Here’s why we need a critical debate about Google’s Real Name policy: first, because it embodies a highly controversial theory of human behaviour, that the way to maximise civility is to abolish anonymity – even though everyone knows Muammar Gaddafi’s real name (though not how to spell it) and no one knows the name of the kind driver who slows to let you cross the road.
Second, because it embodies an equally controversial theory of identity: that our lives are best lived when we have a single identity that persists in all contexts over time, so your grandparents get the same experience of you that your lover does, your boss sees the same side of you that your toddler does.
Next, because social services exert pressure on non-users – when all your friends join G+, the pressure mounts on you to do the same.
And finally, because the policy Google espouses is likely to exact costs on its users long after they made their “use/don’t use” decision, and those consequences are not easy to discern in advance.
This last reason is the most important one. Google suggests that our internet use is a series of fair trades: I’ll give you the management of my identity if you give me easy social experiences and easy logins across multiple services.
The post that linked me to this article makes an excellent additional point: “Lewis Carroll wrote fiction yet Charles Dodgson wrote mathematics textbooks…even though both happened to be the same physical person.” This separation of identities would not be possible on Google Plus, even with the Circles functionality, since Circles still require that all of your contacts see your ‘real name’, even though you can compartmentalize the interactions you have with groups of those contacts.
In the United States, however, personal information about a consumer generally may be kept by the company that processes it — except for certain regulated industries like credit. Individual companies in many sectors set their own policies on data retention. Some agree to delete information; others don’t.
“As a general matter, companies in the United States don’t have to recognize your right to be deleted,” says Marc Rotenberg, the executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a research group in Washington. “They may choose to accommodate you, but they are not required to.”
The result was, unfortunately, predictable. René was ordered by his superiors to cease all blogging, Twittering, and other social network activity related to public health. Having just last year been the subject of an e-mail and telephone campaign to try to get my university to fire me for my online activities, I completely sympathize with what René went through. Government and corporate organizations can be completely obtuse about the Internet, blogosphere, and the new social media, and, quite frankly, what one does in one’s own time should in general not be so restricted. That I’m fortunate enough to work for a university that values free speech for its faculty (the dean herself called me to assure me of this) does not mean that others are that fortunate.
Here lies the huge irony in this discussion. Persistent pseudonyms aren’t ways to hide who you are. They provide a way to be who you are. You can finally talk about what you really believe; your real politics, your real problems, your real sexuality, your real family, your real self. Much of the support for “real names” comes from people who don’t want to hear about controversy, but controversy is only a small part of the need for pseudonyms. For most of us, it’s simply the desire to be able to talk openly about the things that matter to every one of us who uses the Internet. The desire to be judged—not by our birth, not by our sex, and not by who we work for—but by what we say.
Behind every pseudonym is a real person. Deny the pseudonym and you deny the person.
This post is fantastic. Among other things it lists some of the real-life situations that lead people to conduct their online activities pseudonymously and examines the arguments against using pseudonyms.
Excellent (brief) article about how using real names on social networks is radically different to what we would expect if we made the same sort of statement aloud in public.
But this week’s discussions have made me rethink my intuition about names on social networks. My instincts had strongly pointed to requiring real names; my experience in the comment trenches of different websites has led me to believe that pure anonymity online creates a short-circuiting of our social software. It seemed natural to believe that attaching a persistent, real name to one’s online identity more accurately modeled our real-world social space.
I’ve changed my mind. The kind of naming policy that Facebook and Google Plus have is actually a radical departure from the way identity and speech interact in the real world. They attach identity more strongly to every act of online speech than almost any real world situation does.
There are ways to opt-out of most major tracking companies. However, a study by Stanford University Law School’s Center for Internet and Society has found that many online advertising networks are not adhering to their own privacy policies and continue to rely on and push out Web tracking cookies even after users have indicated that they do not wish to be tracked. Half of 64 online advertising firms did not remove their tracking cookies from the computers of consumers who had opted out of behavioral ad targeting. More recently, researchers at U.C. Berkeley have discovered that some of the net’s most popular sites were using a tracking service that can’t be evaded, even when users block cookies, turn off storage in Flash, or use browsers’ “incognito” functions.
…Then along comes Google Plus, thinking that it can just dictate a “real names” policy. Only, they made a huge mistake. They allowed the tech crowd to join within 48 hours of launching. The thing about the tech crowd is that it has a long history of nicks and handles and pseudonyms. And this crowd got to define the early social norms of the site, rather than being socialized into the norms set up by trusting college students who had joined a site that they thought was college-only. This was not a recipe for “real name” norm setting. Quite the opposite. Worse for Google… Tech folks are VERY happy to speak LOUDLY when they’re pissed off. So while countless black and Latino folks have been using nicks all over Facebook (just like they did on MySpace btw), they never loudly challenged Facebook’s policy. There was more of a “live and let live” approach to this. Not so lucky for Google and its name-bending community. Folks are now PISSED OFF.
