An update on my Google Plus suspension

I’ve been updating this post as I hear anything from Google Profiles Support, most recently three days ago (Thursday 28th July). However, that post’s getting long, and I keep having people ask me what’s going on, or why I don’t do X or haven’t I considered Y, so I thought I’d post a summary/update.

The current status is:

  • My account is still suspended — nine days and counting.
  • They won’t accept my evidence that I am called “Skud” in daily life, and have asked to see my government ID instead.
  • As far as I can tell, they want me to change my name on their service to “Kirrily Robert”, with “Skud” in the nickname field on my “about” page. This is not acceptable to me, as “Skud” — the common name by which most people know me — would not show anywhere on my posts.
  • I don’t want to change to just “Kirrily Robert” as that would confuse many of my friends. However, I am willing to change to a hybrid (eg. Kirrily “Skud” Robert) as long as “Skud” shows somewhere on my posts and comments. (My name is not a true pseudonym, but a long-standing and widely-used nickname, so unlike many, I don’t have privacy concerns about disclosing the name on my government ID.)
  • In fact, a few days ago I actually edited my profile to show Kirrily “Skud” Robert and enquired whether this is acceptable. They have not responded, and do not appear to have reviewed it.
  • In my email to them, I said that if the formatting on “Skud” (with quote marks) bothered them, I would like to hear their suggestions on more acceptable formatting. They aren’t answering.
  • After a week of no resolution, I attempted to escalate by Cc’ing my support emails to relevant staff within Google. There was no response whatsoever, and pointed silence from a good friend who works as a user advocate on G+ identity issues, which leads me to believe that staff have been instructed not to speak on the issue, or not to respond to me, or both.

Here’s what I want from Google, in order of immediacy:

  • A meaningful, non-form-letter response to my support request.
  • A solution which allows me to show my commonly-used name, “Skud”, on my posts and comments. As far as my own case is concerned, I’m quite willing to compromise (for instance with Kirrily “Skud” Robert), but I’m not willing to use a name that doesn’t include “Skud” in any way, or that consists of only the name on my government ID, as most of my social circle would not recognise me under those conditions.
  • A clear, unequivocal statement from Google+ management that they understand that many people have names that differ from their government ID, and that those names, if commonly used in daily life, are explicitly permitted on Google+.
  • A consistent, well-documented way for people whose commonly used names don’t match their government ID to provide evidence that those are the names they really are known by (note that this should not be limited to Facebook or other services which implicitly or explicitly require a match with government ID.)
  • Google to develop better ways to handle spam and personal reputation on social networks. They have the smarts and the data for this, and could make a much more meaningful and positive change to the Internet if they were to take it on.

And here are some responses to things a number of people have asked me, just to conveniently put them all in one place:

  • You use Kirrily “Skud” Robert elsewhere, why don’t you just go with that? I’ve tried, they haven’t responded to my email requesting review.
  • You have a Facebook account under Kirrily Robert. Why aren’t you complaining about Facebook? If you’ll look at my Facebook account, you’ll see it’s just a placeholder, which I hardly ever use, in large part because it’s strange to do so under a name that few people know me by. Though I’ve spoken in the past about Facebook’s name policy, I was less insistent about it because they were just one website (albeit a large one) and because their policy was at least clearly stated and apparently consistent.
  • If you don’t like the policy, don’t use G+. If only it were that easy. That’s more or less what I’ve done on Facebook — as I said, I mostly just use it as a placeholder — but I don’t feel like that’ll work so well on Google+. Google+ has tentacles that extend into other services. Even though Google have said that the name policy doesn’t affect anything outside G+ and Profiles (which in itself is a bit disingenuous, as related policies, equally poorly communicated and enforced, do), I’ve seen some effects start to show up in other products. For instance yesterday I got a warning on Google Groups, saying that I had limited functionality because my G+ profile was suspended. Similarly, Jon Pincus points out that use of G+ is already affecting search results, disadvantaging those not using the service. If “everything is social” and Google starts to connect other products with G+, then a wide range of services start to be affected. This is not just “don’t use one website”, it’s “limit your use of a significant number of services”.
  • It’s a field trial, they’ve said they’re working on it, hang in there and it will get better. I have to say I mistrust this. Google has a poor history when it comes to promising “we’ll get to that later”. Furthermore, they’ve already had months and months to figure this out before launch, and chosen not to. If the pressure and advocacy that have been applied so far haven’t been enough to make them prioritise the issue, then I don’t think quietly sitting around and waiting for them to do it is going to get results.
  • Blah blah anonymity blah. Just to be clear, I am not speaking at all about anonymity online, which is a different issue (an interesting one, but one I’m not dealing with right now). I’m talking about long-standing, widely-used, persistent names that have accrued reputation and social capital, but which just happen not to match government ID.
  • Don’t you have anything better to do? Not really, I’m unemployed, and I think this is important.
Fists of Fury

