Google+ has an Identity Crisis

Our last blog entry, “Anonymity, Accountability and Free Speech” discussed the chasm that has developed in the social networking world between those who encourage the enforcement of ‘real-name’ policies, and those who believe that the abolition of anonymity is irresponsible and insensitive.

Google+’s own real-name policy seemed to launch this debate when the fledgling social network began deleting the accounts of users who were not employing their real names and revealing their ‘true’ identities. However, Google seemed largely taken aback by how controversial this policy was, simply viewing their own rules as an extension of how many users already reveal their legal names on the largest and most popular social network in the world, Facebook.

Now that Google+ has over 40 million users and it is no longer invitation only, it claims to be out of the stage in which the vast majority of its members are early adopters. Since this recent growth the higher-ups at Google seem to have changed their tune. At a web 2.o conference in San Francisco, Google executives announced that pseudonyms will soon be acceptable, and explained that the real-names policy was only a temporary precaution, a transitory policy to bridge the gap to when the social network was out of its earliest testing stage and had a more complex system of policies in place that could handle fluid online identities and protect minors. Additionally, Google+ has stated that the strict policy among early adopters was intended to create accepted norms and set a tone that would lead to transparency that was voluntary rather than enforced.

However, some critics argue that this new shift is disingenuous. One writer asserts that there is only one way to encourage pseudonymity, “Stop deleting peoples’ accounts when you suspect that the name they are using is not their legal name.” He argues that Google’s claim that it will take take time adjust the network to accept pseudonyms proves that this will not be their strategy, and that their claims are therefore insincere. Are the critics right, is this just a stalling tactic to lull proponents of anonymity into a false sense of security until the controversy dies down? Even optimistic users seem to have been made uncomfortable by one executive’s trepidation about the relaxed policies. Worrying about the consequences of a network without rules, Bradley Horowitz, VP of Product for Google+ warned that the site was not the “Wild Wild West.” This exaggerated attitude might indicate that Google+ is not willing to compromise if it means relinquishing control.

Where Google+ will eventually fall on the spectrum of policies that accept and reject complete anonymity now seems uncertain, but the company is prepared to finally allow organizations as well as individuals to have Google+ pages. The social network will finally welcome company branding pages onto the site, and is also preparing the network to integrate with Google apps.

What do you think the right move is for Google+? For more information on the argument about anonymity, try reading our last post, “Anonymity, Accountability and Free Speech.”

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