“Real Names” Policies Are an Abuse of Power

Everyone’s abuzz with the “nymwars,” mostly in response to Google Plus’ decision to enforce its “real names” policy. At first, Google Plus went on a deleting spree, killing off accounts that violated its policy. When the community reacted with outrage, Google Plus leaders tried to calm the anger by detailing their “new and improved” mechanism to enforce “real names” (without killing off accounts). This only sparked increased discussion about the value of pseudonymity. Dozens of blog posts have popped up with people expressing their support for pseudonymity and explaining their reasons. One of the posts, by Kirrily “Skud” Robert included a list of explanations that came from people she polled, including:

  • “I am a high school teacher, privacy is of the utmost importance.”
  • “I have used this name/account in a work context, my entire family know this name and my friends know this name. It enables me to participate online without being subject to harassment that at one point in time lead to my employer having to change their number so that calls could get through.”
  • “I do not feel safe using my real name online as I have had people track me down from my online presence and had coworkers invade my private life.”
  • “I’ve been stalked. I’m a rape survivor. I am a government employee that is prohibited from using my IRL.”
  • “As a former victim of stalking that impacted my family I’ve used [my nickname] online for about 7 years.”
  • “[this name] is a pseudonym I use to protect myself. My web site can be rather controversial and it has been used against me once.”
  • “I started using [this name] to have at least a little layer of anonymity between me and people who act inappropriately/criminally. I think the “real names” policy hurts women in particular.
  • “I enjoy being part of a global and open conversation, but I don’t wish for my opinions to offend conservative and religious people I know or am related to. Also I don’t want my husband’s Govt career impacted by his opinionated wife, or for his staff to feel in any way uncomfortable because of my views.”
  • “I have privacy concerns for being stalked in the past. I’m not going to change my name for a google+ page. The price I might pay isn’t worth it.”
  • “We get death threats at the blog, so while I’m not all that concerned with, you know, sane people finding me. I just don’t overly share information and use a pen name.”
  • “This identity was used to protect my real identity as I am gay and my family live in a small village where if it were openly known that their son was gay they would have problems.”
  • “I go by pseudonym for safety reasons. Being female, I am wary of internet harassment.”

You’ll notice a theme here…

Another site has popped up called “My Name Is Me” where people vocalize their support for pseudonyms. What’s most striking is the list of people who are affected by “real names” policies, including abuse survivors, activists, LGBT people, women, and young people.

Over and over again, people keep pointing to Facebook as an example where “real names” policies work. This makes me laugh hysterically. One of the things that became patently clear to me in my fieldwork is that countless teens who signed up to Facebook late into the game chose to use pseudonyms or nicknames. What’s even more noticeable in my data is that an extremely high percentage of people of color used pseudonyms as compared to the white teens that I interviewed. Of course, this would make sense…

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.

What’s funny to me is that people also don’t seem to understand the history of Facebook’s “real names” culture. When early adopters (first the elite college students…) embraced Facebook, it was a trusted community. They gave the name that they used in the context of college or high school or the corporation that they were a part of. They used the name that fit into the network that they joined Facebook with. The names they used weren’t necessarily their legal names; plenty of people chose Bill instead of William. But they were, for all intents and purposes, “real.” As the site grew larger, people had to grapple with new crowds being present and discomfort emerged over the norms. But the norms were set and people kept signing up and giving the name that they were most commonly known by. By the time celebrities kicked in, Facebook wasn’t demanding that Lady Gaga call herself Stefani Germanotta, but of course, she had a “fan page” and was separate in the eyes of the crowd. Meanwhile, what many folks failed to notice is that countless black and Latino youth signed up to Facebook using handles. Most people don’t notice what black and Latino youth do online. Likewise, people from outside of the US started signing up to Facebook and using alternate names. Again, no one noticed because names transliterated from Arabic or Malaysian or containing phrases in Portuguese weren’t particularly visible to the real name enforcers. Real names are by no means universal on Facebook, but it’s the importance of real names is a myth that Facebook likes to shill out. And, for the most part, privileged white Americans use their real name on Facebook. So it “looks” right.

