This afternoon Google has bowed to public pressure and…eliminated its names restrictions for Google+!
It’s not the most interesting possible sentence to begin that way, by a long shot. And many tech sites are underwhelmed by the breakthrough. For the last three years, Google has required a verified real name for users of Google+. The policy was the subject of some controversy when Google+ first debuted in 2011. It aroused anger from users who had their accounts wrongfully, and automatically, suspended. It unnerved users who sought the thin layer of anonymity and privacy that online pseudonyms provide – igniting the social media Nymwars. It was even cited by some as of questionable legality.
The reasoning Google gave for the restriction was that using real names prevents spam, impersonation and helps people find each other. While they did respond to early complaints by mellowing their automatic suspension policy, the remained resolute over the ensuing years.
Google+ faded pretty rapidly into the background of the social media landscape, after “capturing” 20 million users in its first weeks. It’s a little unclear why, now, its users are getting the benefit of the following heartfelt apology:
“We know that our names policy has been unclear, and this has led to some unnecessarily difficult experiences for some of our users. For this we apologize, and we hope that today’s change is a step toward making Google+ the welcoming and inclusive place that we want it to be.”
Pando’s James Robinson has written in the past that the real value of Google+ is the way it stitches together users’ data across the raft of Google applications, rather than as a standalone social network. If this is the case, perhaps the lesson today is: At long last, you can use whatever name you want on Google+, because Google already knows who you really are.