ObMural: "Hearts of Gold, Fists of Fury" in Clarion Alley, in SF's Mission District, ca. 2007. "Everywoman -- her weapon: rising up"


32 thoughts on “An update on my Google Plus suspension

  • Miso Susanowa

    hey Skud… thanks for taking this on.

    I’ve written about my dim view that this is “all about the marketing” and “more like real life” in several places. In “real life” I don’t give a tidy packet of info to everyone in a mall, or to the grocer or the bookstore or the coffee man. In “real life” I have a lot smaller distribution curve for such granular detail of my personal information and I really don’t see why this issue has to be so muddied-up; just because “it’s in teh intertubes” is a BS excuse.

  • Murphy Jacobs

    As you’ve said, this is an issue beyond just using G+ but digs into issues regarding large corporate entities forcing identity compliance onto users, which — in my opinion — pushes beyond the “Information in exchange for services” contract implicit in the use of social services. It’s hardly a new issue. I’ve yet to see more than anecdotal evidence that using a particular style of identity which is Google Compliant (“real” having no definition in this instance) created a particular, desirable kind of social environment.

    Keep fighting the good fight!

  • Andre van Eyssen

    Google’s “Vision” is more and more focussed on replacing everything with a Google-branded replacement tied into their rules and policies.

    I hope this sort of behaviour starts waking people to the fact that they’ve sold their online identity – email, IM, blogs and now social media – to a very large advertising company. An advertising company with little interest in the requirements of the individual.

    G+ is rapidly becoming completely useless to me; more and more people have canxed their profiles over this issue and there’s very little motivation to view their content.

  • Skud Post author

    I should add that to the list of answers to commonly asked questions.

    Of course I’ve considered it. However, the process of making sure that “Skud” is a legal name in the US (where I currently live) and Australia (of which I am a citizen) consists of… wait for it… using it.

    Here’s the relevant US law:

    One may be employed, do business, and enter into other contracts, and sue and be sued under any name they choose at will (Lindon v. First National Bank 10 F. 894, Coppage v. Kansas 236 U.S. 1, In re McUlta 189 F. 250).

    Such a change carries exactly the same legal weight as a court-decreed name change as long as it is not done with fraudulent intent (In re McUlta 189 F. 250, Christianson v. King County 196 F. 791, United States v. McKay 2 F.2d 257).

    As for changing the name on my legal documents (passport, driver’s license, etc) — that’s something I could do if I wanted to, but I don’t see why I should have to go to that expense and inconvenience, since I’m already legally allowed to “do business” as Skud.

    When I get back to Australia, however, I am probably going to write a statutory declaration (similar to a US affidavit), to the effect that Skud is a name that I go by in daily life. It seems like that might be a useful document to have.

  • Skud Post author

    Not yet. They haven’t got back to me about the previous attempt. But as I said to someone who asked the other day, I’d prefer not to use that combination of names, as it’s not something that anyone ever calls me, and would probably just cause confusion.

  • stuart

    Not that you should have to but if Skud is your ‘one true name’ why wouldn’t you *want* to have it legally changed?

  • Argonel

    I had never heard of you until your issues with G+, but I appreciate that you are willing to fight for the ability to use your common name on G+.

