There's a problem with your Google+ profile.

…is what I found out yesterday, thanks to a nice robotic email from the "Google+ Team".

C'mon, you asked for it…

In fairness, I knew this could happen, ever since google decided to enact their RealName™ policy, and I can see where the company is coming from on this issue, even though the case they make for why they need realworld ID is such thinly-veiled BS it's both comical and mildly insulting.

There are a lot of moving parts in that single event, and I'm not going to write about those, mostly because tl;dr. Just to get that out of the way : pseudonymity, freedom of speech, trolling, antisocial behavior, dog on the internets, right of privacy, ax-crazy exes, sessual predators, oppressive governments and abusive corporate monsters, bullies, etc, none of which is the main course on today's menu.


Google is in the business of knowing people to better market stuff to them, and enabling convenient communication channels and collaborative tools is just means to that end. At face value, the tradeoff for users is one of convenience vs privacy, not quality, as the quality of Google services may often be improved in direct proportion to how much privacy is sacrificed : you get less disruptive (maybe even useful) targeted ads instead of random boner pills on your webpages, while integrated services algorithmically smoothen the ride by learning and sometimes anticipating your needs. Letting Google know more about you often betters your experience, as long as it doesn't go terribly wrong for you, the individual.

Long story short, I think google is behaving like large corporations do, and is doing what it thinks best according to the business plan. It is certainly not moral, nor respectful of users, but whoever expects morals from a global for-profit operation just because it favors LEGO color schemes and exudes Stepford positivity is just begging for a personality test.
The slightly twisted part here is Google made no effort to clarify this early on, and indeed seemingly did nothing to raise awareness about the possible pitfalls of using your existing gmail handle as your Google+ name, especially during early stages, when the Google+ experience and userbase flowed rather naturally from the (now-defunct) Buzz service (where Google showed they can be trusted to act responsibly with their users data and privacy). 

To take the case at hand, and as far as I can tell, some asshat took exception to my snarking at the jeebus conservative crowd (something I do quite often, all the while trying to keep things in good humor, and tentatively constructive), and did the honorable thing, reporting my obviously non-christian googlename as illegal, which is what our Vord & Sailor would do, or something. I'm not going to cry over dirty metagaming tactics, this being the internet and all, but certainly it was a bit pissant (as She intendeth, presumably) and it wasted a few hours of my time.
Coincidentally, it also goes to show how exposing your RealID publicly on social networks may not be all that wise, but that's for another day.

As instructed, under penalty of losing access to my profile, I provided proper name and surname, and moved to have Armchair Designer set as my nickname instead, while I was setting up a g+ Page by the same moniker.
On my freshly renamed Profile, I then added a pointer towards the Page thingie, and inverted the colors palette on my original Profile picture to draw my regular readers/contacts' attention to the changes.

While I was fiddling with that, a second message from our friendly robotic overlords dropped into my lap: 

I know there's probably prØn somewhere involving armchairs and designers, but really ?

Cute. Now I have a name on my formerly-main Google+ profile that's entirely alien to the majority of people who have me in their Circles. Glad we cleared that up.

Understood that — like it or not — Google can insist on users of Google+ (but really all google services) presenting their official ID to the world, the real question is whether it's the best business move Google can make.
The short answer is : yes, but.

Google's thoughts on the matter are no mystery, and the company's position has been made as clear as one can hope from an opportunistic colonial organism. In de-BS'ed terms, it boils down to the following :

Google intends to be a central ID provider, starting in its home turf of 'merka, a country where there is no national ID card, the mere mention thereof being cause for riots. Google+ and associated services is Google's private census tool and ID registry initiative, reliant on the users willingness to provide the hivemind with the most minute details of their life so they can be profiled, packaged and properly marketed (to).

From google's perspective, keeping out the small fraction of users who don't feel comfortable sharing their meatspace ID with the entire googlesphere is not a bug, it's a feature. Presumably, the damage pseudonymousers' lack of faith in the panopticon utopia could do to the plussers community morale is not worth the trouble, relative to the value of said minority's business to Google.
See ? all good.


So why then, considering I'm obviously one of the shy types about my meatspace ID going full-frontal on the internet, do I even use Google+ ?
The short answer is I'm a mammal, hence lazy, and also I probably was happy to delude myself in the belief that Google somehow cared about retaining some of its vanishing geek-cool streetcred. In retrospect, that was serious wishful-thinking on my part, something Google track record should have discouraged, was I not an idiot.

As for my weak mammal argument, Google apps are rather fantastic tools, and at least until recently they had no competition to speak of (Sheets is still unrivaled, as far as I know). Gmail is fast and extremely convenient, and Google+ in my experience has been vastly superior to Facebook in terms of s/n ratio, ergonomics, spamlessness, plus it doesn't make my eyes bleed from the clutter on screen, and that's without considering Circles, which are its major selling point.
There is no reason not to use Google stuff if you have the use for it and you're cool with their policies, and it's clearly a take it or leave it deal.

It's the same reason why I did not appeal or fight the name change : per Google's rather fluid EULA, I was in breach, and that they didn't act on it until somebody pointed my way changes nothing. Although I reckon it's a stupid policy, and one that could be largely addressed by allowing people to present themselves under their chosen nickname alone (even with Google requiring people fill optionally public-facing Name and Surname fields in profile), Google's reasoning is what it is and, unless applicable laws say otherwise, is their privilege.

