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back to article Google's anonymity ban defied by Thomas Jefferson

The technology world loves to navel-gaze and think it's constantly breaking new ground, but as in the case of the recent debate over real names and anonymity on Google+, technology often plods over well-trodden ground. For example, if you dropped one of the American republic's "founding fathers" into the midst of the Google+ …

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Hmm.

Very interesting discussion/article with a number of very good points. The issue in the last paragraph about FBs built in advantage here contra Google+ inasmuch as their punters *wish* to fly their own colours is a very well taken one that had not occurred to me. In the end of course it is the old story about creating a service that your punters want in the form that *they* want it. A concept that is a *lot* simpler to describe than it is to realise.

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Anonymous Coward

Onymous Vitriol

The point that was missed, however, is that although FB users are very much flying their own colours, they're also guilty of some of the worst hate speech the internet has seen. For example:

http://onemansblog.com/2011/08/06/christians-openly-advocate-killing-athiests-on-fox-news-facebook-page/

If your cause is righteous, let the world know how you feel. Or some such.

More likely, given remarks like "I love Jesus, and the cross and if you dont, I hope someone rapes you!" these people are just too stupid to understand the concepts of free speech and anonymity and the interplay between them. So Matt's argument probably stands.

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Paris Hilton

Nymous

surely?

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Anonymous Coward

Flying your own colours

Let me then point out that the same mechanism already ensures you'll use your own name if you want to (and as noted doesn't stop plenty of those selfsame real name users from spewing vitriol) obviating the need to try and force people to use /only/ their real name.

This leaves open the possibility for making a case for wanting to prevent people from (ab)using other people's identities. But that doesn't justify any policy of forcing real name use, nor does such a policy actually help. Instead it provides a larger field of "obvious" real names to hide in and doesn't foster awareness that some people aren't using their legal identities. As such, I'd say the straight-up requirement to be snake oil.

The problem with removing the policy, of course, is that now the operator has to fess up to the fact that things aren't cut and dried but instead gradual, offering various levels of assurance. It would expose wide open just how poorly that assurance really is, too.

Of course, this is already the case but it's glossed over with a fancy veneer that hides the actual problems and inconsistencies. Moreover that assurance is contingent on the trustworthyness of the operator. Google+ offers an already oft-disproved "don't be evil" and facebook offers a long string of very public privacy gaffes.

Pick your poison. The existing ones are all bad, evil, and wrong.

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That's not all they don't understand

They don't seem to have much understanding of theology, either.

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Happy

@John Dee RE "Onymous Vitriol"

Indeed, I cannot dispute your point here. I would only argue that lack of anonymity restrains to *some* degree that kind of garbage. However, I *cannot* argue that the "I am out and I am proud and I am an arsehole" brigade will not feel that they will be in any way restricted by this. In fact if these issues demonstrate anything it is that anonymity is not a precondition for some people - they just do not give a shit about what they are willing to say to others. The only restriction of course being that they are not within arm's reach of the person they are insulting! In fact that may be the bottom line - that they are not forced to choose between not saying it and having to say it face to face with their "victim". Maybe the issue is one of "cowardice"?

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Happy

Correction

"However, I *cannot* argue that the "I am out and I am proud and I am an arsehole" brigade will not feel that they will be in any way restricted by this. "

This has of course an extraneous "not" and should have read as:

"However, I *cannot* argue that the "I am out and I am proud and I am an arsehole" brigade will feel that they will be in any way restricted by this. "

Sorry, my fail. -:)

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I guess were going to need a load of the white coat guys.

Facebook doesn't require you to use your own name, and doesn't actually require you to have only one account - anybody who thinks they do belongs in the loony bin. Yes they have a mechanism that encourages you to use your real name, but it isn't enforced. Boom-Boom Valdez and Candy Apples aren't the sort of names that even Frank Zappa would name his kids, but I'm pretty sure they both have Facebook accounts. I know because one of the friends of one of my sock puppets keeps friending people with names like those.

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FAIL

'fraid not

onymous (ˈɒnɪməs) — adj: (of a book) bearing its author's name

[C18: back formation from anonymous ]

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Boffin

>"Pick your poison. The existing ones are all bad, evil, and wrong."

There are many poisons out there that are effective, and whether or not they are moral or appropriate surely depends on the situation.

