Weighing in: Google's naming policy

I was listening to CBC Spark Episode 155 in which they were discussing Google Plus' anti-pseudonym policy. Personally, I think that we get what we pay for with free social networks and it's all caveat emptor. But I do find this particular policy interesting because of the other potential implications.

I submitted a comment to the Spark blog and then thought it might make an interesting post (and possible fodder for another Social Media Sunday Morning).

I think that impositions like Google Plus' real name policy have the potential to alienate people who want to protect their privacy online or who are better known by nicknames that are not legally recognized.

Consider further: the name policy is only one step removed from dictating the minimum amount of information users have to provide to use the network. For now, Google enables users to protect a lot of their personal data, however if they ever stop not being evil, they could require a lot more mandatory fields. And that could prevent users who need some sort of protection for legal reasons from engaging with colleagues or friends and family on social networks. Sure, we can tell them not to use the networks but if everyone else is there, these policies become a barrier to entry.

Another step toward exposing users would be to demand that they upload a real photo. I use the same avatar on all my social networks: it affords me and my family an element of privacy, while also serving as my online brand. We are very active in our community and I am very active online, but people often don't put the two together. This means that our home life can maintain a certain amount of privacy online, only revealing details to those we love via locked down accounts on specific social networks.

At the end of the day, it's important to remember that companies generally value shareholders and advertisers over users; their focus is on advertising dollars and the bottom line. So the more information, real information, they can get about their users, the more attractive their platforms become to advertisers and potential investors. This is a fundamental principle that users like to overlook when they haughtily argue about functionality that imposes on their ability to share or protect data on free social platforms. Users need to be reminded that they are using free platforms and cannot dictate the terms or functions of those platforms unless they have the ability to mobilize and leave as a collective. And if we've learned anything from Quit Facebook Day, those efforts are generally unsuccessful.

So, what do you think about anti-pseudonym policies? Do they make social media more authentic? Are they a form of discrimination? Are they just another way for companies to make use give up more of our personal information for their financial gain? Weigh in by leaving a comment!

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