Then along comes Google Plus, thinking that it can just dictate a “real names” policy. Only, they made a huge mistake. They allowed the tech crowd to join within 48 hours of launching. The thing about the tech crowd is that it has a long history of nicks and handles and pseudonyms. And this crowd got to define the early social norms of the site, rather than being socialized into the norms set up by trusting college students who had joined a site that they thought was college-only. This was not a recipe for “real name” norm setting. Quite the opposite. 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.

Likewise, the issue of reputation must be turned on its head when thinking about marginalized people. Folks point to the issue of people using pseudonyms to obscure their identity and, in theory, “protect” their reputation. The assumption baked into this is that the observer is qualified to actually assess someone’s reputation. All too often, and especially with marginalized people, the observer takes someone out of context and judges them inappropriately based on what they get online. Let me explain this in a concrete example that many of you have heard before. Years ago, I received a phone call from an Ivy League college admissions officer who wanted to accept a young black man from South Central in LA into their college; the student had written an application about how he wanted to leave behind the gang-ridden community he came from, but the admissions officers had found his MySpace which was filled with gang insignia. The question that was asked of me was “Why would he lie to us when we can tell the truth online?” Knowing that community, I was fairly certain that he was being honest with the college; he was also doing what it took to keep himself alive in his community. If he had used a pseudonym, the college wouldn’t have been able to get data out of context about him and inappropriately judge him. But they didn’t. They thought that their frame mattered most. I really hope that he got into that school.

There is no universal context, no matter how many times geeks want to tell you that you can be one person to everyone at every point. But just because people are doing what it takes to be appropriate in different contexts, to protect their safety, and to make certain that they are not judged out of context, doesn’t mean that everyone is a huckster. Rather, people are responsibly and reasonably responding to the structural conditions of these new media. And there’s nothing acceptable about those who are most privileged and powerful telling those who aren’t that it’s OK for their safety to be undermined. And you don’t guarantee safety by stopping people from using pseudonyms, but you do undermine people’s safety by doing so.

Thus, from my perspective, enforcing “real names” policies in online spaces is an abuse of power.

54 thoughts on ““Real Names” Policies Are an Abuse of Power

  1. It leaves a bad taste in my mouth that Google is going against the spirit of the internet in an effort to set up this real names policy to try and get a tiny percentage more in advertising dollars. The real names policy that Facebook implemented did not make them immune from competition for advertising dollars in their own platform as all kinds of other services listed at http://www.buyfacebookfansreviews.com exist so this move by Google is pointless because ultimately they only make money if people use their platform. Furthermore, it’s really not even in their self-interest to do this so this move is perplexing: Google could have distinguished themselves from Facebook by allowing people to choose what names they are going by and created a marketable difference between themselves and Facebook.

  2. East Tennessean

    Very nice essay. Something not being addressed though is that all this is presuming that what would solve everything and make everyone happy is accept Google validating your identity, drivers license, SSN, or whatever, and then allow you to have a public facing handle, but your true name would be known to Google.

    It is important to note that this is not acceptable. When we maintain blogs criticizing our corrupt small town governments including the corrupt prosecutor whose crack addicted girlfriend with a long criminal record recently murdered a small child, we don’t want his friend the judge able to find us with a warrant that gets our real name.

    1. Not just one handle but several. Google has already done better than FB in allowing different aspects of lives into separate compartments. It can take it further by allowing people to define their handles as per Circles. Google can take the legitimate name of the user at the initial sign-in, but it should be up to the user to define their Circles along with the handle/avatar that goes with it.

  3. “How dare you write software and give it to me for free under terms with which I disagree? That’s an abuse of power!”

    No, it isn’t. Get your sense of entitlement under control.

    1. Mike

      Sense of entitlement? Pardon me? What is wrong with arguing for our interests and freedoms?

