Google Gets User ID Criticism from Web Evangelist Vint Cerf: Report

By Todd R. Weiss  |  Posted 2013-03-05 Print this article Print

By January 2012, Google did ease up on some of its original real name policies, allowing support for most nicknames and some pseudonyms.

Jeffrey T. Child, an associate professor of communications at Kent State University who studies privacy and online interactions, said that the Google controversy aside, if users don't like the policies on sites they are using, they are free to go to other social media sites where policies can be different.

Companies like Google do have the right to ask their users to identify themselves by name in order to use their services, said Child.

He does see the problem of using real names in countries with oppressive governments, however, and conceded that such issues are a real danger in such nations.

"But certainly here in the United States we don't have that, and people aren't as concerned about Big Brother watching over them," he said. "A valid reason to ask for real names is that it provides a higher degree of ethics for what people say when they are using their real names."

At the same time, some users might want to avoid using their real names for legitimate reasons, such as controlling who knows that they have a medical condition such as cancer, said Child. In that case, he said, a person might want to post and share information about a condition without telling the world that they suffer from the disease.

The names issue is perhaps "one of the reasons that the Google+ stuff hasn't caught on as much" as other social media platforms, because of Google's push for using real names and pushback from many users, said Child.

"I can see a rational, justified argument for both sides, he said. ”Companies want you to identify yourself so they can identify more about you so they can sell that information. But people may have valid reasons to protect who they are."

That balance will help determine which social media platforms ultimately succeed and which ones fail, he said.

"If people are OK with the service's names policies, it will be a successful venture," said Child. "If they are not OK with that, they will go away from it and it won't be a successful service."

Ultimately, people are generally able to find social media sites where they can use their real identities and others where they can use pseudonyms, he said. "We're in an age when a lot of people use a lot of social media accounts. It's not necessarily an either/or decision. It can be both."


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