The other day I posted a call for people who have had their accounts suspended by Google for name-related reasons to fill in this form.
I’ve received over a hundred responses so far (N=119), so it’s time to start talking about the results.
Firstly, 74% of respondents are using the name that most people know them by. Specifically, 18% say that the name they are using on Google+ is the one they are known by “exclusively” and 56% say that “a majority of people know me by this”. However, only 13% of respondents say that it’s the name that appears on their government-issued ID.
No surprise whatsoever: many people are known by names other than what’s on their ID.
What types of names are causing suspensions? Here are some that respondents have said it’s okay to share:
- Many names that seem “normal” even by the fairly limited standards Google seems to be employing: george meagles, Winter Seale, b. pepper, Jacqueline L., Laurence Simon, etc. Though he didn’t reply to my survey, William Shatner was also suspended.
- Names that incorporate a nickname or handle as a middle name or using an “aka”, eg: Steve “robUx4” Lhomme, Robert Myers aka Zarber Paracelsus, Josh (slayerXcore) Kimble. Another well-known example who didn’t take the survey is Limor “LadyAda” Fried.
- A number of people using mononyms, including some for whom it is their legal name/on their government ID (“Sai”) and some who commonly use mononyms that don’t match their government ID (I’m in this bucket, as I used “Skud”). Some mononymous people have used a dot as their surname, while others have repeated their name, eg. “aestetix aestetix”.
- Many cases of online identities of long standing, including Second Life identities, bloggers, etc.
- Many cases of professional names: authors, artists, musicians, and technologists who are known by pen names/stage names/etc.
- A handful of cases of names of non-English origin (Arabic, Taiwanese, etc) being suspended — I have heard that there are many cases of this, but I haven’t heard from many, perhaps because my survey is only in English.
Most telling are the reasons people give for their choice of name:
- “I am a high school teacher, privacy is of the utmost importance.”
- “I publish under my nom de plume, it’s printed on my business cards, and all of the thousands of people I know through my social networks know my by my online name.”
- “I have used this name/account in a work context, my entire family know this name and my friends know this name. It enables me to participate online without being subject to harassment that at one point in time lead to my employer having to change their number so that calls could get through.”
- “I do not feel safe using my real name online as I have had people track me down from my online presence and had coworkers invade my private life.”
- “I’ve been stalked. I’m a rape survivor. I am a government employee that is prohibited from using my IRL.”
- “I work for a private club. I have to carry a card around which states I will not share any element of the club with any sort of media. So, If I want to talk about work (and I do) on the net, I have to use an alias.”
- “I’ve been using this name for over 10 years in the “hacking” community. There are a nontrivial amount of people who know me *only* by that name.”
- “As a former victim of stalking that impacted my family I’ve used [my nickname] online for about 7 years.”
- “Under [this name] I am active in a number of areas of sexual difference for which it would not be wise for me to use my flesh legal name.”
- “My actual real name is utterly non-identifying, as 1) it is the name of a character in a movie (Girl, Interrupted), and that overwhelms google search results 2) it’s not unique at ALL.”
- “[this name] is a pseudonym I use to protect myself. My web site can be rather controversial and it has been used against me once.”
- “I started using [this name] to have at least a little layer of anonymity between me and people who act inappropriately/criminally. I think the “real names” policy hurts women in particular.
- “I use the pseudonym to maintain my online anonymity because I am polyamorous and have no desire for professional acquaintances to discover this.”
- “I enjoy being part of a global and open conversation, but I don’t wish for my opinions to offend conservative and religious people I know or am related to. Also I don’t want my husband’s Govt career impacted by his opinionated wife, or for his staff to feel in any way uncomfortable because of my views.”
- “I have privacy concerns for being stalked in the past. I’m not going to change my name for a google+ page. The price I might pay isn’t worth it.”
- “We get death threats at the blog, so while I’m not all that concerned with, you know, sane people finding me. I just don’t overly share information and use a pen name.”
- “This identity was used to protect my real identity as I am gay and my family live in a small village where if it were openly known that their son was gay they would have problems.”
- “I go by pseudonym for safety reasons. Being female, I am wary of internet harassment.”
It reads like a reiteration of the list of groups harmed by a “real names” policy that we started putting together last week, doesn’t it? And I’m not at all surprised that more than 10% explicitly cited safety concerns (stalking, harassment, etc), and the majority of those were women.
I’ve put together a spreadsheet that shows the data from those people who said I could share it. Note that the group who agreed to share their data are, on the whole, more likely to be from Western/English-speaking cultures, and more likely to have names based on Internet identities than those in the “don’t share” group. In other words, Internet pseuds are over-represented in the public spreadsheet, and international respondents are under-represented. Here are the public responses.
As I said, this is a preliminary round-up of the data. I’m hoping to get more responses and do more analysis over time. Please keep sending people to take the survey if they’ve been suspended. If you previously took the survey and want to update your information (for instance, if your account has been reinstated), you can email me the details at firstname.lastname@example.org.