Saturday, November 12, 2011
Google+ Real Name Disaster

When I first started using Google+, the name on my profile was obviously my nicknamegoogle_plus_fist which I had always used on my Google account. A nickname which by no means gives me anonymity, seeing that it has been attached to my real name all over the web, and even people in real world very often call me with it. The nickname has been around since my first days of hacker-spaces and various other tech sub-societies and as a result a lot of people would look for me by it, hence my persistence in using it...

When I received the warning message on my account saying that I had to use my real name, despite the bad taste that was left in my mouth, I went ahead and switched to my real name. I figured I was way too busy for the drama that would follow, were I to keep the nickname. That was a bit more than a month ago.

Well, big surprise, the drama came anyway. 2 days later my contacts started telling me that my Google+ profile was no longer accessible, showing a "not found" message. I checked my profile and saw the message on the top of it, saying that my profile was suspended due to my name not being acceptable by their "standards", and was waiting to be reviewed, which would probably take a few days. A week later, my profile was still suspended, I had received no communication from Google, and I had come to realized that my ability to use other Google services was also limited.

That was when I started looking for ways to communicate with whomever was in charge. First thing I noticed, was that there basically are no functional ways for doing that. I tried sending a number of feedbacks which clearly had no effect. Then I landed on the support forums which is apparently where Google intends for you to end up, if you go looking for help/support. Of course what you'll never receive on these forums is help or support. My requests for help were ignored and eventually buried, same as many others. Soon it became clear that a terribly large number of people are on the same boat.

While searching the forums for answers, I came across a few mentions of writing an appeal, using a link that should be somewhere on the suspended profile, but I saw no such link anywhere. Then I found out that the appeal link only shows up once your profile has been reviewed and "really" suspended. My profile seemed to not even qualify for that. So, for the duration of an entire month, my profile was stuck in the proverbial limbo.

By the end of the 3rd week, I was thoroughly inflamed. With everything I had read in other people's complaints, responses and stories, it had become quite obvious what the problem was. My uncommon name and even less common last name didn't look enough like a real name to Google. That's just so deliciously ironic, seeing that a simple Google search would have cleared out my identity. My name's all over the web. I have a couple of domain names and as a result who-is records which happen to tie my Gmail address directly to my name. For Pete's sakes, how difficult would it be to verify my identity?

Doing some more digging, eventually I found a link to the appeal form somewhere and sent a number of appeals through. Then a good friend of mine offered to talk to his contacts in various departments in Google... but what finally did it, was another dear friend talking to her contact in Google+ , and getting my profile released [thanks a lot =) ].

So now, after a month of bloody struggle my account is usable again, and that only because of my friend and her friend. I find many aspects of Google+ quite brilliant, but this experience has been a true disaster, and the whole "real name policy" is looking like serious folly.

As I once wrote in the forums, it was my impression that this was supposed to be a social network for people from everywhere. But these so called policies seem to be shaping the service such that mainly people from North America and certain parts of Europe can use it without trouble. In the past decade Google has slowly taken over the web so that one way or the other you're using some of their services, and now a lot of people who for some reason or the other can't do exactly as almighty Google commands, are in trouble.

There are many people out there who have very good reasons for not using their real names on the web. For instance, just look at the amount of political activity on services like Facebook or Twitter in the past year, by people from the middle east. Well, ban the use of nicknames, and you ban all these people. There goes all that political and humanitarian activity. There goes what was one of the most important contribution of social networks. There goes the platform for freedom of speech.

Of course these are only a part of the reasons people might have, for not wanting to use their real names. Google says that they want people to interact on Google+ the same way they would in the real world. Well, look around you. There are many people who don't use their legal names in their day to day lives. Plus, wake up and smell the coffee, this is the web, it was never supposed to be the real world. Google says that the real name policy is there, so that they can provide users with better service. Sorry, but would it have been benefits for users that you're concerned about and not your own pocket, matters could have been much simpler. Instead of suspending user accounts, you could just warn them of the possible service quality issues, leave them to use whatever names they preferred, and put an end to this grand fiasco. Instead you've bought yourself a great deal of anger....

And then there is of course the small and insignificant problem of those of us who have names that you have not heard before. I even know of people who's accounts have been suspended several times simply because they have uncommon names. So what exactly is it that we're supposed to do? Prove to the almighty gods of social networks that I'm actually called this? Well that would be pretty much the end of both my patience and my interest.

So thanks to my friend, I have my account back which is pretty important for my use of several other Google services, but as to Google+... I don't know. After all of this, I'm no longer certain that I'm all that interested in using the service. For the moment the only reason I'm sticking around is my connections in there. I guess I'll just have to wait and see what will happen next....

Further reading: A similar story, and an interesting article

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Ahoo "Aasemoon" Pirsoleimani, 1998-2014