So, just to backtrack and fill everyone in on the details:
- I’ve been a strong advocate of pseudonymity for a considerable time. Hacker News and pseudonymity is a good example of my writing on the subject, from June last year.
- The startup I worked for was acquired by Google in July 2010.
- I left Google last Friday, July 15th, one year after the acquisition. My reasons are described, in part, here.
- During the time I was at Google, Google was working on the project that would become Google+. I was not involved directly in that project, but I did try to keep myself informed of their planned policies regarding pseudonymity, and advocated strongly in favour of Google+ allowing it. Obviously, that advocacy wasn’t successful.
- My first tweet upon leaving Google, posted from the BART station about ten minutes after walking out the door, was to state my belief that Google+’s anti-pseudonym policy was harmful and discriminatory. (I didn’t say so publicly before then because, as an employee, I couldn’t really publicly criticise my employer. Once I’d left, I felt more able to do so.)
- Because I knew Google’s policies pretty well (as much as anyone can, when they’re so unclear), I knew I was at risk of my account (under the name of “Skud .”) being suspended. I prepared this page about my name gathering evidence and testimonials from people who know me primarily, or solely, as “Skud”.
So today, I got off a plane this afternoon to find a pile of tweets, emails, and blog comments asking whether it was true that my Google+ account had been suspended. When I managed to get some wifi and check, it turned out that it had been.
I know there’s a lot of people wondering what happens when you get suspended, so here is my experience so far.
Gmail works fine, I can check my email. There’s no official notification that my Google+ account has been suspended, though.
When I click on “+Skud” in my Google toolbar (top left), it takes me to Google+, and I can see my stream, and that 16 new people are following me. When I click through to my own profile, though, I see this:
Your profile is suspended. After reviewing your profile, we determined that the name you provided violates our Community Standards. If you believe this profile has been suspended in error, please provide us with additional information via this form, and we will review your profile again.
Note, by the way, that the Google+ “Community Standards” (actually linked as Content Policy at the bottom of most pages on the site — just one of many inconsistencies) says:
To help fight spam and prevent fake profiles, use the name your friends, family or co-workers usually call you.
I had been pleased when I originally saw these terms, thinking that they would allow people with long-standing pseudonyms, or who regular use names that don’t match their state-issued ID, or who have unusual names, to use the service without difficulty. However, we’ve seen multiple cases of people having their accounts suspended despite this.
Anyway, I clicked through the form, which looked like this:
Our Community Standards play an important role in insuring a positive experience for everyone using Google Profiles. As part of our standards to help fight spam and prevent fake profiles, please use the name that your friends, family, or co-workers usually call you. […] If you believe that we have mistakenly suspended your profile for having an unauthentic [sic] name, please fill out the form below.
It then asks me for my name (uh, don’t you know that already?), email (ditto), link to my profile (ditto), and asks me to provide documentation. I can either give them a scan of my photo ID (obscuring “personal information”, whatever that means), or links to places on the web that demonstrate that this is my name. They suggest using Facebook (the site that allows Google founder Sergey Brin to go under a pseudonym, and whose own founder has a page for his dog) as evidence. I have something better, though, because I expected this to happen and I had already collated my evidence. I linked to that page and submitted the form.
The result was this ill-formated, uninformative page:
Thank you for sending us your feedback about Google Profiles.
No further word on what the appeals process looks like, how soon I can expect to hear back from them, or anything like that.
So, while I’m suspended, it appears that:
- I can view my stream, including posts to “Limited” circles that include me
- I can add people to my circles using the tool in the right sidebar
- However, it says I have 0 people in my circles, on my profile page
- When I go to my circles page, it says “People who’ve added you (undefined)”
- I can’t comment on anyone’s posts
- I don’t think anyone can add me to posts explicitly using +Skud/@Skud
- I can send feedback on Google+ (though I don’t much feel the urge to)
- ETA: I can’t use Google Takeout to export my profile and stream (screenshot).
