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Wham Bam Google Ban: No Pseudonyms on Google Plus Profiles

With an industrial-sized ban hammer, Google is suspending and banning people for using pseudonyms in Google + profiles. In some cases, users are locked out of all Google services. Is it time to liberate your data?

For a social network that was supposedly "privacy friendly" with "circles" this time around, Google is ticking off huge groups of people with its profiles from hell policy. This from the same company that cheered "the freedom to be who you want to be" with services supporting three types of use: unidentified, pseudonymous and identified. To use Google Plus, you must have a public profile tied to your real name. Now Google sort of denies that, instead calling it a requirement for your common name, but it is on a rampage of mass bannings and suspensions in its real name rule enforcement policy. Some users have been completely locked out of all Google services, even if Google has not said the profile policy was behind it. Wise or not, there are plenty of people who have taken advantage of Google's free services and have all of their online life tied to Google products.

There are all kinds of reasons to guard your privacy and use a pseudonym, from activists, to survivors of domestic abuse, to dealing with crazed stalkers, so I asked: What does Google recommend for bloggers or others who use pseudonyms? Google Spokesperson Katie Watson responded, "Our policy requires you to use the name that you commonly go by in daily life on your Google profile. We do have a field for nicknames or other names you might be known by. Google Profiles are designed to be public pages on the web, which are used to help connect and find real people in the real world. By providing your common name, you will be assisting all people you know -  friends, family members, classmates, co-workers, and other acquaintances - in finding and creating a connection with the right person online."

Watson told ReadWriteWeb that users are not required to use their real name, but that's a bit ridiculous unless you are 50 Cent; he's allowed to use that since he's commonly referred to by that name. "We are not requiring people to use their 'real name', but rather they need their Google profile to include the name they commonly go by in daily life. I know that sounds like the same thing, but there are some differences. For a hypothetical example, Samuel Clemens could choose to be known as 'Mark Twain,' although we wouldn't allow him to go by Authordude88."

According to Google Infrastructure Engineer Gowtham S, "Note: Once your profile has been suspended, you cannot move it out of the suspended state by any means other than appeal. Deleting your profile and then creating a new profile will merely allow you to continue the appeals process that was started with your previous profile."

Seriously? Suspend users and think they'll create yet another account in which Google would like to have their 'real name' profile? At this time, it's not required for Gmail though. iPhone hacker Jay Freeman, developer of Cydia, wrote an excellent post about this "ludicrous" enforcement of the "real name" rule. People from Anonymous, to Black Hat, to William Shatner, to a former Google employee Kirrily "Skud" Robert and thousands more have been suspended. There was another pretty intense yet intelligent rant by @thomasmonopoly that started "Dear Google I would like to bring to your attention a few things before I disconnect permanently from all of your services."

There's plenty of people who will have no issue with Google requiring real names since they have long used their real name for Facebook. But then there's people like me who embrace privacy and would rather be poked with a very sharp stick than help make surveillance that much easier. If you haven't been banned from Google Plus, but don't intend to setup a public 'real name' profile either, then you should liberate your data before you get shut out of your Google products. According to Google's Data Liberation Front, you are supposed to be able to get all your data out of Google products. "Users should be able to control the data they store in any of Google's products. Our team's goal is to make it easier to move data in and out."

It seems somewhat ironic that users should be able to control data stored in Google products, yet have no control whatsoever about using a pseudonym for a profile if they wanted to play around on Google Plus. Under escaping "from" or "to" Google Profiles, your choices include using "takeout" to escape or visit your profile to edit and "to modify what the public sees about you when they search for your name on Google Search. "

If users were part of the recent mass bannings and account suspensions for violating Google Terms of Service but didn't liberate their data, then I guess they are out of luck for now? Of course, if you have no intention of leaving Google services and certainly didn't expect to be locked out of those services, why would you get all your data out? It's the flipping Internet and people use aliases and pseudonyms, gasp, get over it! Google services are free and it will do whatever it wants, but it's preposterous to try to force this on people by breaking out an industrial-sized ban hammer. Of course, former Google CEO Schmidt warned us last year that "no anonymity is the future of the web."

Peachy. Guess I better get busy liberating all my flipping data from Google. For some time, Google has required SMS verification at random intervals in order to setup an email account. Yet users who had an email account prior to that requirement could choose not to verify in that way. For now, Google says Gmail and Blogger services do not require "an active and functioning profile." Watson told me, "In order to use Gmail, you do not need to have a Google profile, so your Gmail account will have no impact on a profile deletion. If you already have a profile through other Google products and it's not currently public, then this profile will be deleted after July 31." 

Like many of you, I've had literally at least a hundred emails accounts. So many that I can't even recall most or for what purpose they once served. Most folks would never know about them, except perhaps for those in government surveillance. I'm joking, kinda, but I went with an extreme wishlist to hunt for another quality email service that I might actually keep instead of trashing and will share that with you next time.

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