Nom de Google?

Google+ has arrived. So I’m told. It’s meant to be a rival to Facebook, I think, and it is described as “making sharing online more like sharing in real life”. Um.

Membership of Google+ is apparently by invitation only and, although I’ve received a few invitations, I haven’t taken the plunge yet. I’m not sure I ever will. I already waste so much time on Twitter and Facebook that I’ve scarcely got time to write my blog keep up with work.

Despite not actually being on Google+, I still feel the urge to comment on an issue that I’ve picked up via Twitter. And why not? Complete ignorance of subject matter has never stopped me from commenting on things before.

The problem, it seems, is that, unlike Twitter, Google+ does not allow users to hide behind a pseudonym. One influential blogger describes  Google’s policy as “gestapo-like”, “narrow-minded”, and “big brother” . Another suggests that it indicates that Google hates women. Both have been banned from Google+ for using aliases rather than their actual names. These and other reactions have developed into a fully-grown to-do accompanied by a not inconsiderable hoo-hah.

At the risk of being controversial, I have to say I think Google’s policy is actually quite reasonable.

There are of course many reasons why someone would want to use a nom de plume instead of their real name either on the net or elsewhere. I’ve done so myself, as a matter of fact (and I don’t mean the thin disguise I use on here, which simply demonstrates that I’m overly fond of anagrams).

The use of a pseudonym is by not illegal, neither does it imply some nefarious intent. However, I find it hard to understand the logic that removing the right to remain anonymous (or pseudonymous) is the violation of some fundamental human right.  I’ve blogged about this issue before, so won’t repeat myself here.

I also don’t understand the argument that allowing people to use Google+ incognito will do anything whatsoever to prevent harassment, stalking or bullying. The point is surely that allowing users to conceal their identity allows miscreants to do so too. Far better in my view to police misconduct by naming and shaming those responsible for abuse.

It’s an interesting coincidence that Sunday’s Observer carried a long feature about internet trolling which makes a persuasive case that the cloak of anonymity actively encourages obnoxious behaviour on the internet. People will say and do things when their identity is concealed that they wouldn’t dream of when out in the open. Allow pseudonyms on Google+ and it will be an even worse environment  for those likely to be victimised.

As another blog post explains, Google’s policy is not in any case based on it being some kind of public service, motivated by the ideals of free speech and mutual respect. It’s a business. The reason it wants people’s real names is so that it can target them with advertising.

My policy on this blog is a compromise. I allow commenters to post comments provided they give me a genuine email address. These addresses are not visible to the outside world but they reassure me that if the commenter engages in abuse or harassment then I can identify who they are and take action if necessary. I automatically check IP addresses too. I can tell you there would quite a few surprises if I revealed the identities of certain prominent individuals who have posted or attempted to post comments on this blog. In fact the biggest problem I have on here these days tends not to be abusive comments but spam; tedious automatically generated messages with links to dubious websites outnumber genuine comments by about 5 to 1.

But I digress. It seems to me that the main point is that nobody has to sign up for Google+. If you don’t like their anonymity policy then just don’t go there. Simples.

10 Responses to “Nom de Google?”

  1. Anton Garrett Says:

    The value of anonymity is to beat Britain’s iniquitous libel laws and superinjunctions. It might be wise to restrict one’s usage to an internet cafe for that purpose. Peter sets out the downside very clearly, but I am glad that the option is available on at least some sites.

  2. Google+ or FB or twitter are for sharing thoughts with friends and fellow beings. By remaining anonymous how will one enjoy the joy of sharing and reach the right set of people.

    G+ ‘s policy is that the profile should identify the right person and they are not against pseudonyms. They are trying to fight the misrepresentation of identity.

    I know your real name, but you post by the name ‘telescoper’. Suppose somebody starts up a G+ profile, with your real name and pose as you and add links to your blogs and tweets?!! Its better to avoid such a situation and fix your identity at G+ also. Don’t participate in it, but establish the fact that P C is telescoper himself and no one is trying to misrepresent you.

    I think you can even create your profile as telescoper, but do not decorate it with special characters . Add your real name in other names if you wish.

    • telescoper Says:

      If someone signs up as another person and pretends to be that person then that is, rightly, regarded as criminal behaviour and I’m sure anyone doing such a thing would be banned and, I hope, prosecuted.

  3. “I can tell you there would quite a few surprises if I revealed the identities of certain prominent individuals who have posted or attempted to post comments on this blog.”

    Remind me to buy you several drinks the next time we meet. 🙂

  4. telescoper Says:

    Well, I just responded to another invitation and added myself to Google+

    I’m baffled by it.

    • telescoper Says:

      OK. I spent about 15 minutes trying to find out how to log out. Now I’ve succeeded I doubt if I’ll bother going back in.

  5. There is certainly a time and place for anonymity, also on the web. Whether one thinks Google+ should allow it or not, the solution is: if you don’t like it, don’t use it. This discussion reminds me of people who complain about Windows if it doesn’t allow them to replace the default browser with another one or whatever. There have been court decisions forcing Microsoft to make this easier etc. The way I see it, it should be allowed to sell a package without any support for people who want to change it. If one doesn’t like it, one can go elsewhere. Ironically, courts who say that Microsoft has to comply because they dominate the marketplace actually increase such dominance by such decisions. When I buy a car, I don’t complain if it is difficult to replace the gearbox with one from another manufacturer while retaining the warranty on the rest of the car. Neither do I want to.

  6. Wow! That’s the spirit. You joined and fixed your identity in g+ as well. But you could have set your profile name as ‘telecoper’ itself!
    Its quite easy to manage the profile and posts there. You can reach many more people through this. And your posts are very interesting to read and to share with others.

    You saved someone from getting prosecuted!

  7. “You can reach many more people through this.”

    Sure, but Peter is after quality, not quantity. 🙂

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