liv: Stylised sheep with blue, purple, pink horizontal stripes, and teacup brand, dreams of Dreamwidth (sheeeep)
[personal profile] liv
I have thinky thoughts about Google+, but I don't want to post them there because I'm starting to get paranoid about Google deleting accounts where there is criticism of their service. And I don't want to post them here, because anyone who cares about the nitty-gritty of Google+ would be in their "field trial" by now. (If there's anyone left hunting for an invitation I have a few I can send; I need an email address, though, and preferably the one you actually intend to use for your profile. PM me if you don't feel comfortable putting your email address in a public post.)

But I do want to talk more generally about the Real Names issue. Google+ is insisting on what they define as real names, a policy they are enforcing in an entirely cack-handed way. Although they've corrected some of their earlier mistakes, I suspect this issue is going to kill Google+ in the way that assuming your email address book equals your social circle killed Buzz. But suppose they had a sensible definition of real names, such as allowing names that don't follow the standard US pattern, or professional pseudonyms, or use-names that don't happen to match what's written on a person's birth certificate (all of which are perfectly "real" according to both US and European law). And suppose they had a sensible appeals process if someone got deleted by mistake. In that case, would a "real-name social network" policy make sense?

[personal profile] skud is spearheading a campaign to highlight the real world harms of such a policy. It's almost certainly illegal under EU Data Protection law. It's an utterly awful policy from several angles (even if it were well implemented, which currently it is really not).

The counter-argument to this is that insisting on real names prevents spam, impersonation, and trolling, and generally promotes good quality interactions and conversation. It's running the whole site based on Penny Arcade's Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory, basically. The obvious flaw in this is that pseudonymity is not anonymity. What Google actually wants to achieve is to prevent people creating throwaway accounts which have no value to them, and using them to spam or harrass other users. Banning those accounts, either site-wide or on an individual level, does no good because the malicious person (or bot) can easily create more throwaway accounts. The Internet Fuckwad Theory pretty much defines everything that's wrong with YouTube comment sections and the don't read the comments principle of internet interactions. But what Google actually needs to prevent these issues is not names that fit a specific format. It needs stable reputation systems. It needs accounts that are valuable due to being attached to a personal history, personae that are valuable enough that people won't want to risk getting banned or deleted for the sake of trolling or getting into flamewars.

I'm preaching to the converted by posting this on Dreamwidth! After all I have 8 years of posts and a large network of friends under this pseudonymous identity, I'd be an idiot if I risked getting my account banned by spamming or trolling. Now, Dreamwidth does allow multiple accounts; invite codes mean a slightly raised barrier to entry, and hopefully prevents automated account creation. But maybe Google wants tighter controls than that. OK, so Google should insist on exactly one account per human being. That's not always easy to enforce; perhaps they could insist on a verified Real Name at account creation, but let you use any display name you chose. Perhaps, like DW, they would only let you set your name once with severely limited ability to change your name. There's no reason to assume that Livre d'Or is going to behave worse under these conditions than "Amy Morris" (oh look, a two-word phrase that looks like a standard English name, but has no connection to any stable identity). Admittedly verifying names is not a simple problem; the obvious way is to use credit cards, but that excludes lots of potential users. However, Google already has this problem now by insisting on the real name being the key under which you're listed in its directory and social graph. In addition to the problem of making Google+ distasteful to many potential users, and actively dangerous for various people in vulnerable situations.

So, is there any advantage to real-name social networking? [ profile] siderea thinks that it's a stunningly bad idea to participate in G+ with your legal or professional name, for a whole host of reasons... socializing online under your professional or legal name is like drinking and swimming. [Aside: Siderea, I apologize for making off-topic comments on that post; you have a narrower definition of topicality than most of my online circles, and I misjudged what you would consider relevant to that discussion. I should have taken my thoughts to my own journal in the first place.] I would argue that there is some benefit, because otherwise why are so many of us maintaining accounts on Facebook, however reluctantly? FB kinda stopped enforcing its real names policy due to practical considerations, but it's still the case that most people there are using names that would be recognizable to their parents, their colleagues, their GP etc. Siderea holds that this is inherently awful, and it's certainly easy to think of examples where people have got into hot water by not realizing how public and how permanent FB is.

Thing is, though, that Facebook's real-name based social network allows me to stay in touch with people from my past. Schoolfriends, former colleagues, friends from my old communities, people I just happen to have met in the course of my life. None of these people have the ability to find my DW blog by searching for my real name, and that's as it should be because I don't want employers or anyone who has a grudge to be able to find my DW by searching for my real name. But further, many of these people are not particularly versed in internet / geek culture. They can't imagine why anyone would want to use a pseudonym. I can try giving them the title and URL of my blog, but they just don't get it. They don't understand all the hoops you have to jump through to follow what I write here, creating a profile, uploading icons, establishing a presence on the site. They certainly don't understand how to use tools to import my blog posts in a more convenient format, things like RSS readers or smartphone apps, (not that there are any very usable apps for DW).

