Earlier this month, Google+ kicked a geeky hornet’s nest by suspending the accounts of users registered under pseudonyms and nicknames. The angry reaction to their Facebook-like “real names” policy was unsurprising, considering the tech-centric early-adopter types who currently populate the nascent social network. I don’t want to call the Google+ crowd (of which I am a member) nerdy, but let’s just say that more than a few users would rather be known as “Lord Voldemort” than whatever happens to be printed on their birth certificates.
Speaking of those birth certificates, Google would like to see them. When suspended users complained to Google, they were given ‘review’ forms. If you insist that “BonerKing” is your ‘common name,’ Google will ask you for government-issued ID to prove it:
We have reviewed your appeal and need more information in order to verify that the name entered [ __ ] is your common name.
Please reply to this email with a copy of your government issued ID, which we will dispose of after review.
Critics of the policy brought up numerous people for whom pseudonyms are perfectly reasonable and necessary, such as women with abusive exes or stalkers, government employees forbidden from using their real names on social networks, gay teens who are out online but not at home, and so on. (As an aside, wouldn’t the entire online dating industry cease to exist if ‘real name’ policies were standardized?)
The debate has come to be known as the #Nymwars, just in case additional proof of the disgruntled users’ geekery was needed. As it rages, Google has sprinkled fuel on the fire by introducing a “Verified” account system, similar to the one used on Twitter. Some team at Google now has the job of contacting every “Lady Gaga” on the network to find out if one of them is actually her highness Stefani Germanotta.
The move raises new questions: Lady Gaga, after all, is not the name on Ms.Germanotta’s government-issued ID. So why does she get to use her nickname when the rest of us cannot? Because she’s a celebrity, stupid. But since when does Google care about celebrities? And isn’t there something weird about Google demanding to see our ID under any circumstance?
It may not be ‘evil’ per se, but it sure does feel a bit…unGoogly. I have an interview request in with the search giant, who have been remarkably open with and responsive to me in the past. I hope to share their thinking on these policies in an upcoming post.
Jesse Brown is the host of TVO.org’s Search Engine podcast. He is on Twitter @jessebrown
Update: Google initially granted me an interview on this, and then nixed it without explanation.