Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Insisting On ID

I've been hoping that Google+ would be a better, more private alternative for social networking than Facebook. One of the reasons I don't use Facebook is their policy that users must sign up under their real names,† and now I hear that Google+ has the same policy. (To be nit-picky, the "real name" requirement seems to be tied to Google Profiles, not directly to Google+, but the two services are tightly linked, and I believe that you have to have a Google Profile to use Google+.)

Eric Schmidt, the former CEO of Google, said in a CNBC interview a couple of years ago: "If you have something that you don't want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn't be doing it in the first place." For the average person who just wants to keep in touch with classmates, coworkers, friends and relatives, "Don't do stupid stuff" (or at least, "Don't post evidence of stupid stuff you've done where the whole world can see it") is a reasonable attitude. For those who have legitimate reasons to conceal their legal name, gender, likeness, and location from all but selected individuals, it's less reasonable. Whistleblowers, victims of abuse, and those suffering from embarrassing medical or psychiatric conditions, for example, need social interaction just as much as (or more than) the rest of us, but are unlikely to seek it in a public forum. And as the CNET article points out, "People's online names, while not on their birth certificates, often are a real persona--reputation and all." That's one reason I prefer to be known as "Ckbep"...that, and the fact that being an atheist in a state that's so red it's maroon requires a certain amount of discretion. There's no dishonor in declining to pin a target on your own chest.

† Which are visible to everyone.

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