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Stupid vitriol (following John Dee)

No words are necessary, sometimes the utter stupidity leaves you speechless...

http://disinfo.s3.amazonaws.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/WTFPeople.jpg

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Anonymous Coward

@Arctic Fox

I think the transitory nature of online relationships and the brevity of interaction have a lot to do with it. I think this is also the cause of the aggression you see on roads (including the aggression between drivers and cyclists, cyclists and pedestrians, etc).

Is it arms length syndrome? A form of cowardice? I'm inclined to agree with you. Although having reflected on my own behaviour when I'm out roller-blading I'm suddenly loathe to. I guess if I must be stupid or a coward, I pick coward!

But I really think it has something to do with the tangibility of the social interaction. It's harder to care about someone you can't touch. As it were.

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Anonymous Coward

Political Vitriol (following Heyrick).

I know we all have reasons why we won't vote one way or the other, but one reason why I struggle to take the right seriously is the way that natural disasters and other tragedies become a sign of god's retribution or other form of just desserts.

Eg, Michele Bachmann and Hurricane Irene.

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Windows

Hmmmm, analogies

Analogies can be great.

However in this case the founding fathers of the USA actually has something to say, something quite important as it turned out.

Compare this to the daily twitterings of the great unwashed. Not so much.

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You realise the irony of your post?

I hope you do.

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Not to worry

There are places on the Internet where important things are being said and Twitter is not one of them.

History _will_ remember the important things, it will be remembered on the Internet, and Twitter (or its spiritual descendant) will not be the place where people will talk about it.

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This title deliberately left blank

Yes but (according to the article anyway) what these founding fathers said was "often willfully false, cruel...".

So it sounds to me like you're agreeing with the author in that free speech means not throwing out the baby with the bath water.

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Headmaster

Free press versus free speech online

There is a fundamental difference between the free speech or free press of the 18th century and our pressent day web 2.0 / social media / tw@tterscape.

Even though the printing press made mass publications cheaper, printing and distributing your ideas still wasn't cheap. Most 18th century commentards published in existing newspapers or periodicals in the form of a letter to the editor. Only a limited number of letters could be published. A letter would have to conform to certain standards (depending on the nature of the periodical) for linguistic correctness, soundness of reasoning and suspected appeal to the periodical's target audience. This forced the authors of such letters to consder their opinions, their target audience and the best way to make their point.

Modern commentards on the other hand, face no such restrictions. Many internet fora allow comments regardless of grammatical or spelling errors (as a non native English writer, I'm sure I've benefited from this more than once), regardless of textual quality and with only a "report abuse" button to weed out the most heinous cases of abuse. They are held to much lower standards for publication. As a result, modern day internet comments aren't nearly as well considered (often reflecting the writer's emotional state at the time of writing) or as well crafted. It's not uncommon even for usually reasonable people to end up in heated flame war of short emotional outbursts.

Given the greater quantity and considerably lower quality of modern day comments, readers pay very little attention to comments. The well considered, more elaborate comments are easily seen as boring and overlooked entirely (I've benefited from this as well). Thus it becomes fairly impossible for someone to influence political opinion through (anonymous) comments. By protecting free speech, we have established a culture where every comment is ignored equally.

Now, I'm not advocating censorship here. I'm just trying to show the limits of the analogy used in the article.

Pedant, obviously

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Ru
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Modern commentards... face no such restrictions

but that works both ways. Because every idiot with a net connection can feel free to spew their inanities and bile across the internet, a huge number of idiots do which makes it remarkably difficult for the average whatevertard to elevate themselves to the point where another people actually hear what they have to say.

Though opinion is very much divided on the worth of many of the world-famous and rather successful bloggers out there, the fact remains that they did manage to elevate themselves. Many did so using a pseudonym, allowing them to talk about their work or personal lives in ways which they wouldn't have dared (or be allowed) to if they'd used their real name.

Twitter, FB, G+... they're just sideshows here really, its the underlying principle which is the important bit.

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Windows

Original: Hmmmm, analogies

Oh yes indeed.

Irony.

That's why I used the Windows User icon.

I include myself in the great unwashed.

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Stop

Twitter

This rather depends how you use twitter. I don't follow people who tell me what they had for breakfast. As a way to find links for news and comment it is currently peerless. Perhaps you only follow tedious people.

