This weekend, many Google Plus users got a rude awakening, when they discovered that their Google Plus user accounts – along with all other associated Google Accounts – were unceremoniously deleted from the Google system. This without the slightest notification or recourse. The reason, as explained in a CNet news piece, is that Google would like to maintain a friendly air at Google Plus and therefore prefers real names:
In a reported conversation Sunday night with tech blogger Robert Scoble, Google’s senior vice president of social, Vic Gundotra, acknowledged that Google has made mistakes in its first pass with Google+. But he explained that the requirement to use real names is an attempt to set a positive tone, “like when a restaurant doesn’t allow people who aren’t wearing shirts to enter.”
The comparison to a restaurant’s shirt and shoes policy is cute but not at all apt. There are perfectly legitimate sanitary concerns about walking around barefoot in a restaurant, plus half-naked Baby Boomers do not belong anywhere near my garbage plate, thank you very much.
Using a real or assumed name on the Internet is a trickier issue. One of the luxuries of being on the Internet is the ability to remain anonymous and I think we eliminate anonymity on the Internet at our peril. It is easy to discount the importance of not being associated with an account when we see trolls on websites, but the reality is that, whether looking into deeply-personal medical information or just wanting more information of a type that might hurt one’s relationships or career, there are plenty of times when the freedom to not have to identify yourself is paramount. And its important also to remember that, whereas in the past you simply looked at websites completely anonymously anyway, the social nature of the modern Internet means you can’t ever really be sure which sites are hooked into which of your social networks.
Put it another way: if Google’s intent is to allow you to maintain your own personal data and keep privacy as you see it, then Google also has to acknowledge that your identity is itself a piece of personal data. To be shared or kept private.