Too little, too late: Google+ ends its “real names” policy

Google+ finally saw that light and disposed of their policy requiring users to use their real names on their social network. I’ve written about my experience with G+ and their names policy ad nauseum, but I’ll recap briefly for new readers:

I joined Google+ while it was still an invite-only product. There was a strict real-names policy in place, but it was loosely enforced. Google’s CEO insisted that Google+ was never meant to be a social network even though it looked just like one. I found that the community there was interesting and politically engaged, not to mention G+ has the single most important feature imaginable, so I spent a lot of time there.

The early days of G+ were mostly notable for the nymwars. To say that there were “disagreements” about the real names policy would be an understatement. Google insisted that using real names created more civil communities. Many of us argued back that this view wasn’t backed up by any actual data and that there were a myriad of reasons why pseudonyms were preferable to real names in many cases.

After a couple of years (January, 2012), Google informally loosened up the names policy. They decided that, so long as the name you used looked real, it didn’t matter if it was your real name or not. This was a…curious…change. It flew directly in the face of the stated purpose of the real names policy. However, given that this change occurred concurrently with Google’s more aggressive use of user posts for marketing purposes, it made sense. You could use any name that Google could sell to someone as “real.”

It was around this time that I was banned for violating the names policy. I’d been posting for years and had friended “encircled” and been encircled by hundreds of people. I was, by all accounts, a good citizen there. I petitioned for reinstatement and discovered how Orwellian that process is at Google. If your petition is denied, you’ll receive a form letter. It will only tell you that your petition is denied; it will not give you any hint as to why it was denied or what you can do to correct it.

I faxed every Google office in the U.S. and some in Europe. I engaged friends who work at Google. I got a retweet from Neil Gaiman of all people (thank you sir-you’re very kind to respond to me). One criteria for a successful petition is proving that your pseudonym is your most-common online identity. Ironically, any presence I had on Google+ did not count in my favor. The hundreds of people who knew me by this name apparently didn’t matter.

It was around this team the community started to turn ugly as well. The people who posted on the support forums were, with a few exceptions, nasty and unhelpful. They pointed out that “WTF Pancakes” wasn’t my real name (as if I didn’t know this). They told me that, never in a million years would Google allow me to use that name even if it were my primary online name because they (the poster) didn’t like it, and I was an idiot and an obvious troll for even trying. It wasn’t a great experience.

So, at long last, I deleted my Google+ account. Frankly, the more research I did into Google’s behavior, the less I wanted to be associated with them. They’d made it clear that Google+ wasn’t a social network so much as a honeypot to get people to contribute free information and content for their marketing team to repurpose. I’ve no interest in participating in that.

So, I guess I applaud them for changing their names policy, but I won’t be going back. There’s that whole “trust” thing. My dealings with Google have left me feeling like their services aren’t worth the cost even if they are now, apparently, welcoming me back into the fold. I appreciate the effort and I hope other people benefit from it, but I’m done.


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