Google, trying to take a stand with its new social network, requires people to use real-world names on Google+. The real world, though, turns out to be more complex than a simple rule can accommodate.
Now two weeks old and growing like a weed, Google+ is facing issues that became common once the Internet made people's identity into information that can reach potentially anyone on the planet. With Google+ and the Google Profiles service on which it relies, the company is trying to build a service without pseudonyms, anonymous cowards, or impersonation.
"Google Profiles is a product that works best in the identified state. This way you can be certain you're connecting with the right person, and others will have confidence knowing that there is someone real behind the profile they're checking out," according to the Google help files for Google+. "For this reason, Google Profiles requires you to use the name that you commonly go by in daily life."
Most people are known by the name that appears on their driver's license or school registry and probably won't think twice about using that when joining a social network. There are plenty of advantages to that approach: anonymous forums are often degraded by trolling, attacks, and flame wars. Using real names brings some measure of accountability, since your reputation is on the line when you voice an opinion.
But there are acres of gray area, too. Political dissidents may want to avoid persecution. Those who've been harassed may want to avoid more of it. And plenty of people want both online interactions and privacy. … Read more