People have been asking whether this suspension is in relation to me criticising Google’s hiring practices yesterday, or publicly criticising Google+’s pseudonymity policies over the past week or so (you can bet I’ve been criticising them privately, as an employee, for much longer than that). For the record, I don’t think these things are directly related, but I do think it is probable that my profile was reported by someone who disagrees with my pro-pseudonymity activism. Unsurprisingly, the very policy that was meant to make Google+ “a positive experience for all users” is easily used as a griefing tool against those expressing non-mainstream views. Who could have foretold that? (That sound you hear is is my head hitting my keyboard.)
Anyway, I will attempt to keep you all updated on the appeal process, with screenshots and so on. Hopefully if I can bring nothing else to this steaming pile of bullshit, I can bring documentation.
Also, if you’ve made it this far, you should check out the community-curated list of groups of people who are harmed by this policy and accompanying blog comments over at Geek Feminism.
Update, July 23rd
Email from Google, received at 3:23pm PDT, a little over a day since my suspension:
Thank you for contacting us with regard to the name in your Google
Profile. It looks like you have deleted your Google Profile, and thus we
are unable to take further action on your request for us to review the
name in your profile.
The Google Profiles Support Team
Um, no, I never deleted my account, though I did have the privacy settings locked down fairly tight. I’ve contacted them and advised them to try again. (Unrelatedly, I also made my profile slightly more visible, because I like the idea of adding “Banned from Google+ for using the name everyone knows me by” to my “bragging rights”.)
Update, July 24th
Please see my followup post where I talk a bit more about some of the issues.
Update, July 25th
Another email from “Ricky” (if that’s really his or her real name — I suspect it’s not):
Thank you for contacting us with regard to the name used in your Google
Profile. We have reviewed your appeal and need more information in order
to verify that the name entered Skud . is your common name.
Please reply to this email with a copy of your government issued ID, which
we will dispose of after review. Once we receive this information we can
review your appeal and come to a final decision.
Here is the reply I sent:
My government ID does not demonstrate that “Skud” is my common name — it only demonstrates the name by which the government calls me, and unless you expect me to “circle” border control guards or people from the DMV, I don’t see why that is more relevant than the name by which my friends and colleagues know me.
My website, to which I have already linked you, demonstrates that “Skud” is my common name. Let me link it again, in the hope that you will actually read it this time: http://infotrope.net/bio/my-name/
It’s now been three days since my suspension. Tomorrow I’m having lunch with my old colleagues at Google. I’ve tried not to escalate this process through unofficial channels because I want to see what the suspension and appeal process looks like to someone who doesn’t have my insider knowledge and contacts. I don’t doubt, though, that my case is being discussed a lot inside Google, and probably today or tomorrow will be when Google starts treating me differently from most people who’ve been suspended.
Update, July 26th
Yesterday afternoon (the 25th) I got this email from “Ricky”:
Thank you for contacting us with regard to the name you want to use with
your Google Profile. After further review, we have determined that your
name is within our Community Standards policy. Thank you for your patience
while we reviewed your profile name.
I mentioned this on Twitter but didn’t get too excited, as my profile page wasn’t actually reactivated yet. I emailed them back and said:
How long will it take for my profile to be reinstated now that you
have approved my name?
Time passed, and this morning I got the following email:
It seems you have edited your name back to “skud.” and your account was
blocked. You have to keep the edited name as your common name or your
account will continued to be blocked. Every time you edit your name it is
automatically checked by our system for violations.
Now, I didn’t edit my name. I didn’t touch it. And it is my common name, as I’ve shown through repeated documentation. But this documentation route is getting a little silly, so I decided to change tack:
Ricky, I never edited my name on my profile page — it has remained as my common name (the name my friends and colleagues know me by) since I first signed up for Google+.
But do I understand you correctly — if I were to edit my name to something else that looks more like you what think is a common name, you would unblock my account? Would “Kathleen Richards” be acceptable, for example? Is it permissable to include my common name, the one everyone knows me by, as a middle name in quotation marks, like Brian “Fitz” Fitzpatrick (the Google staffer responsible for Google Takeout) does? If so, I would be willing to change my name to Kathleen “Skud” Richards, just to have my account reinstated.