      Why don’t you learn to stand up for yourself, to argue for your rights? Google et al. are extremely large, powerful, profitable and influential corporations. They have the power to shape our internet lives in ways which may be in their interests, but which hurt our freedom and privacy. And our voice as protesting humans, arguing emphatically for our rights, is an important moderating influence upon their behaviour. Why should we not argue for our interests and our rights? You seem to advocate meekly accepting the first, worst, deal offered to us. But we have the power to haggle. We don’t need to drop to our knees and kiss the corporate toe just because it has been presented to us.

      1. twmb

        The point is that they’re offering a free service which people have every right to avoid. If a person wants to sign up to a service that required their name, then provide the name to sign up. You don’t need this service to live. You underestimate the ease with which you live.

    2. frypan

      You’re forgetting that Google+ and Facebook would be NOTHING without the contribution of content from participants. With that fact in mind, as a user of these services I prefer to control the pen name I choose, since it is my content I’ve submitted under that name.

      Further more, I might be having fun on the internet, and expressing a different side than what I normally choose to express with my real name. Perhaps I am only interested in posting about surrealist art… then it makes perfect sense to create an avatar and casual identity in the spirit of Surrealism, and join like-minded people in chats and sharing. It’s called “fun”.. google and FB have forgotten what fun is.

    3. Montenaro

      If “sense of entitlement” means I’m entitled to protect my online reputation and my real life safety then pretty much “yes, I do feel entitled to this”.

    4. Joshua M

      John is right…

      If you don’t like the terms, don’t use the service. It’s their sandbox, they’re letting your play in it for free. If you do play in it, you will follow their rules. If you don’t like the rules, find another sandbox. The sense of entitlement he’s speaking of is you wanting to play in their sandbox but then expecting them to bend the rules to what you want.

      @Montenaro, you are more than entitled to “protect my online reputation and my real life safety” – you simply don’t use the service that requires you to give information you don’t want to give. What you’re not entitled to, is using that service and demanding that you get it your way as well. Especially a free service.

    5. Concerned Citizen

      I understand your comment and I agree with you in principle. But I think that view is really only applicable in a broad sense and in only a situation where there is true freedom of choice. I think it applies less to services than software. And it applies even less when it is something that is more or less a necessity of daily life and where the market is tightly controlled. It has come down to three players owning the entire marketplace. It’s no longer a free system. It has to be regulated. When we’re essentially forced to use something to live in the modern world we have to protected from abuses by the companies providing those services.

      Things have degenerated to the point where if you’re going to use a phone to do anything more than make calls you have to sign up for a google account or buy an iPhone. It is no longer about freely available products and services but these companies need to be regulated like any other public utility because that’s exactly what they are.

      These companies pay essentially no taxes and operate in a grey area. They’re unaccountable. They get away with things that would be illegal for governments and regular corporations. Who knows if they’re not getting these tax breaks and operating immunity in exchange for favors like passing all your private life to governments?

      Now that the reality is that you have to choose between Apple or google just like you do between Verizon, T-Mobile, whatever there has to be regulation to stop strong-arming customers and to protect our privacy. There has to be control over this. If you will argue that since the services are ‘free’ we aren’t customers, I would disagree. We are customers in the sense they make money from us by selling our private information whether individually or aggregated and from creating an environment where we have to buy applications in their walled-gardens. Once your freedom of choice is taken away it is disingenuous to suggest there is a choice.

  4. I have a considerable concern that Facebook, with its recent interest in lobbying and emphasis on real name use under the cover of ‘being authentic’ or stopping cyberbullying, will make a run for being the national online ID card for US citizens. In a somewhat dystopian but not outrageous flavour, it could well become a requirement of US citizens to have Facebook accounts in order to access government services.

    Border and Customs officers have outsourced a lot of their investigative work to on the spot Google searches, and are comfortable making accusations and inferences from whatever the algorithm returns to them. It’s not that far of a stretch (I hope, lest I start fashioning a tinfoil hat) to imagine Facebook offering to outsource the complexities of online identity into a tidy, black and white view of things: you are legitimate under your real name, and not under any other.

