Saturday, August 18, 2012

Google deleting/suspending users for using handles

Originally posted 07/26/2011 on

Google+ (g+)has gotten off to a good start. Unfortunately it's hit a rocky spot that could, if not handled properly, destroy the momentum it's enjoyed so far. Rafal Los (aka Wh1t3Rabbit) reports that the hacker community is in an uproar. Apparently Google has been disabling the accounts of people who are using handles instead of their real names. Some people have lost everything they had in Google. This is a problem because Google's terms of service apparently don't say you have to use your real name, but to use the name your friends know you buy. I'm not a hacker but, like Rafal Los, I am acquainted with people who do not use their real names. I've never known their real names, and if they contacted me using their real names I might ignore it because I wouldn't know who it was. The other side of the problem is, Google is biting the hands of the early adopters. As I said a few days ago, the majority of Google+ early adopters are male, and as far as I can tell, in the technology sector. A large number of those use handles, and don't appreciate being told they have to use their real names. People who have been using Gmail since it's inception also don't appreciate losing all their archived emails and other data. How many people will turn away from g+ rather than wrestle with Google over usernames?

But it may not be as simple as that. According to Peter Smith at ITWorld there appear to be two types of account issues: Accounts being suspended for naming violations, and accounts being suspended for violations of the terms of service. Naming convention violatiosn are relatively minor. You can still get your Gmail and you just have to prove that poeple normally know you by your username, either through links or ID's. But the TOS violations are worse. You are not given a clear description of the violation, and you lose access to your entire Google account.

Another article on, this one by Juan Carlos Perez, talks about the different groups being affected by the account deletions, which include people who have unusual names and people who don't want to use their real names for privacy reasons. As quoted in the article, Google's response seems to be:

Asked for comment, a Google spokeswoman said via e-mail that Google Profiles are designed to be public Web pages whose purpose is to "help connect and find real people in the real world." "By providing your common name, you will be assisting all people you know -- friends, family members, classmates, co-workers, and other acquaintances -- in finding and creating a connection with the right person online," she wrote.

Google claims to want to make it easier to connect to people we know. Ironically, they are undermining one of the goals they had when they put Google+ into private Beta. The goal for us to connect to each other the way we do in real life. In real life online (and sometimes off) people use handles, nicknames, pseudonyms, whatever you want to call them. If Google really wants people to be connecting on Google+ the way they do in real life, and they aren't concerned with things like being able to accurately identify people, then Google is being disengenious. In fact, if someone is using a handle and has followers, especially if they have dozens or more, then their username and profile are helping to, "connect and find real people in the real world." There is no problem, and Google has no reason to suspend accounts because the creator used a handle.