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Re:distributing your ideas still wasn't cheap

It wasn't, so the viewpoints of the wealthy would obviously reign, much as they do now in the mainstream media. I don't think that is a useful way to judge quality.

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Anonymous Coward

I'm reminded of USENET and killfiles.

Of course, the modern USENET reinventions mostly lack fine-grained filtering so you're back to relying on moderators. That in turn is a return of sorts to editors, only they don't edit, so it's a poor reinvention of that as well.

You're right that editorial control has lessened. It's also true that the average quality of comments has plummeted by dint of sheer volume. However, for some reason people do still choose where to post. That is, there's places full of mispeelings and yabbering, and there's places where longer comments do get attention and replies.

Maybe, possibly, people will learn that allowing txtspk isn't a good idea, at least not before the darn kids have a good grasp of proper language, and maybe people will get tired of publishing their every fart and crap. If not, maybe people will get tired of reading about other people's shits and craps and stop reading them altogether, so that eventually, if you want to be read, you'll have to stand out.

Or maybe not. And maybe nobody will care. See: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/14/opinion/sunday/the-elusive-big-idea.html?_r=2&pagewanted=all

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Teh internets r gigo

----

Given the greater quantity and considerably lower quality of modern day comments, readers pay very little attention to comments.

----

As epitomised by tl;dr

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I have....

....a PGP key. Why the f**k do I need Google? In fact, my PGP lets me not only prove that I am who I say I am, but to also have messages encrypted so that the likes of Google cannot spy on me.

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PGP

PGP is great. Sadly, only about 0.5% of the population would know what to do with a PGP key when faced with one, and as such, it is of limited use in the arena of broadcast my-granny-can-use-this communications, which is the "niche" that google+ and facebook are competing for.

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Anonymous Coward

Correction

Your PGP key only lets others ascertain that the holder of that key signed it, unless of course the verification doesn't work out in which case you have a message that you may or may not know what it says but can't take seriously because it was signed and the verification failed. The latter makes for interesting conundrums that even habitual pgp-signing-users don't understand nevermind know what to do with.

One of the ways PGP lets you ascertain that the holder of that key is someone you know and vv. is through "key signing parties", where everybody applies their own, often whimsical, policies as to whose keys they'll sign. It often comes down to "government ID", meaning back to real names. And we'd just established that isn't quite the smartest thing to do.

So. How is your way better, again? I think we're just about full circle instead.

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Google +

"intended to benefit Google, not Google+ users"

Well of course. Everything Google does is to benefit Google; to expect otherwise is at best naive.

And most of the arguments I've heard about Google+ real names policy is that their "real names" doesn't allow real names; you cannot use letters that Google doesn't like, you have to have a firstname and a second name, your name cannot be more than x letters.....

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Anonymous Coward

Identity

I don't want to hold back Google from making billions; a corporation's got to do what a a corporation's got to do, and so far they have come up with shiny free services for the masses in return.

But what exactly is Google looking for in this 'identity'. To me, my identity is very personal more so than my money. I'll put my money in a bank and let them play around with it in return for services and where possible a share of the profits the bank makes from playing with my money. I won't willingly do the same with my personal identity - it's too closely linked with my personality and reputation (such as it is).

I would like a firewall between my real, personal identity and the dataset that Google will presumably be trading around the advertisers etc . At the moment I am not in control of such a firewall and it is beginning to annoy me.

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Well I suppose everyone could invent their own on-line persona.

Aside from banking and genealogy websites do the likes of g+, FB and even here really need to know our correct name?

Jot down some random facts (John Smith, born 05/07/1960 etc.) and use that instead. As long as you are consistent (and you don't pretend to be a pedophile or mass murderer) you should be golden.

Cue Hollywood of course, so that they can use the idea of someone who becomes their 'alt', and who unfortunately did pick an identity that did not get on well with others.

ttfn

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Coat

Soon, real soon now...

... we'll no longer trade with cash, but you'll put that identity in the bank, and some handy trader will make a good repscore out of loaning it --repackaged as an AAA-collateral, maybe-- out to somebody else before handing it back. Just imagine, we'll be rid of financial crises once and for all!

The trenchcoat with the stacks of passports in the pockets, thanks. Ah and yes the hat's mine too.

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Boffin

@Paul

No, you cant.