    1. lawgeek

      “In a somewhat dystopian but not outrageous flavour, it could well become a requirement of US citizens to have Facebook accounts in order to access government services.”

      This would never happen because it is unconstitutional for the government to require citizens to participate in any sort of transaction with a private third party in order to obtain government services. It is actually for a similar reason that a Federal Court recently determined part of the Obama Health Care Law unconstitutional. The government may make services accessible through Facebook, but were the government to REQUIRE citizens to get a Facebook account in order to obtain services–as in, some government services became accessible ONLY through Facebook–the government would be in violation of the constitution and could actually be sued. Some critics made the same claim when the government started putting some services on the internet, as they argued that only those with internet access would be able to obtain this services, and this is why the government still maintains the more traditional (some may say antiquated) mediums to obtain services: by phone, by mail, and by physical government offices.

  5. An amazingly insightful and grounded critique of the marginal and identity. Perhaps I’m not from the marginalized, it has struck me twice recently how much Internet policies and practices bear down first and foremost on the LGBT communities and others of colour. I noticed while I was in Turkey, where the new Internet censorship and blocking rules set to kick in on Aug. 22, 2011 are feared most by queers.

    A few years ago I would have said that it would be a big pomo stretch to link telecom and Internet policies to queers (and others marginalized by class and race) and the politics of identity. Anyway, wonderful illustration of how true that is in light of the particular example of Google+

    For the Turkey, Telecom/Internet and Queers piece I wrote after coming back from Istanbul, pls have a look here: https://dwmw.wordpress.com/2011/07/28/telecom-travelogues-part-ii-telecom-media-internet-tmi-developments-and-internet-regulation-in-the-neo-ottoman-empire-turkey/

  6. Seriously? You think it’s an abuse of power because a service provided by a private entity, which is free for you to use and that you have no obligation to use, has terms of service with which you disagree? The fact that you feel you have the right to dictate the terms of such a service is a perfect example of how the sense of entitlement amongst many has gotten out of control.

    If one has reasons for not wanting their identity in the public social network sphere, then they don’t have to put it there. No one is making you. You have the option to not use the service. But to assume that it’s the responsibility of some other entity, in this case Google, to protect your identity while you share it publicly, is misplacement of that responsibility. I

    1. sapphirepaw

      “If one has reasons for not wanting their identity in the public social network sphere, then they don’t have to put it there. No one is making you. You have the option to not use the service.”

      Is this actually true? If someone can share with most of their friends by posting on a service, but has to inform me separately… they won’t bother. I’ll just be out of the loop. So it may technically be a option, without being a practical choice.

  7. our site htt

    http://littlebiggy.org lets people talk about people; with the great potential we insisted on real names. people are used to this for facebook so it wasn’t much of a problem until important posts about corruption were missed. so now we’ve made pseudonyms a manual exception. if you need the protection of a pseudonym you request it from a littleBiggy editor. a hassle but the best balance we’ve found so far.

  8. loʞos uɐp

    Did you miss the ‘Community Standards’ BS?

    When you have Community Standards, they are set by the community, NOT by platform authority. If you want to call these (arbitrary) rules Community Standards, then the community gets a vote.

    I vote to no longer participate in G+

    loʞos uɐp

  9. I prefer real name reinforcement. We can’t let criminals, rapists, stalkers, and bigots collectively decide our international policies for us. And if you think I hold being gay against you, I don’t. I hold you naming yourself ShroomdorkApocolypse against you, because you sound like an idiot. And who came up with the idea of offering universal identity concealment as a way to stop crime? You do realize that in real life, concealing your identity itself is a crime, and that concealing your identity is the first step in most other crimes. Really I think fake names open the doors to 100 times as many criminals as they close doors for.

    Are people stalking you? Then message out their name with your real name. Then, they are digitally connected to you online as a stalker, making it impossible to escape prosecution if they do anything.