There are plenty of people who have no desire at all to socialize with anyone who isn't a confirmed geek, and don't want to be in touch with anyone from their class at school or their university or their previous jobs. That's absolutely fine, but if you do find these people a positive presence in your life, you kinda need to socialize under your real name. Or of course you could keep in regular email or phone contact, but I personally like having a level of interaction below actual full-blown long-distance friends. I like having 250 or so people who let me know, via FB, when major events happen in their life like getting married or emigrating, even though I would never be able to keep up a regular correspondence with them. The other thing FB is very useful for is organizing in-person social events; if I'm meeting up with people to go to the cinema, or inviting people to my house for drinks, I don't want to have to remember pseudonyms, I want to be able to do this using the names we regularly use for eachother. And FB's events thing really is a killer app for that.

Of course the problem is that FB sucks. Its UI is awful and they keep making unnecessary and confusing changes. It is full of spam and annoying blinky shit and sexist adverts. It's in cahoots with Zynga, a truly evil company, and makes most of its money from annoying Farmville-style "social" games. It has an atrocious record on privacy, partly through incompetence and partly because it's in FB's interests to leak (or even broadcast) personal information as much as they can get away with. What I'm really hoping for from Google+ is that they'll make a viable FB-replacement. Yes, it will have ads, but subtle, text-only, reasonably well targeted ads such as we've got used to on Gmail. Right now they're not doing very well on the "appealing to and usable by non-geeks" part of the exercise, and the real names fiasco is really not helping with that, despite Google's apparent expectations to the contrary.

What Google+ won't be is a replacement for DW. Yes, it has "circles", and yes, the UI for sorting your social network into trust categories is quite a bit better than what we have here. But there's no way I'm going to start posting personal stuff there, precisely because there's no way I want any opinions or any views about work or any details of my movements linked to my birth certificate name. Which, by the way, is pretty unusual, unique in the UK and shared by only half a dozen or so people worldwide. Honestly I'm not in very great danger; there's nobody out there who has any interest in tracking me down with harmful intent, and I work in academia so I can expect to have understanding employers who won't Dooce me for having opinions that disagree with the party line. Even so, it's totally not worth it.

The fact I have a pretty cushy life in this respect is what allows me to take part in real-name social networks at all. And when I go there I meet other people who can afford to be pretty transparent in their online activities. At the same time, between my job as a lecturer and my voluntary commitment to Jewish community leadership, there's plenty of stuff I would rather not connect to my real name. It's not because I have anything to hide, but because my students and congregants don't need to know about my love life, my politics, who my other friends are that I know through other situations than the ones where I interact with them, etc etc. For me, it's worth having a presence on Facebook, and now on Google+, because it gives me somewhat better control over what information is out there about me. If I don't participate, people could deduce quite a lot about me from the shape of the holes, and I can't do anything about data-careless friends revealing lots of info that I don't want out there. By having a profile, I can control what floats to the top when someone searches for me, and sometimes ask for damaging info to be removed if necessary. Most importantly I know what an investigator might find out about me by poking around on the net! But I don't socialize there. I lurk, I make bland posts that show I'm a real person and I'm at least semi-active, I make occasional updates about major life events that are effectively my public biography anyway.

The other thing is that the bizarre mixture of extreme permanence and ephemerality makes me completely freeze up when I try to say anything. I might have a stray thought that would fit there, but then I second-guess myself and think, but what if that doesn't perfectly represent what I believe forever and ever? Maybe it's better not to post after all! I'm finding myself reluctant even to "+1" other content or post links, because I keep thinking, is this really the thing, out of all the internet, that I want to associate with my real name and declare my allegiance to anytime someone looks me up online? At the same time I'm not going to post any carefully thought out stuff, because it all slides off the front page in a few hours anyway, and there's no sensible way to archive it or go back to refer to it, as you can with old blog posts.

So I'm going to carry on socializing in a pseudonym environment, most probably DW for the forseeable future. And I'm going to maintain a bland presence on FB, and on Google+ for the time being, but I'm rather expecting it to implode or just tail off into oblivion once the initial excitement dies out. You can call it image management, I suppose.

(no subject)

Date: 2011-07-29 01:24 pm (UTC)
ptc24: (Default)
From: [personal profile] ptc24
I experimented with some open pseudonymity (fsvo "pseudo") a while back; I found that the problem I had was that I was constantly worrying about how much information I was giving away that might uniquely identify me.

I think there's a size issue; if a small company wanted to make a cosy little online space that had a real-names policy (fsvo "real names"), then, well, whatever - you can't please everyone. Someone as large as Google... well, I get nervous about the prospect of any online space becoming de-facto compulsory.


Miscellaneous. Eclectic. Random. Perhaps markedly literate, or at least suffering from the compulsion to read any text that presents itself, including cereal boxes.

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