Google+ becomes more privacy-friendly with launch of pseudonyms

 

There's an accepted piece of wisdom which says that if people know who we are on the internet, we'll behave ourselves. It makes sense. After all, who'd want to be identified publicly as an abusive ranter who responds to even the mildest provocation with a stream of expletives?

No, we associate that behaviour with anonymous trolls, surely; pseudonymous, fleetingly active Twitter accounts, or forum-lurkers who snipe from behind the safety of an alias. When the Google+ social network was created three years ago, that was certainly the thinking; requiring people to use their real names would, as well as being a handy data-gatherer, avoid the etiquette problems faced by Twitter. Vic Gundotra, the driving force behind Google+, likened it to "a restaurant that doesn't allow in people who aren't wearing white shirts". Identifiable is good. Real names make us more civil.

We responded to Google+ with indifference for a whole heap of reasons, few to do with anonymity. Back then we read that people who were deemed to have broken Google's naming rules had had their accounts disabled, and that felt bad. Then, as the social network floundered, it was repositioned as a connect-o-scope for all your Google activity, including YouTube. Google's CEO, Eric Schmidt, referred to it as an "identity device". It became about knowing what we got up to, and our attitude towards that was, in the main, a shrug of acceptance.

But feelings have shifted. Anonymity is now seen less as an opportunity to harass and more a way to avoid harassment. It has always been stressed that anonymity is necessary for dissidents and whistleblowers to operate online, but today many more of us feel that this is applicable to us, too. Anonymity, pseudonymity, polynymity – surely that's our right?

Gundotra has now left Google, and the white-shirt approach has gone with him. This week, Google+ adopted what it describes as a more "welcoming and inclusive" approach, ie you'll be allowed to choose any pseudonym. Well, almost. You'll still need a first name and a surname, so Meatloaf might have a problem. Rude words and impersonation are not allowed. But aside from that, you can construct your own identity, run amok in the somewhat deserted world of Google+ and, perhaps more importantly, access other Google services – YouTube, Google Play, etc – using that name. You can, in the words of an uplifting soul ballad of the 1980s, be whoever you want to be.

It's a curious backtracking. It's been only months since Google forced us to use real-name Google+ accounts when commenting on YouTube, supposedly to usher in a new era of placid online behaviour.

Some studies have shown that anonymous comments are indeed more likely to be vulgar, racist, profane or hateful, but that doesn't mean that banning anonymity makes the anger disappear; for many, the compulsion to unleash bile is greater than any desire to preserve their online reputation. As Yonatan Zunger, the chief architect of Google+, says: "One of the reasons this [pseudonymity] is safe to launch is that our troll-smashing department has got very good at its job."

What this seems to be (and it's hugely ironic, given Google's reputation as an all-seeing eye) is a repositioning of the company being more privacy-friendly. Its recent move to swiftly implement the "right to be forgotten" ruling by the EU could be seen as another manifestation of that. Whether we buy it or not is another question, but hey – at least we can openly vent our spleens on the topic on Google+ using the name Saucer McBanjax, without Google knowing who we are.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Gadgets & Tech

    Ashdown Group: IT Support Analyst - London - £43,000

    £35000 - £43000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior IT Support Analyst...

    Ashdown Group: Senior Network Engineer - London - £70,000

    £60000 - £70000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An excellent opportunity ...

    Ashdown Group: Senior Systems Administrator - London - £50,000

    £40000 - £50000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Systems Administra...

    Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst- (Customer Support) - £29,000

    £29000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst- (Customer Suppor...

    Day In a Page

    Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

    Isis hostage crisis

    The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
    Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

    The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

    Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
    Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

    Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

    This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
    Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

    Cabbage is king again

    Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
    11 best winter skin treats

    Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

    Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
    Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

    Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
    Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
    Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

    Comedians share stories of depression

    The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
    Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

    Has The Archers lost the plot?

    A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
    English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

    14 office buildings added to protected lists

    Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
    World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

    Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

    The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
    Why the league system no longer measures up

    League system no longer measures up

    Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system