    A more utopian philosophy is that we should all stop doing things that make people want to kill us. (that means you, richest 1%, out there letting 9/11responders die outside hospitals to keep your lear jet tax down)

    1. Where’s your last name Nick in your post here? Where’s the avatar showing your face? Where’s the pictures (that perhaps have EXIF location data in them) showing your family and the electronics in your house? Where’s the link to your employer and your wife’s employer?

  10. Peter

    Explain something to me… were there jack booted thugs holding a gun to your head making you sign up for an account on Google+? Did someone say you must use Google+ or else we’re going to send you to jail for the next 20 years? I’m pretty sure the answer to both questions is no. So if you don’t like their policies don’t use their service. I don’t like the fact that my favorite radio station has become a sports talk radio station… you know what… I listen to another station and they don’t get my business any more. Stop pretending that this is about discriminating against people who are less or fortunate or who can’t speak publicly. It’s about them having a product and in order to profit from it they need to know who you are so they make you use a real name. You have choices 1) Deal with it. 2) Find somewhere else that will let you be anonymous.

    1. A product? @Peter my camera is a great product, so too this particular brand of soap powder I like. Google+ is a “product” that also happens to be the backbone of a communication network between people in your life. It’s your own life’s communications and sometimes situation room for your network of people in circles. Google doesn’t play a role in that aspect apart from system foundations. So control should then be logically up to the custodian of that account for things not connected with backbone of the system, but the surface operations, the content, the river of gold. It’s your life’s content after all, not Google’s.

      When simply quitting the service also means detaching from a channel of interesting people then the stakes are higher. Pressure is on not to leave but to improve in order not to leave. As Google provides, so too do the users who provide the content that is shared. Everyone’s a stakeholder.

      Spare a thought for Buzz, or Google Answers, reduced in significance not by the hand of Google, but by the actions or lack of action from users. Feedback is a common driver of software changes, so it makes no sense to oppose articles like this supporting a valid concept.

      If your government decided to enforce a new rule where all cars had to be painted white for new safety reasons, would you just say “if you don’t like it, don’t drive”? No, you’d try to suggest or maybe even rally for an alternative idea!

      1. I know for a fact that there are quite a few large businesses switching over to the professional version of Gmail, I’m sure we’re not far from the point when G+ will be a major communication hub, and if you want to use it without being found by every asshole who’s ever learned your last name, anonymity is key. My real, full name is on my nametag when I have to wear one, so I’m a little uncomfortable with having strangers be able to find me on social networking sites because of that. I like being able to express myself on the internet without fear that it will interfere with my career.

  11. 3-D

    So long as a corporation is at the heart of the social networking universe, they will define the rules. The rules will be to tie you to your real name, because they have uses for that in making money. There is no money in anonymity. There is money in forcing users to use their real names.

    We can rage all we like against every corporate entity that starts a social networking site, but until we have an open, decentralized social networking protocol with multiple implementations that anyone may run on their own server, the privacy crowd will repeatedly lose this argument. It’s called “leverage”, and so long as 90% of the population doesn’t care about their privacy at all, we’ve got NONE on them.

    1. me

      THIS a million times. Anyone who doesn’t understand this is complaining about water being wet. Hopefully software like Diaspora will catch on. Unfortunately, a vocal group seems more interesting in whining than doing something that will actually help accomplish their goals.

  12. anon

    God bless you for writing this. I would like to add my perspective. I’m a social phobic, which means that I’m very sensitive to other people’s perceptions of me. All throughout highschool and then through my MSc I was basically locked up in my room in my parents’ house, afraid to go out. It used to be that the Internet was the only place where I could find people to talk to. Facebook has killed the old Internet and now thanks to them, people like me are more lonely than ever before. Reading the comments to your post, I realize that it’s not really Facebook’s fault. They simply brought the norms of the society at large into the Internet and it was bound to happen.

  13. how does google know your name really isn’t chai tabasco*. because lets be honest, some parents are choosing some pretty horrific names for their children now adays! erm, harper seven anyone?
    If I put that on my profile It’d be deleted in a heart beat!