    If it comes down to it would you consider speding a little time in GIMP or Photoshop to build an image that looks like a government ID issued in the name of SKUD? There may be specific legal issues, but considering that there is no intent to defraud I would think it would be a tough case to prosecute against you.

  • Skud Post author

    I’m pretty sure creating a fake ID is illegal. I’d rather not go that route (while acknowledging that yes, I could, and their system probably wouldn’t be able to tell.)

  • Emory LaserWolf

    The last communication I received from Google said, flat out, that pseudonyms are against their policy. I don’t consider my name a pseudonym, told them so, and again have not heard anything for 5 days.

  • Wendy Darling

    Stick to your guns and demand answers from Google. It is unbelievable that Google, in a trial, would resort to banning its users as a first response to anything. Worse that they are so ridiculously inconsistent with the application of a policy that is so ridiculously unclear (they’ve still got it linking to “The Freedom to be who you want to be…” blog post.

    Brad Horowitz proclaimed that an upcoming change would be to warn users of potential suspensions issues. That was just talk, obviously, since suspensions are still happening, even to people using their real names.

    The people proclaiming that we should relax and wait for Google to figure it out make me the angriest because they are either (A) people who figure they are safe due to the use of “real names” or (B) people using pseudonyms who are too scared to fight like you do and are just trying to remain under the radar. Cowards.

    I’ve always joked about Google’s knowledge about everything about us makes it the Skynet of our time. Wish Google would just come out and admit it…

  • Emory LaserWolf

    Uhhhh…. why can I post now? My profile is still suspended, but I can now post and comment on other people’s stuff… What the FUCK is going on in there???

  • Wendy Darling

    It’s really messed up. I’m seeing a post from CZ Unit (who was allowed back after providing a Linkedin and Facebook account, plus emails from various people proving that they know him, but was then suspended again). My good friend is suspended, but able to comment and +1 randomly. Someone else was able to make a post, having found some sort of work around…

  • Sam Vilain

    Ok, great but what’s the counter-argument? As I understand it, it’s that the “deindividuation” caused by an extremely liberal autonym policy leads to trolling.

    This is covered recently by one of the top 3 blogs in New Zealand, more specifically in relation to what I would label hate speech being protected by the use of a pseudonym: see http://publicaddress.net/hardnews/how-much-speech-does-it-take/

    My thoughts are that it comes down to investment in the name. If you already use the name in many other social networks and situations, then it doesn’t really matter what it is, because it is a well-known moniker – a lawful name. So, you would think twice before posting something which goes contrary to that name. As long as the name is not being used fraudulently – _such as to hide from the ramifications of saying it_ – then it’s fine.

  • CopyLion

    I have a similar case, it’s been 12 days since I was banned from using G+. At first they answered the emails and forum threads, and now it’s the 7th day I got absolutely nothing from them.
    I use Alison CopyLion Cheung as the name on my profile and brings up two problems:
    1.Most people know me as CopyLion, as I have some blogs under this name and I use it on the internet, even my real life friends and colleagues know this name. I want them to know it’s CopyLion when they see that name on comments or posts by me, not only when they read my profile and finally know Alison=CopyLion by seeing that tiny little “nickname” field at the bottom of the page Some also know me as Alison, I want to let them know Alison=CopyLion. A lot like your case.

    2.A very large proportion of Hong Kong people use names like Alison Cheung, but that is not on our ID cards. We just use names like Victor and Brian to call each other.People like me use this kind of names at work, print it on business name cards and put that on Facebook. This is what I posted on the help forum. Over 10 days and some of those “Brian Chan”s or “Victor Siu”s are unable to access G+ again as that name will never match the one on their IDs.
    http://www.google.com/support/forum/p/gmail/thread?tid=40356d87de8509c0&hl=en

    I have filled in the questionnaire, but I want to bring this up again as I think this is quite similar to your Kirrily “Skud” Robert case. I hope this can help, or just let me know what else can I do :?

  • Lyrics Express

    I so totally understand. I am Lyrics Express online and offline. I introduce myself as Lyrics – and I am known in my industry as Lyrics.

    No one would know me – just like most wouldn’t know most Celebrities or Musicians if they went by their “REAL” names.