Trouble is, the tracking data culled from your Internet searches and surfing can get commingled with the information you disclose at websites for shopping, travel, health or jobs. And it’s now possible to toss into this mix many of the personal disclosures you make on popular social networks, along with the preferences you may express via all those nifty Web applications that trigger cool services on your mobile devices.
Pseudonymity, and password-protected spaces, let me do both. Pseudonymity lets us do the same thing that meatspace and its constraints have let us do for millennia: present different aspects of ourselves in different social contexts while remaining within social norms — even when the presentation of those same aspects in other contexts would violate norms. Meatspace lets us do this all under the same name because sound fades in time and space, because meatspace is seldom recorded or indexed or searchable, because meatspace typically shows us the people we’re interacting with and lets us make choices accordingly. The post-Google internet gives us none of those affordances, but gives us — has given us — instead: names. We can name and group our contexts and aspects to give us the shelter of local social norms. We can be a part of the social norms that matter most to us, even when they are out of favor with some more culturally dominant norm that has the potential to hurt us if we violate it.
…Persistent pseudonymity is importantly different from anonymity and I do wish people would realize that.
But there is one person for whom insisting on the use of real names on social networking sites is not enough. Unsurprisingly, that person is Facebook’s Marketing Director, Randi Zuckerberg. Speaking last week on a panel discussion about social media hosted by Marie Claire magazine, Zuckerberg said,I think anonymity on the Internet has to go away. People behave a lot better when they have their real names down. … I think people hide behind anonymity and they feel like they can say whatever they want behind closed doors.
Wow. Just wow.
Sally Stern-Hamilton’s literary work — a disturbing look at life in the library — wound up on the shelves at Mason County District Library.
It got her shelved there as a library assistant.
Now, Stern-Hamilton, a Ludington woman whose “Library Diaries” chronicles unsavory characters in a place she called “Denialville,” has filed a federal lawsuit alleging that the library violated her free-speech rights by firing her.
“While you stop short of naming the individuals you targeted in your book, your detailed descriptions of their unique characteristics and mannerisms make them easily identifiable in our small community,” the AP quoted [library director] Dickson as writing.
There are several places online that librarians vent about their work and its frustrations (yes, including frustrating/mind-boggling patrons and staff). I suppose it’s somewhat unavoidable that someone familiar with the situations and people might recognize the scenarios no matter how many details are tweaked/obscured, but on the other hand it sounds like very few readers of the book outside that community would have any idea who the characters were…
It will be interesting to see what comes of this.
There are myriad reasons why individuals may wish to use a name other than the one they were born with. They may be concerned about threats to their lives or livelihoods, or they may risk political or economic retribution. They may wish to prevent discrimination or they may use a name that’s easier to pronounce or spell in a given culture.
Online, the reasons multiply. Internet culture has long encouraged the use of “handles” or “user names,” pseudonyms that may or may not be tied to a person’s offline identity. Longtime online inhabitants may have handles that have spanned over twenty years.
Pseudonymous speech has played a critical role throughout history as well. From the literary efforts of George Eliot and Mark Twain to the explicitly political advocacy of Publius in the Federalist Papers or Junius’ letters to the Public Advertiser in 18th century London, people have contributed strongly to public debate under pseudonyms and continue to do so to this day.
Companies have long used criminal background checks, credit reports and even searches on Google and LinkedIn to probe the previous lives of prospective employees. Now, some companies are requiring job candidates to also pass a social media background check.
A year-old start-up, Social Intelligence, scrapes the Internet for everything prospective employees may have said or done online in the past seven years.
Then it assembles a dossier with examples of professional honors and charitable work, along with negative information that meets specific criteria: online evidence of racist remarks; references to drugs; sexually explicit photos, text messages or videos; flagrant displays of weapons or bombs and clearly identifiable violent activity.
Franzen characterizes the choices we make online as “asserting a consumer choice” and as these choices accrue, they begin to define who we are and what we can see. Oddly enough, the price we pay is our selves – our privacy, which we give up routinely in exchange for convenience and customization. Mostly, we give it up without even noticing it’s gone. Facebook is radically transparent – at least, when it comes to you.It’s not so transparent about its plans, or its latest set of byzantine privacy settings.
He proposes some interesting things about what libraries should be taking advantage of now that reading is more of a networked activity (like notes made on an ebook). I don’t think most libraries have the technology in place to make use of these suggestions, though, and I really don’t think they’d be deemed sufficiently necessary to be pursued at times like this when budgets are a problem and merely keeping the library open can be a monumental task.
They’re interesting ideas nonetheless.