Google’s (NASDAQ:GOOG) policy for enforcing real names on its new Google+ social network has roiled consumer privacy waters, so much so that the search engine is accelerating changes to the process.
This has made some of the service’s 20 million-plus users upset about two things: That they could not use Google+ with nicknames or false names to hide their identities and that Google unceremoniously turned off their accounts without notifying them first and giving them a chance to make corrections.
To wit, Google is changing how it notifies users that they are not in step with Google+’ terms of service, said Bradley Horowitz, vice president of Google+, on Google+ July 25.
Horowitz, who acknowledged Google’s compliance process “can be frustrating and disappointing,” said Google will now warn users and give them a chance to change the name they have used before the account is suspended.
Google will also provide “clear indication of how the user can edit their name to conform to our community standards,” he said.
Google is also working on how to improve the signup process to reduce the likelihood that users get themselves into a state that will later result in review.
Finally, to allow for nicknames, maiden names and personal descriptions, which aren’t allowed in Google profile names, Horowitz said users can add nicknames and maiden names to the “Other names” portion of their Google+ profile.
Users with permission to view those fields can search for users using that term. “For example: some of my colleagues call me “elatable,” a pseudonym I’ve used on many services, so I’ve added it to my list of other names,” Horowitz explained.
Suppose users can’t find other users’ profiles with nicknames or maiden names. The “Employment,” “Occupation” and “Education” fields in Google+ profiles can appear in hovercards all across Google+ to those with permission to view them.
Horowitz added that Google is continuing to build features for different use cases, such as businesses, teenagers, organizations and other entities.
Not everyone is happy and some want pseudonyms to be accepted as real names, not relegated to the other names stigma. Flickr and Hunch Co-founder Caterina Fake wrote July 25:
“Pseudonyms are not in themselves harmful,” es, they can be used for harm, as when people use them for anonymous, slanderous attacks, trolling, etc., but in the vast majority of cases there is no harm done. Importantly, they can serve to protect vulnerable groups.”
“How real names benefit Facebook and Google is another story, for another post,” said Fake, alluding to the reason why Internet companies want people using real names.
That reason would be targeted, social advertising. Google has not infused (some would say infested) Google+ with ads, but it’s clear that is the future direction the search engine is headed. On Facebook, where these ads are prevalent, ads are targeted at users and their friends.
Without real names, it’s hard to properly target users, whose identities are tied to their real names. This is the challenge Google finds itself wrestling with.