I’ve updated my profile to match. Let’s see what comes of this. [Later: I switched back to Kirrily “Skud” Robert — while I’m temporarily amused to troll them with a fake (but real-sounding) name like Kathleen Richards, I don’t actually want it on my profile.]
In other news, I had lunch with my old colleagues at Google’s San Francisco office. This is the visitor badge that Google issued me with:
Update, July 27th
This morning, another useless email from “Ricky”:
The name you use in the name field must resemble your First and Last name. Any other name you use can be placed right below the names field in the nick names field where other users can still recognize you by that name.
Here’s my response:
Ricky, it has been five days and I am starting to lose patience. Please can you answer the following questions clearly, without evasion and without copy-pasting form letters:
1) I have repeatedly demonstrated that “Skud” is the name by which I am known by the vast majority of my acquaintance, through the webpage at http://infotrope.net/bio/my-name/ This page shows that I am known by Skud by my friends, co-workers, co-habitants, conference organisers, and Google itself (where I was an employee until July 15th). In what specific way does this fail to meet your standards of documentation?
2) If you won’t let me simply use “Skud” as my name on Google+, how would you advise me to edit my name to meet your requirements? I wish my common name, “Skud”, to be visible on all my posts and comments, but am prepared to use other names alongside “Skud” if it will help get past your rules. I suggest using: Kirrily “Skud” Robert. Is this acceptable?
(Please don’t bother telling me to use the “nickname” field, as it does not show on my posts and comments.)
3) If it is not acceptable for me to include the nickname “Skud” in quotation marks in my Google+ name (as, eg, Kirrily “Skud” Robert), due to punctuation marks being disallowed, can you please explain why others, such as Google engineer Brian “Fitz” Fitzpatrick (********@google.com, responsible for Google Takeout) are allowed to do so, and by what method a member of the public can gain a similar exemption.
If you cannot answer the above questions by yourself, please escalate this to your supervisor.
Update, July 28th
Yesterday a Googler friend of mine pointed out that the case I’ve documented in this blog post looks rather like this xkcd comic (click through for full size strip):
This morning, “Ricky” emailed me again to chirp, “I’m a server!” yet another time:
To edit your name to comply with our Community Standards Policy can be
done so rather easily. Place the name Kirrily Roberts in the name field
and right below place your nickname”Skud” in the nick name field. Both
names will be visible to users and it solves the issue of complying with
our policy. If you wish to edit your name to comply please email me back.
So now I’m pulling out the big guns. Everyone knows (don’t they?) that the only way to get support from Google is to contact people you know inside the organisation and get them to advocate on your behalf. I’ve held off from doing so until now because nobody should have to do that. It’s not fair on Googlers who have to deal with begging from friends who need help with stuff the Googler knows little about, and it’s not fair on customers that a company that provides such vital services as email, website hosting, and phone service should be able to cut services off without offering a clear and usable path to resolution.
But since it seems to be the only way, I emailed the following back to Ricky, and Cc’d Vic Gundotra (SVP Social), Bradley Horowitz (VP Product), Michael Hermeston (who I believe is in charge of G+ customer support), Natalie Villalobos (Google+ community manager), and a few others I know who work on Google+ identity issues (all of whom know me as Skud). I also Bcc’d it to a number of my friends at Google, encouraging them to disseminate it widely inside the company.
Ricky, this is now the sixth day without resolution.
Yesterday I asked you three questions, and specifically asked you to answer them clearly, without evasion, and without copy-pasting form letters — or if you weren’t able, to escalate to your supervisor. You didn’t answer them, so here they are again:
[redacted for brevity]
I am now escalating this to Google+ management and [redacted] in the hopes that my questions will be answered and my account reinstated, under my common name (“Skud”). Nobody should ever have to rely on Googler acquaintances to get them customer support, but since that does seem to be the only way, I’m taking it.
You need to fix this harmful, hypocritical policy and allow people to actually use “the names by which they are known”. Not just special-cases for celebrities and people who have friends at Google, but for everyone — transgender people, those from non-Western cultures, people with only one name, even people whose names you think look silly. Google shouldn’t be telling me what my “common name” is or isn’t. It should be supporting me and validating my identity, so that I can use its services happily and encourage others to do so as well.