This is a blog-type post I’ve made on August 25th, 2011, on G+. It stands today, as well, when the identity policy seems open to discussion, and the discussion is still clinging to a number of communities assumptions about what a name must look like for them.


An aspect many times missed by the supporters of “knowing who you are talking to” as reason for “real names” (apart from the obvious fact that pseudonyms are known by the people who belong to their community/circle them), is that in reality all these criteria for “knowing who you are speaking to” are thought as if they must be global. They must apply to the whole millions of users one expects here.
Is this a true assumption, though? Using a name is all about being recognized under it, and you will be recognized by those – and only those – who know you under it. Not others. Maybe your readers and commenters, if you’re a blogger or a writer, maybe your users and peers if you’re an open source developer, maybe your sister if you _want_ to use your family identity. Those names (“real” or “pen/stage names”) mean something to a particular community, not to everyone.
Falling back to “government issued ID” names (except for celebrities as it stands) seems governed by the attempt to globalize recognizability. And yet, that is exactly what you cannot ever do.

If you don’t know the person you happen to talk with, from previous actions/interactions (no matter which), then their name on G+ will not tell you anything. I cannot tell who this “John Adams” who comes my way is, unless from the rest of the profile or his posts or a private message he tells me he’s that John Adams that I met [insert here an opportunity, “real world”, including internet use of my real time (sic)]. Only then, I know who I am talking to, in the measure that I know the person, in the measure of my previous interactions with them. And if you didn’t meet him/know him from somewhere, then for you, it’s just a name. You don’t know any better who you are talking to.

My point is not as much that you don’t know if it’s their “real” name or not (whatever that means), we’ve been through that over and over, but rather, that their identity depends on the community they relate to.

This attempt – this fallback to “government ID names” seems essentially the attempt to insinuate an idea for those who don’t know the person, that they could possibly have a sort of impression that they do. A false impression, and false sense of security, as discussed before, since one can sign up under a real-sounding name of course. But also because the most they’d get is perhaps, again, something about the verified identities, about those and those alone, someone who doesn’t know them, may have some sort of guarantee that someone uses those identities as the profile states. (and of course, those who are able to recognize them, may have the confirmation they need).
All the rest is sub-communities recognizing themselves (whether it’s your family community or your gaming community, under their respective identities), and others not recognizing them. No matter what the names look like.

This is a post I wrote on G+ several months ago. (August 28th, 2011). At the time, it was a relatively difficult result of connecting several dots from apparently unrelated Google services and areas, under the surprise of the plain admission of Eric Schmidt that G+ is primarily an identity service, not a social network.
Today, those “dots” suspected to connect at the time are simple realities.

Google Search will depend on whether you give your real name to Google or not

As will many other services. People have been wondering for long what is going on, and where is this road Google was taking, with G+ “real/common name” policy that has stirred so many debates.
Answer: it’s going towards your information intently gathered about you, and your online presence submitted to the criterium whether Google thinks you’re worthy enough to be upranked in Google Search results.
(have you filled a Profile and complied with the “Real Name” policy? good. No? Bad, downranked!)

Quick synopsis of the latest happenings, on Google’s intentions:

Andy Carvin has asked a few questions to Google’s Eric Schmidt the other day, and has shared the answers on G+.
I asked him how Google justifies the policy given that real identities could put people at risk.
He replied by saying that G+ was build primarily as an identity service, so fundamentally, it depends on people using their real names if they’re going to build future products that leverage that information.
He also said the internet would be better if we knew you were a real person rather than a dog or a fake person. Some people are just evil and we should be able to ID them and rank them downward.

CNN has interviewed Eric Schmidt, and asked for clarifications.
Highlights: (from Botgirl Questi)
“. . . I think it’s pretty clear that the Internet as a whole has not had a strong notion of identity, and identity means, “who am I”. So we spend an awful lot to of time trying to guess who you are. Plus it’s easy to have impostors, people can spam, and so forth and so on. Facebook has done a good job of building a way of disambiguating names. So if you use Facebook, if you have John Smith and you try to pick which one, you look at the pictures of their friends and that’s how you disambiguate it. But fundamentally what Facebook has done is build a way to figure out who people are. That system is missing in the Internet as a whole. Google should have worked on this earlier. We now have a product called Google+ which has been in developments for more than a more than your half which is a partial answer to that.”
“That’s the area where I would have put more research, in *developing this identity service and the ranking system that goes along*.”

Google Executive Director, Eric Schmidt

In other words, as hypothesized before, we are indeed looking at:

  • Google Search tied into Google+ and Google Profiles
  • gathering information intently on your person and organizing it. Not anonymous information, but intently on your person.
  • ranking search results on the criterium of *who* is speaking.
  • the content from someone who has identified themselves to Google and has connections doing the same and using +1, is treated differently in search results.

