't have to use your real name--just some real name.