The comedy lies obviously in how easy it is to fake a "true" ID good enough to fool Google's superficial controls (for now), meaning anybody who really means to be a nuisance is a copy-paste away from a brand new Google account, while serious trolls will go the extra mile and prep pre-aged accounts to replace those that fall. Google or not, the only workable ways to adress anti-social behavior in large online groups depend heavily on actionable personal reputation, something Google has nothing to enforce or leverage at this writing.

Episode X : A New Pope ?

I'm not quite ready to ragequit on Google+, because all the stuff I like about it is still true, but a few things radically changed in my perception of the social platform over this relatively minor event, and that will certainly affect how, and how much, I use it.

I've been burned, and there's no coming back from that. Google+ will no longer feel homey to me : it's about as personal as LinkedIn or twitter now, which is really not that much. As a result, I'm less likely to use it, push content to it, and help Google know more about those among the supposed 99% of users who are fine with using the name that's on their passport in g+, whenever they interact with me or my content.
By no stretch of the imagination am I famous, nor even internet-famous, so I guess I'm no big loss to Google, yet I'm left wondering : how many among the outliers to the general blissful population of g+ happen to also be significant outliers, from a data-collection standpoint ?

Google is running a mall/farm sort of operation, and I can see how they see as their best interest to maintain public order. A combo of relative segregation among populations (thanks to Circles) and of catering to the least-controversial denominator (thanks to forced exposure and peer pressure) seems like the way to go, and yet…
If my intuition about outliers is correct (big if, indeed), there is a potential downside to Google xanaxed ideal of an aseptic community, and that's a (proportional) drought of exciting things happening in their over-homogenized ecosystem.

Life is messy, and Google's electronic equivalent of a white picket fence cul-de-sac may prove a little bit boring, in the long run.



Psychochild said...

Keep in mind that Google owns Blogger which is where you post these to. :)

There was a big to-do about pseudonyms in the past on Google+. Originally I think they were following Facebook, which required real names and made data collection and marketing easier. But, Google+ was supposed to be more savvy than that, and appeal to the more techie crowd. It pissed off a lot of people.

I thought they had gotten beyond that, but perhaps the pages were supposed to be the compromise. Interesting that they frowned on your nickname as well.

I didn't run afoul of it because I just used my own name. As I've mentioned before, I don't use my pseudonym "Psychochild" to hide, I actually use it so people can find me easier. My given name is dreadfully common; one time someone couldn't find me on LinkedIn, so I told them to search for "Psychochild". There I was, at the top of the list. :)

AcD said...

Thanks, I'm well-aware. :)
I had to delink my blogger profile from my g+ one, already, to avoid naming inconsistencies on the blogs.

To be clear, I don't think Google is actively out to silence criticism or dissenting voices within their community and on the platforms they own, be it g+ or blogspot.
Active censorship is not something Google is keen on, both because it looks bad from a PR standpoint, and just as importantly, it's a self-image issue : googlers don't think of themselves as part of a phagocyte outbreak, they see themselves as agents for the forces of good*, heralds and apostles for the rapture of the nerds. Considering the demographics of googlers, you can stretch only so far into blatant repression/suppression before the cognitive dissonance gets uncomfortable.

But even that king of (self-)manipulative cunning is ascribing more nefarious intent to google than is likely in play, here.
My suspicion is the 1st Church of Mountain View faithful simply buy into the whole "don't be evil" mantra, and they're not eager to intently ostracize anyone.
Rather, it's a comforting side effect of their community relations style that people who are not 100% on board with Google Stepfordian vision of positivity are more likely to opt out on their own.
The downside of it is, obviously, the risk of becoming an overly homogenous monoculture, both inside Google Inc. and in the larger community of their platforms, and either turn into a self-contained (if huge) cult, or miss a turn and pull an AOL somewhere down the road.

Obviously, Google may very well have crossed the point of no-return by now, being both too big to fail and on the winning side of history, meaning they could afford to grow increasingly delusional and self-righteous, until they get vindicated by the coming of our robotic overlords.* ;)

As to the whole RealID / pseudonymity / anonymity can'o'worms, I purposefully didn't dig into in. …well, I kinda did, and it ended on the cutting floor because the wall of text was high enough already.
The short version (ie, what I personally favor) is "strong" pseudonymity wherever possible, as in persistent pseudonyms backed by community reputation.
It could also work by backing pseudonyms against certificates from a civil ID registry, but the potential for abuse by the registry admins or government raises the same concerns a national ID card does in some parts of the world (often the very same people who're happily feeding Google or Facebook with their most intimate details, ofc).

My general view is that online social bonds are not that different from offline, and in much the same way one may be addressed differently, and take on a different part, in various meatspace social circles in, there are plenty of good reasons to enjoy the same flexibility (or more) online — besides hiding, RP'ing, or trolling.


*[Which could be either great, or terrible news, depending on whether you're more a Bill Joy or a Ray Kurzweil cheerleader.]

AcD said...

About the *Armchair Designer* and *ArmchairDesigner* not passing muster by the guardian robots, I suspect I crashed against the 'no professional titles' (Dr, Esq, etc), 'no job descriptions' part of the naming policy, because robots lack a sense of parody : if you think a Turing test is no longer a problem, try edge cases of Poe's Law against an AI ! ;)

Pages are almost neat, only they're a bit gimped on some critical functionalities, because they're not quite "true" accounts (you don't have access to the PicasaWeb UI, for ex), but they could do the trick nicely, with the caveat that one ought to be able to transfer content/history/contacts to a Page the same way you cam across Profiles (which you can't).