The consequences on the visibility/awareness of content on the internet are incalculable, and they have nothing to do with G+, with “just a social network, go somewhere else if you don’t like it”.

This is not about “social networking”, or Eric Schmidt and others interpretation of what “social” means. Not anymore, not for a long time in fact. Statements go back to 2010 and sooner, on what was in the works.

Some of its roots can be found in earlier interviews, where it’s all related to information management, and the opinion of Eric Schmidt and others on how information has to be managed, face to the upcoming technological/informational singularity.
From Eric Schmidt’s earlier interview:
“People aren’t ready for the technology revolution that’s going to happen to them.”
 “Show us 14 photos of yourself and we can identify who you are. You think you don’t have 14 photos of yourself on the internet? You’ve got Facebook photos! People will find it’s very useful to have devices that remember what you want to do, because you forgot…But society isn’t ready for questions that will be raised as result of user-generated content.”

Very true so far, if I may add.

“The only way to manage this is true transparency and no anonymity. In a world of asynchronous threats, it is too dangerous for there not to be some way to identify you. We need a [verified] name service for people. Governments will demand it.”

Very chilling, here. And yet, so familiar.

The history of human thinking, including state/political thinking theories and their applications in practice, show a particular trend of answering the Unknown with an attempt to control. It does seem to me this is the case here as well: face to the unbelievable amount of information generated daily and the unique situation we’re heading towards, the upcoming years/decades, Eric Schmidt feels the need to answer with an attempt to put it in fully controllable patterns, regardless the “expendable few” that don’t fit it naturally enough. The “expendable few” are worth being exactly that, for the greater good. This is the answer of fear of the unknown.

That never goes well, says human history.

But admittedly, in this particular case, Google has a huge upstart, by their technology and its ubiquitous presence in our life (downranked in Google Search? invisible in Google Search…), and by the essentially unregulated and unique position of the Internet among governments and current laws systems… As a commercial company, it enjoys privileges governments even, do not have. These statements are catching us off guard, even though the signs were there, in 2010 and maybe sooner.

Quick list of alternatives:
People have been working on the concept and implementation of distributed social networking and other tools to assure user privacy, as opposed to letting it in the hands of companies:

Distributed social networking protocol: dnsp
Diaspora* decentralized social network: pods status main site
Intention statement at the base of the changes in the Internet today: Eben Moglen’s talk in 2010.
“Magna Carta” for the Internet: Rebecca Mackinnon’s TED talk.
FreedomBox: a Debian derivative for easy installing of a personal web server to serve your online presence, including social networking: FreedomBox wiki
Shava Nerad and friends have met and preparing to work on alternative approaches.
People have made site, related to Google and identity.
Electronic Frontier Foundation has been taking stance on pseudonyms and virtual worlds: A Case for Pseudonyms.

Down the same road

Posted: January 28, 2012 in Internet
Tags: , ,

There we go again. Google+ nymwars.

The changes in the Google+ identity policy are not exactly changing anything in practice. Technogran was receiving yesterday the same canned email as several months ago, having her name rejected, despite being a well-known internet identity, and not exactly as aesthetically unpleasing to a WASP crowd as “captaincrunch42” either. (not that the latter would be a problem to me).

Same goes for Culture Monroe, receiving notice that her name is a “fake” to Google. As long as Google claims to know what your name must look like, otherwise they declare it a “fake”, the process will always come across as offending and with 1984-style requirements of “your ID card”…
By the way, this is both her wallet name and writer name.

Lets get something straight here.
People invest time and work in building their identity, it is essential to them, to build a reputation under a name, and this means something. Whether it is their given name or nom de plume, in many contexts and endeavours. Assuming the role of “I know best who you can be, depends on your number of followers and my assessment of WASPy sensibilities to your kinda ugly-looking name” is not only doomed to fail, but unfortunately for you, Google, it is *insulting* to people, the same people who you earn the trust of, or they take it back from you.
Or I should rather say. I hope they do take it back. Yes, you read that right.

Google. This is how it works. I’ll quote again the simple and brilliant note Angyl Bender made a few days ago.
If I know who you are, your handle doesn’t matter.
If I don’t know who you are, your handle doesn’t matter.

Blog start

Posted: January 27, 2012 in trivia

I think it’s time to gather some ideas here, from Norv identity. After all, apart from the engagements in a few specific open source projects communities, I’ve been publicly involved in debates the last year, on G+ and Diaspora, not to mention a few other sites.

Just, undecided yet, on what to focus here. Most likely, on raising awareness and solutions to privacy issues on Google and the internet at large.

I have a number of blog-posts on G+ I would prefer to save (and keep online), and this blog will be the venue for that purpose, as G+ archive. I don’t know for how long I will keep the G+ account itself at all, after all.