Oh I agree about creating an online persona but Google+ won't let you. It will detect that the online persona isn't real and therefore you can't shop with anonymity.

You really don't get how much of your information is out there for Google to snarf.

Are you going to get a drivers license or a state ID for your online persona? (I think not)

Are you going to set up a CC info for your online persona along with a credit history report?

(I think not)

Google can purchase public records or credit info from sites and aggregate it to their existing data.

If Google continues down this path, they will create or buy their own thift/bank.

(Although with the current scrutiny... that would be difficult. More so than WalMart's attempt.)

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WTF?

Wait, what?

"Oh I agree about creating an online persona but Google+ won't let you. It will detect that the online persona isn't real and therefore you can't shop with anonymity."

So Google+ is a shopping site? I thought it was a social network?

More to the point, I've read (e.g, see comments below) of people using unverifiable personas whose names simply fit Google's algorithmic criteria for a "real name" who haven't run foul of the identity police. The only issues I've read about where verification was required was where the pseudonym didn't fit Google's poor definition of a name.

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So sorry to hear about poor Washington

Dear dear how awful it must have been to be lambasted "sadistically" with vicious words. Why that's almost as bad as losing your job, house and being assaulted. Whistle-blowers, fraud-busters and other flys in corporate ointment are routinely pursued vindictively - often having their lives destroyed.

I manage my different personalities on-line and in real-life and see no legitimate reason why Google or anyone else should insist on those being merged into one.

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Holmes

Who Am I?

I have a Google+ account. There is a name associated with my account, but nobody at Google has ever verified it. So what's the point? "Pippa Middleton" can be just as much of a pseudonym as "HAck3rB01".

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FAIL

Google making a meal of things

I don't understand why they can't require full names, but then have a field for a nickname and have a setting that means you only show your nickname to people. Then they have your real name to do, er, no evil with, but the average punter is relatively happy as they can continue to feel nice and anonymous behind a pseudonym.

Hell, they even already have the nickname field in Google Profiles *now*.

Why are they making things so difficult for themselves.

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Yep.

>Hell, they even already have the nickname field in Google Profiles *now*.

Though their explanatory text is:

'Your nickname won't be shown on your profile, but it may be used (instead of your full name) in other Google services.'

Which should be the other way around - use your nickname (if supplied) as your profile name, else they will use your name. Your real name is used in the background to suggest friends, presents and advertising.

Maybe one day.

ttfn

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They want your real name...

...so its easier to tie your web habits back to your real-world self and thus they can make more money from using your data.

YOU are the product, remember.

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Very one-sided and incomplete article

The people who say nasty things, make death or rape threats or - the most recent case I personally witnessed - try to get a good man fired for imagined slights are not necessarily those who use anonymity. That particular douchebag used his real name, as do many of the anti-science fanatics who regularly threaten medics and scientists both online and in real life.

Those who need pseudonyms fall into two main categories:

- those who have used an online handle for years and would be unidentifiable if they used their "real" names, and

- those who need to remain pseudonymous (NOT the same as anonymous) in order to be able to communicate freely (in some cases, just do their jobs) without putting themselves at risk. This includes LGBT people, rape victims, disabled people, people who have had mental health problems (talk about your depression in front of a potential employer and see if you get hired), people with violent ex-partners, and so on..

Civil servants in some places aren't allowed to go online under their real names. In some countries you can be jailed on *suspicion* of being gay. Anti-abortionists have already murdered medical staff. Atheists and scientists have also been subjected to stalking and death threats (search for "dave mabus" for an example). Simon Singh got legally harassed by chiropracters seeking to silence valid criticism. An Italian blogger narrowly escaped the same fate from a homeopathy multinational earlier this month.

And of course, back in Jefferson's day it was not unknown for the subject of a critical article to turn up at the newspaper's offices with a horsewhip or worse. I assume Private Eye's use of anonymity is still current, that organ continuing to protect individual journalists from lawsuits by assuming collective responsibility, as do similar publications elsewhere in the world?

Is Team Register, as articles are sometimes signed, a real name? Out-Law.com?

http://blog.anarchic-teapot.net/2011/07/23/anonymity-and-google/

http://entequilaesverdad.blogspot.com/2011/07/nym-is-not-unknown.html

above all, read this one before deciding anonymity is bad:

http://skepchick.org/2011/07/sunday-ai-does-google-hate-women

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Devil

It's my name, I own it.....