    *some things on my desk!

  14. It’s easy to over-simplify and say ‘if you don’t like it, don’t use it’, but things are more tricky than that.

    Suppose your phone provider requires that your full name, address and, of course, phone number, be published into the public domain as a condition of being a customer. You might ask for an unlisted number, but the phone company says no, all customers must be public and accountable to prevent abuse. Nobody may hide their phone number, nobody can deny being their customer and listed in the directory. Now suppose that the directory gets updated, and they change how much information they show about you, choosing now to also include whether your address is an apartment or a house, and let’s be silly and say the how many calls a month you make on average.

    You could say ‘if you don’t’ like it, don’t use it’, but imagine how hard life would be without a phone. You’d find socialization harder, and there would likely be pressure from friends and family to get over it and get a phone again.

    You could then say ‘go to a competitor who lets you opt out of the directory’, supposing there is one. That would work for the phone, because different phone networks are interoperable. Your Verizon can call mom’s AT&T. But online social networks don’t work like that, they are explicitly non-interoperable, and in the case of Facebook and Google+, that is by design.

    If all your friends, colleagues and/or family are on a given network, there is pressure for you to be there. Facebook works hard to make that pressure as painful as possible through design choices like denying viewing details for an event unless you sign into Facebook, where you need to give your real name. Their message is clear: unless you are on Facebook, with your real name, you don’t belong.

    Many of us could be ok with that, but social networks are becoming more like the phone in how much we rely on them, and less like it by keeping information locked up in their silo to strong-arm people into giving information they are not comfortable with in order to keep up with friends and family. It’s arguable whether its an abuse of power, but it’s hard to say it isn’t a step backwards in technologies for socialization.

    1. lawgeek

      OK, you need to brush up on your US Consumer Protection Laws.

      “Suppose your phone provider requires that your full name, address and, of course, phone number, be published into the public domain as a condition of being a customer. You might ask for an unlisted number, but the phone company says no, all customers must be public and accountable to prevent abuse. Nobody may hide their phone number, nobody can deny being their customer and listed in the directory. Now suppose that the directory gets updated, and they change how much information they show about you, choosing now to also include whether your address is an apartment or a house, and let’s be silly and say the how many calls a month you make on average.”

      There are a couple problems with your analogy. First of all, there has long been legislation enacted by Congress and, more recently, requirements implemented by the FCC (to which all phone providers are subject) that require phone providers to only release the private information of their customers either by law (as in, compelled by legal warrant) or by the consent of the customer. As such, although a phone company could require your name and address as a condition of being a customer, if they were to publish that information without your consent, they could be sued and potentially face a prison sentence. The second issue (which is somewhat connected to the first) is that phone directories are NOT published by phone providers, but by publishing companies. This is why so many people can and do choose to remain “unlisted” in your standard yellow/white pages.

      Now, it should go without saying that if a phone company cannot release basic information such as your name and address, then they most certainly cannot release the other information you listed. In fact, there was a new piece of legislation in 2007 which even further expanded the law to basically make it more difficult for telemarketers and other third parties to get your information and to hold other kinds of corporations to the same legal standard. Haven’t you ever seen an episode of Law and Order where the detectives have to get a warrant for phone records?

      Please note, and I want to be very clear here, I am not refuting your overall conclusion about social networks at all; I am only simply saying that your analogy is wildly inaccurate. Mostly, you imply that phone companies could publish private information about customers at their whim, but this is impossible because of US consumer protection laws.

      If you want to be more persuasive, you should use these laws as a model for other legislation the government might well adopt regarding private information in other forms of media and technology. In my opinion, the government has demonstrated a desire to protect the important aspects of consumers’ identities, but the only obstacle is that the law has not caught up with the technology.

      1. Thanks for the detailed response. I think the analogy actually does work in the frame of one system where there are laws that govern the release of information, and newer systems where as you say the laws have not caught up. That we don’t have the same conversations about privacy with the phone as we keep coming back to with social networks calls out the lack of regulation the newer companies enjoy.

