Tobold's Blog
Thursday, January 26, 2012
 
Dear Meaningful Following!

This week Google+ officially changed their name policy to not necessarily require real names. Specifically in cases like mine, I am allowed to be Tobold on Google+, as long as I can provide "Proof of an established identity online with a meaningful following". So you, my readers, now officially gained the title of being "meaningful following". :)

Blizzard, after having failed with their RealID idea, has also come to the same conclusion that a permanently used pseudonym has basically the same benefits with regards to avoiding the negative effects of anonymity than a real name has. So they introduced the Battle Tag as alternative for Diablo 3 and World of Warcraft. It is "a unified, player-chosen nickname that will identify each player in all Blizzard games, on the official websites and in the community forums". Needless to say I already reserved my Battle Tag.

The odd man out is still Facebook, who appear not be willing to change their requirement of using only the name printed in your passport. Unless you are famous enough to get your complaint in the New York Times, like Salman Rushdie, who got his Facebook account first deactivated, then renamed to "Ahmed Rushdie", before Facebook caved in to massive protest.

As the Economist recently noticed, social media worked in favor of the dissidents in the Arab Spring only because the Egyptian secret police were "digital dullards". In other countries, like China, social media with a real name policy are more likely to work in the advantage of the state to identify dissidents than to the advantage of the dissidents to organize protests. But those concerns are mostly extreme cases, which journalists like to discuss. The far more common reasons for wanting not to use your real name have been listed by Danah Boyd, and span everything from teachers that want privacy from their students, to gays in small towns that only want to "come out" online, and not in real life. A lot of good reasons to avoid leaving a very public display of all your interests on the internet are work related, as some sort of separation of work life and private life is often a good idea. If I was developing online games, I sure wouldn't want all those internet crazies to know where I live. And most people with "serious" jobs and "frivolous" hobbies don't want the link made between the two.

As Facebook's $100 billion valuation rests solely on the goodwill of its users and customers, I consider their real name policy and repeated breaches of privacy a real risk. It is easy enough to imagine a "Facebook scare" after some criminal or organization used Facebook to target / identify victims. Many people tend to neglect to value their privacy sufficiently up to the moment when they are reminded of the possible negative consequences, at which point they tend to overshoot into the other extreme. It is better for people to protect their privacy early on, and for companies to give them the technical means to do so. Fixed pseudonyms are a very good option here, and should be more widely accepted.
Comments:
I'm not really happy about the Google+-Solution. In my opinion the hurdles are too big, as if they thought: "How can we allow the most dramatic cases a pseudonym while at the same time forcing average joe to use his real name".

Maybe it wasn't such a good idea to yell at Google about all the crazy stuff that can happen to a select few people if pseudonyms aren't allowed. In the end there's only one real reason for me, and thats "my real name is none of your business". There is simply no reason for me why my google+-page should carry my real name that outweights my bad feeling about it.
 
I think Facebook is better served keeping their "real name" policy. How else are friends going to connect if one is using the username SeXXXyViXen69 and other other is using MrHANSUM and they haven't seen each other since high school.

It'd be silly to think that usernames would be a good fit for Facebook. Just like it'd be silly in real life.
 
Thanks for the promotion to "meaningful follower"! I feel so much more important now! How many achievement points is it worth? :P

(BTW your battle tag link is broken)
 
(BTW your battle tag link is broken)

Thanks! Fixed.
 
and they haven't seen each other since high school

If you SOLELY want to use Facebook as a tool to find back people you haven't seen since high school, I agree that real names would be more useful. But I think Facebook has somewhat outgrown that starting point.
 
The ridiculousness of these policies is that they are only really inforcable on people who are known already and are therefore what should be exempt anyway. If I create a Facebook account for Bob Smith tomorrow, who is to say that they don't exist. I know of at least two stuffed animals that are still on my friends list despite numerous culls of fake accounts.
 
At least you had enough of an online presence to justify the "meaningful following" tag. I use lots of Google services under the mbp tag but I doubt that my blog is popular enough to qualify. Therefore Google+ is out for me for fear of my account getting locked.

It wouldn't be so bad if you could run multiple Google logins on the same computer at the same time but thanks to the magic of cookies that doesn't seem to be possible. If I am mbp on one google service I am mbp on them all.
 
Tobold,

I am outraged at being forced into a "meaningful" niche like this, and I have just written a long letter to Google explaining that I am everything but meaningful. Hopefully they will now force you to use your real name, Gevlon.

Anyway, I am not 100% that Facebooks valuation rests "solely" on the goodwill of its users. It seems to me entirely plausible that while the goodwill you mention is a prerequisite, the reason for the company's astronomically high valuation is something close to the polar opposite: the commercially attractive implications of their having access to a database of a very healthy percentage of the earth's human beings, including a comparatively high-quality map of these (real) individuals' personal lives.
 
"It is easy enough to imagine a "Facebook scare" after some criminal or organization used Facebook to target / identify victims."

This has already happened. Several times. There hasn't been a big media backlash against Facebook for several reasons. One of which is that Facebook is still a media darling. That will change.

Meaningful Follower Mike.
 
I've been Bhagpuss on Google+ for ages and they haven't asked me to change it. I don't actually use Google+ but they keep sending me various reminders and notifications so I know I'm still on there.

Google is also changing it's privacy policy in March and one of the changes is the following:

"We may use the name you provide for your Google Profile across all of the services we offer that require a Google Account. In addition, we may replace past names associated with your Google Account so that you are represented consistently across all our services."

That's the one that bothers me, since I have numerous Google applications under a variety of identities, many of which I can't remember myself. Who knows which one they might choose to consolidate the others under?
 
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