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Google insists that users of its social network identify themselves using their real names, but its process for implementing that policy is changing.
In a Google+ post, Bradley Horowitz, Google's VP of product management, has promised to improve the way in which the company enforces its rules.
"We've noticed that many violations of the Google+ common name policy were in fact well-intentioned and inadvertent and for these users our process can be frustrating and disappointing," he wrote. "So we're currently making a number of improvements to this process--specifically regarding how we notify these users that they're not in compliance with Google+ policies and how we communicate the remedies available to them."
A Google spokesperson declined to discuss details about how Google+ accounts are reviewed and suspended, but complaints from users suggest dissatisfaction with the review and appeals processes.
Horowitz said that Google plans to provide users with a better sense of what to expect when account names are reviewed and to improve the sign-up process to discourage policy violations in the first place.
He also said that Google+ users can list pseudonyms in the "Other names" portion of one's Google Profile (not to mention the Nicknames data field) and that the "Employment," "Occupation," and "Education" fields can also be used to provide additional identifying information.
Finally, he noted that Google+ is only a month old and that additional features to support different use cases--minors, for example--can be expected.
Facebook has a similar name policy, though Google's rules offer slightly more wiggle room. Google requires users of Google+ to go by "the name that you commonly go by in daily life," which allows someone like Michael Anti, the adopted name of Chinese writer Zhao Jing, to participate in Google's nascent social network.
Facebook in March closed Anti's account, citing violation of the company's policy requiring account holders to use their real names. A company spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Facebook in the past has defended its policy as a way to promote discourse and accountability on its site.
That's a position Google and others agree with, more or less.
Anil Dash, a veteran blogger and managing director of Activate, a consultancy, has penned a passionate call for engaged community management in which he argues for the benefits of accountability. Like Google, he's not ready to completely abandon online anonymity--Google allows non-identified interaction outside of Google+, through Google Search for example. Nevertheless, he supports policies that discourage the low-quality commentary that often comes with online anonymity.
Certainly, accountability has its benefits: It helps encourage civil discourse and that in turn makes advertisers more likely to participate. Google has made it clear it wants businesses to have a role in Google+.
But accountability also has its downsides. Twitter, by virtue of a name policy that tolerates pseudonyms, has helped overthrow tyrannies. Maybe Google+ will rise to that level of influence--Facebook has played, and continues to play, a role in recent uprisings. But Google, by denying its users privacy in their public posts, has made it more likely that its social network will be something less than revolutionary.
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