        I also wanted to draw a comparison with the phone system to illustrate how hard it would be to live life by ‘choosing not to use’ the phone system and that to not use a social network makes socialization much less viable in some peer groups.

        Again, I do appreciate the letter of what you’re calling out, and its *very* valuable to be informed about the regulations that have been brought to bear on telco providers around personal information. As for needing to brush up on my US consumer protection law, I doubt I will since I’m Canadian 😉

  15. To everyone saying “It’s a free service, just don’t use it”: It’s only “free” monetarily; there is a definite transaction taking place. You are receiving the use of the service; in return, you are providing your content, your personal interests to then be resold to advertisers, your presence as incentive for your acquaintances to join, etc. Just because your bank balance stays the same, it does not follow that this is “free.” A soup kitchen for the homeless is free; this is a business transaction. Any business transaction is an opportunity for discussion and haggling; ignoring that is what leads to draconian contracts and terms of service to begin with.

  16. I’m glad more comments are coming point pointing out stupid this is. I’ll +1 all of that:

    1) Every quote above about people not wanting to use their real name b/c of privacy…they are all invalid with the circles concept. You choose who sees what…just like in real life.
    Don’t want everyone to know you’re homosexual – just limit who has access to any of your homosexual content, or don’t put it up there. Sheeesh…

    2) G+ is free, don’t use it if you don’t want to

  17. Of course Google is free to set their terms of service as they like.

    What’s being argued here is that if they want to provide real benefits compared to the competition (and indeed be consistent with their own circles approach) they might want to pay heed to the fact that millions of people emphatically do not want to use their real names on some social networks, and many don’t want Google to know their real name either.

    I doubt it makes a huge difference in ad revenue to Google whether they know your real name or not. And that amount would be easily dwarfed in any case by the amount they’d have to spend policing their ridiculous real names policy, which is fundamentally unenforceable. People have all sorts of names, and many people don’t have ID documents. Actually enforcing a real names policy isn’t nearly as easy as it seems.

    On another note, big companies like Google make piles of cash from government contracts, and by profiting off other state-created monopolies such as patents, spectrum licenses, etc. etc. We don’t live in a free market, and big companies are invariably in bed with the state in many ways. Thus, both their market dominance and their attitude towards our rights can indeed be an abuse of power.

    Even if Google was to allow totally anonymous access to G+, I for one will not be signing up. The relationship data they can gather can enable them to identify you pretty accurately anyway, and that data is none of their business either. The same goes for Facebook, but at least that’s useful to reconnect with old friends.

    To really interact socially online, I’ll wait for a for-fee service where I’m the customer, not the product, and where my privacy is protected. Email and Jabber work well enough till then.

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  19. There are good arguments on both sides of the issue, but I think most bloggers/ social networkers have come to embrace anonymity as a part of the online experience.
    I think there has to be a balance.

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  27. I’m more apt to answer to my online moniker than my RL name. Everyone offline knows my online name, which is contrived to sound like it -could- be a real name. I get called by the nickname for that name quite often even in meatspace

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  30. Blackmatchstick

    What the hell google…thanks for all this nonsense of security, i am off from google+ until i get the pseudo’s back.

  31. I am an law student, and while I have my real name visible on facebook, I don’t actually use the page. It is merely there with a professional looking picture of me so if clients look me up, they can see what I look like. I don’t post anything or put anything on that page, because I know people look at it and judge me professionally.

    A different story is my LJ. I am an active fan of several shows. A huge geek, basically. I have a lot of fun, and no one is harmed – but if LJ ever instituted a policy forcing me to give up my handle, all of my fun would end. People don’t want to know that their attorney can also speak Klingon, and writes Picard/Data slash fic. They don’t want to know that their attorney was sorted into Slytherin on Pottermore. Professionals who appear too human, and worse than that, belong to less mainstream groups of humanity, often find their career ruined.

    So I am protecting myself and my career. Maybe if facebook let me use handles, I would actually do more than hang a picture up on the damn thing.

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