....Google+ can't have it.

Buy it perhaps, but HAVE, no.

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What is my real name?

Is it the name on my birth certificate, that I never use in full?

Is it the name i use to post comments on Ell Reg?

Is it the name on my bank account?

Is it the name on my pay slip?

Is it the name every one at work calls me?

Is it the name I used when I was in a band?

All the above are different and all are me.

PS my name is *NOT* Rumpelstiltskin :-)

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Good point

In the past i've had problems where someone has given me a cheque made out to the name I'm known by and had it bounced by the bank because my bank account is in the name on my passport.

Can take a lot of persuading some jumped up clerk that 'Bill' is actually the same as 'william'

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I don't get the real name thing at all

Two issues have been conflated here - who you choose to portray yourself to the world at large and who Google knows you as. I see no legitimate reason that the two names need be the same. i.e. Google could ask who you are and keep that info to itself. Then it could ask you who you want to be on a particular service. Indeed many services on Google, e.g. Google Groups, YouTube already let you choose an alias. So why not on Google+?

I certainly don't believe this has anything to do with the "quality" of data to Google or the services it provides to advertisers.

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Flame

American centric view

"As much as I hate the bile that web anonymity encourages, it's the price we have always paid to ensure free speech. Sometimes that speech is hateful and wrong. But that isn't sufficient justification to close mouths to establish a marketing bonanza for Google – or anyone else."

That's a very American centric view which puts the nonsense of 'Unlimited Free Speech' above all else, even when it is hateful, wrong and, worse, causes real harm.

"Freedom of Speech" is often taken as "Freedom to Hate" in the US, protected by some notion of constitutional and inalienable right - Where else will you find neo-Nazis, walking the streets in quasi-military uniforms, carrying guns while wearing swastikas? Not just tolerated, but effectively government sanctioned and protected. Is it any surprise that America remains a hot-bed of racial hatred and intolerance?

I'm sure I'll get down-voted (and worse), but, for me, the pinnacle of civilised society is not one in which anyone can hate as much as they want and those hated and harmed just have to suck it up. A civilised society respects that everyone has rights.

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Headmaster

culture

Having a culture where it is unacceptable to be obnoxious is better than one where obnoxiousness is legislated.

You may get a base level of 'niceness', or at least a pretty veneer of niceness if it is illegal to walk around with swastikas and guns, but you won't stop the haters. They'll get other symbols, or just brazenly flout the law, or hide their symbols, but take their views and foment them underground.

The other side is that views you think are perfectly normal could be outlawed. You'd be up in arms then, but take heart, citizen-who-is-not-allowed-to-think, the beneficent government is doing it to protect you from yourself.

Sometimes messy and sometimes ugly, free speech at least lets you see who has ugly views so that you can avoid them. If you can't avoid them, then make an effort at a counter-argument that shows a hater up for being a hollow bag of bile and for being full of false logic.

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Stop

US

The US don't consider free speech unlimited in the way you suggest. You are free to say what you like, however you are also bound to accept the concequences of what you say, the classic example being shouting 'fire!' in a crowded theatre (Which is not on fire). If you start a stampede and people get hurt then you are responsible for those injuries.

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Anonymous Coward

America isn't actually a hotbed of racial hatred.

It's just the Progressives and Communists need the perception that America is a hotbed of racism to keep their jackboot on our throats. Yeah, I know you doubt this, but it isn't the conservatives who went to court to keep the neo-nazi's marching on Skokie, it was the ACLU.

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Stamp Act

So instead of introducing the Stamp act, Britain should have just required writers to use their real name?

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Facepalm

Yes, Google keep the dummy away from Google+

Can Google prove that my name is Matts Esay or Matt Asay?

Are these guys just to silly not knowing what to do?

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Facebook

People also use pseudonyms on Facebook, sometimes a 133t spelling or a variant of their real name, sometimes adding a funny middle name, sometimes a completely fake name. Some change their names frequently, often as a game, e.g. "like this status: 1st will be my spouse, 2nd will be my middle name, 3rd will be my dad...(etc, and so on and so forth, ad absurdum) "

I think StackExchange might be a better example of people volunteering their real names.

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