    I do understand the effort to curb spam – but I think ESTABLISHED accounts should not be suspended – AND – I think that individuals who can PROVE established usage of their name in online existence PRIOR to Google+ should be permitted to keep their names.

    I’m a bit frustrated as I have been an active part of online social media for quite some time.

    And this is like a slap in the face.

  • AMM

    If Google’s primary interest is in creating a cool new social networking system, then their policy doesn’t really make sense.

    However, if Google’s real interest is in collecting as much information as possible about each individual, it makes loads of sense. By requiring its users to provide identification that can be used to look them up in other databases — credit history databases, driving records, school records, property records, etc. — they can make it easier for their real customers — marketers — to better target their marketing. Since targeted marketing is already Google’s business (the “free services” are just bait to get us to give them the data), this seems to be a more likely motivation.

    If I’m right, it means that Hell will freeze over before they abandon their “real names” policy.

    The only thing that surprises me is that they haven’t required social security numbers.

  • Velma

    As a data point, my Google+ account is not my “real” name, and is not a name I ever use in realtime: Patrick Nielsen Hayden sent me the beta invitation to an account with a completely different name. It sounds plausible, though, so no one has questioned it. I wonder how they justify that?

  • Kteis

    I am really outraged by this. And I really hope it’s just a procedural mistake. I own .com domain Kteis, I tweet, facebook, squidoo, blog and everything else with my artistic name, I put it on my creations and now it’s not good enough for Google+!

  • Earl Grey

    I wonder if Cliff Richard (harry webb) and other celebritys like cher have actually changed their name legally or there are any examples of celbritys using their `stage names` that google chooses to ignore.

    I dont know how it works in other countrys but in uk you just fill a form out and pay a bit of money to change your name legally.
    Change your name legally to skud so you can get back on google+.
    Would be fun for the giggles.

  • Semipro

    I just wonder how they will handle my account for Virtual Apple ][. I have listed my name as Virtual Apple and what are they goign to say? Use your real name? The account if for an organization, not a person. So will it come to pass that organizations cant use Google+? I would say they would be better off changing their name to Google- as I dont see anything that puts the plus into it on this real names issue. Keep at it Skud!

    Semipro
    AKA Bill Martens

  • the hatter

    You neither need to ign a piece of paper nor pay any money to change your name in the UK, you simply need to use any name you might like (or several) as long as it’s not for fraudulent purposes. The same applies in most countries whose legal system derives from ours. Going the deed poll route just makes it easier for some organisations to accept.

  • kamera sistemleri

    I have to admit that the idea of organising people into groups I find very compelling. Right at the moment I don’t share my facebook page with business contacts. I suspect many others have the same issues that a facebook page is about your social life and you quite possibly don’t want to mix that with your business life. I think there may be a cultural aspect to this as well. In the US I think there is less of a divide between private and business life, here in the UK I think we tend to have a firmer divide. Whether that’s a good or bad thing who’s to say but it does impact how we view applications like Facebook from a business standpoint.

    I’m going to be signing up for a Google+ account because I think this is a bold experiment from Google and I’m fascinated to see how it turns out.

    Best regards,

  • Aleta Curry

    The real problem with all of this is not policy, or at least, it wouldn’t be, if policies were thoughtfully arrived at, consistently applied and policed, and timely and respectfully communicated.

    A real name policy should be just that: it should recognise the real names by which people are known.

    Plenty of people like their nicknames, but don’t want to change their names legally. Plenty of people use pen names, stage names – or use married and maiden names interchanably, depending on venue. Other people are double – or family – acts.

    This cookie-cutter approach is beyond a joke.

    Their summary and very public suspensions are offensive in the extreme.

  • Wolfger

    Just wanted to chime in: “My problem exactly!”
    Many, many people, in real life as well as online, only know me as Wolfger and would not recognize my legal name if they saw it. Google’s policy explicitly permits common names to be used, yet I got targeted eventually, and Google support (as I learned from my Blogspot days) is non-existent. I wouldn’t mind at all, really, except it has impacted my ability to use Buzz, which is the only social network-y thing not blocked by my firewall at work. :-p

Comments are closed.