Google+ To Support Pseudonyms

In a reversal of its previous policy requiring users to use their real names, Google+ is allowing users to use pseudonyms, AllThingsD reports.

Senior Vice President of Engineering at Google Vic Gundotra appeared onstage at AllThingsD’s Web 2.0 summit alongside Google co-founder Sergey Brin to announce the move, which he said would be rolled out in a few days. “It’s complicated to get this right,” Gundotra said.

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The move will also allow brands to host pages on Google+, much like they already do on Facebook. Google+’s new features will make it more competitive with the social networking giant.

Google+ had previously deleted any users who had used pseudonyms in the past, causing outrage from privacy advocates. A backlash against social networking sites like Google+ and Facebook requiring real names, dubbed the “nymwars.” Google said that removing pseudonymous users helped ensure that the service would be free from spam, but a lot of users objected for various reasons.

And it’s not necessarily spammers and other people who have evil intent who are hurt by real names policies. The Geek Feminism Wiki has a whole page about who these policies hurt. At the top of the list is women, who frequently find themselves the target of harassment online, up to 25 percent more than males do. They also have to deal with not being taken seriously as men simply because they are women.

Other people for whom these policies are actually dangerous are whistleblowers, people living under oppressive governments and people posting about their work, who may be fired and in extreme cases suffer bodily harm or even be murdered simply for speaking their minds under their real names. Social media researcher danah boyd [she actually spells her name with no caps] called these policies  “an authoritarian assertion of power over vulnerable people.”

Another page, My Name Is Me, sprang up with a number of people from all walks of life supporting the idea of pseudonymity.

And since these companies are mostly based in the English-speaking world, they often fail to recognize that naming conventions differ drastically throughout  the world. The “first name, middle name, last name” convention is just that, convention. A lot of what would be considered “real names” in many parts of the world might look like nicknames if they were used for online services.

Google+ allowing users to use any name they want is a major step forward for online privacy, putting people in greater control of the information they give away online letting them use these services to spread their messages while allowing themselves to stay safe.

If you enjoyed this, be sure to check out our posts on Google+ opening to everyone, and Google launching their own beer.