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article imageOp-Ed: Google exec reveals Google+ may change real name policy

By Leigh Goessl     Oct 22, 2011 in Internet
San Francisco - After its unveiling in June 2011 Google+ garnered a lot of attention across the web. Within three weeks the new product had gained 20 million users, with many people eager to become a member.
Initially there was such high demand, even those with an invite had to wait until space freed up. Google unrolled Google+ much like they did with Gmail.
Google had established a firm 'real name' policy, and subsequently booted a bunch of people off the network in July for not using their real names.
At the time Google closed all these accounts, CNN received a statement from Google on their decision to kick members off the network. A Google spokesperson replied in an email stating, "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,"
Adding "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."
Now it looks like Google may be revisiting this policy, although just how is not yet quite clear. In an interview with John Battelle, Federated Media Publishing, at last week's Web 2.0 Summit in San Francisco, Calif., Google co-founder Sergey Brin and SVP Of Social Business Vic Gundotra talked about various issues and, as no surprise, Google+ was brought up.
Gundotra shared there were now 40 million members on the network which is "above internal projections" and he appeared to be pleased with this statistic. He'd also stated the network is seeing activity and that 3.4 billion photos were uploaded in the last 100 days to Google+
After a few minutes, the conversation drifted to privacy and the 'real name' policy. Gundotra said,
"You're going to see us take a very privacy centered approach. One very, very respectful of individuals"
When asked about anonymity, he replied, "We plan to support pseudonyms in the future. We're working on it, it's coming", and "It's complicated to get this right."
From what Gundotra described, the company wanted to insist on real names to help people find one another and connect. The logic seemed to be that if everyone used pseudonyms, the network would be slower growing.
How the tweaks to the identity policy will unfold was not elaborated on, but if what Gundotra says is what it sounds like, look for Google to do a significant turnabout on their stance regarding anonymity; although it appears clear there still will be some level of stringency and quality control.
Mashable.com's Ben Parr said, "Apparently the issue is technology, resources and the atmosphere the company wanted to set with Google+. The company wanted to create a community focused on real names, but now it realizes that some people have legitimate reasons to use pseudonyms."
Many privacy advocates and users across the web have made it clear there is a large enough percentage of people do actually care about privacy and are concerned with the implications of the social web. As Facebook fights its privacy messes, if Google is smart, they can address these issues and build a more privacy network from the beginning. The fact the network has second mover advantage may prove to be a valuable asset because Google is building its network from the ground up.
While capitalizing on personal information is of obvious financial value these days to many companies, it is clear many people do actually care about privacy and want to protect themselves online. Anonymity affords people that opportunity. If Google+ significantly alters the 'real name' policy as a condition of joining, it might be a good strategic move to not only boost membership, but enable people to perhaps be more inclined to share freely and distribute more content on the new network.
Gundotra's comments are perhaps an interesting turn of events because of the emphasis on privacy. If Google+ wants to gain any sort of traction on current dominating network, Facebook, they'll have to find their competitive edge. Privacy might just be the ticket to the new network's success, since it is the one consistent thorn in Facebook's side.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com
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