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Xiphias Gladius

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One reason pseudonymity is important [Aug. 6th, 2011|02:35 am]
Xiphias Gladius
To recap: Google+ has a policy saying that, if you want a Google+ account, you have to have some version of your legal name as your account name. (Facebook does, too, actually.)

For what it's worth, I may as well say right here that I post to LiveJournal and only crosspost to Facebook, because I like LJ better, and one reason is that, as it turns out, "Xiphias" isn't the name on my birth certificate. But I've used it since I was sixteen.

Why does that matter? Because pseudonyms are a greater guarantee of free speech than anything else. I'm posting this from the United States, where we have a Constitutional right to freedom of speech and freedom of the press -- but that doesn't mean that you can't still get in trouble for posting unpopular opinions. The United States Constitution only guarantees that the government won't arrest you for your opinions -- but an employer could choose not to hire you, you could be ostracized -- and, well, are you really sure that the government won't arrest you?

In Great Britain, freedom of the press is not as wide-ranging as in the United States, and, if you want to publicize something that is critical of a person . . . you might get into trouble.

And LiveJournal is owned by a Russian company -- and I assure you that the Russians aren't all that nice about not taking revenge on people with unpopular opinions.

Anonymity is one way to deal with this, but it's limited. All anonymous people are effectively equal -- some are brilliant, and some are morons, and, well, most of them are morons. So it's easy -- and generally wise -- to ignore most anonymous comments, most everywhere. I allow "anonymous comments" here on my LJ, but most people who comment "anonymously" often sign their words.

So -- anonymity means that you are ignorable. Real names mean that you are vulnerable. What to do?

Pseudonyms. They were vital in creating the United States -- writing newspaper articles about revolting from Great Britain was sedition, and necessary to make a case for public support. And, of course, anonymous articles were ignorable. But if you could create a persona, a consistent and congruent personality, you could write a series of essays, not a simple ignorable one-off rant, but an actual ongoing argument. You could interact with people, you could BE someone.

John Adams wrote as "Novanglus". For other purposes, he'd also blogged written newspaper articles under the names "U", for some of his general political theory, and "Humphery Ploughjogger", for some of his . . . less serious stuff.

He was able to create arguments, coherent arguments, and build a reputation, while still staying somewhat safe.

Anonymity doesn't allow you to build a reputation, to build ethos. And ethos is absolutely NECESSARY if you're going to convince people of anything significant. People have to know who you are.

Pseudonymity is absolutely necessary to a free society. The ability to express opinions without fear of reprisal is a check against power.

And that's why the powerful don't like it.
LinkReply

Comments:
From: undauntra
2011-08-06 02:31 pm (UTC)
You left out that Google is being flamingly incompetent about the "real name" policy, too. Apparently, what the policy means in practice is "Something that looks like what our (mostly western) employees recognize as a first name and a last name". They've suspended accounts with actual real names because the name looked fake - either someone from a culture that only uses one name, or a first name that didn't match the ethnicity of the last name, or names that happen to also be real words.

I understand that their goal is to promote civility via accountability, because humans are more likely to act like jackasses when hidden behind anonymity - but they're doing it wrong.
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[User Picture]From: sethg_prime
2011-08-07 01:38 am (UTC)
Also, someone who uses pseudonymity to make a drive-by account, or multiple accounts, is not providing the kind of correlatable information that can be sold to advertisers. And such a person’s click-throughs on search results cannot be trusted as inputs to Google’s search-quality algorithms (they might be the work of spammers trying to goose the rankings).

(Disclaimer: I work for the team at Nokia that is developing a competitor to Google Maps.)
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[User Picture]From: dancing_kiralee
2011-08-08 12:35 pm (UTC)
Yeah, but their system doesn't stop multiple accounts.

Kiralee
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[User Picture]From: sethg_prime
2011-08-08 01:13 pm (UTC)
It would be very hard for a system to automatically prevent one person from setting up multiple accounts. The only way to do that would be to make sure there was some one-to-one link between your G+ account and some reliable external-to-Google, not-competing-with-Google token of identity that everyone had, and no such identity system exists. (IMHO there is a legitimate role for the government to step in and establish something here, but good luck getting that idea through the current Congress, or even the current Democratic caucus.)

But it seems to me that the one-account-per-person rule is at least implicit in the rule that your G+ name should be the name that you are commonly known by.
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[User Picture]From: dancing_kiralee
2011-08-08 05:25 pm (UTC)
Good luck getting my support for it.

I have, and use, four accounts with google - mostly because I need different accounts for the different roles I play. The information it's appropriate for me to have, and share, is different in those different roles.

For example, I have one account for my role as employee of my current company; it's appropriate for me to have information about my co-worker's work schedules (eg when they are traveling or in meetings), and for them to have information about my work schedule; but not to have information, for example, about when I'm taking my cat to the vet, or seeing a career counselor about launching a job search. Google calendar, which is largely what we're using, has controls to block someone, which, as far as I've been able to determine, would prevent me from seeing their information, but not them from seeing mine...

I learned this, more or less, because I'm still getting an information feed from one of our employees who left in early 2010... and while there is a great deal of that information which I don't need, I also want to keep her as a network contact, so I don't want to block her entirely.

Hence my opinion that information should be firewalled between roles, rather than tied to my identity. I'd thought googles circles were a step in the right direction, but it's not clear (especially from this conversation) that they will work out. Clearly, google's controls aren't sophisticated enough to give people the control they need; nor have I heard of any site which does so.

Until they do, I *don't* want a system put in place that ties access to accounts to an established identity; yes, it may be a better way to stop identity theft... but it's also (if run by the government - and I don't see a good alternative to that) the equivalent of a government ID number, and interferes with what ought to be my god-given right both to control how my own labor is used and to establish my own good name / brand.

Kiralee
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From: browngirl
2011-08-06 02:37 pm (UTC)
*makes a note*
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[User Picture]From: thnidu
2011-08-06 02:44 pm (UTC)
May I signal-boost this?
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[User Picture]From: xiphias
2011-08-06 04:41 pm (UTC)
Certainly. Anything that I don't friends-lock is generally fine to link to.
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[User Picture]From: lietya
2011-08-06 03:42 pm (UTC)
I agree with all of this, but wanted to point out that their policy is "the name your friends know you by," which does not necessarily mandate one's legal name or what was on one's birth certificate. On the other hand, it usually does seem to require something that *looks* like what they consider, with their prejudices and assumptions, to be a "real name."

I'm fortunate in that the pseudonym I have used on the internet since 1996 is a perfectly plausible name, it just doesn't happen to be mine. (An entertaining side note - I had the option to change my first name legally to the one I've been using, and declined in part because if I did so, it would defeat the purpose of making sure that social networks only had the pseudonym!) "Xiphias," while perfectly recognizable [I knew who you were from alt.poly when I encountered you here!] might still trigger their scrutiny.

However, with that said, everything you say here is brilliant and necessary. I hadn't ever thought it out that clearly, but of course this is why real names AND anonymity are sub-optimal.
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[User Picture]From: xiphias
2011-08-06 04:43 pm (UTC)
On the other hand, I suspect that John Adams' friends didn't know him as "Novanglus" or "U", or that anybody who wrote the Federalist Papers ever walked into a tavern and had everyone shout, "Publius!"
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[User Picture]From: lietya
2011-08-06 04:54 pm (UTC)
Probably not. But he might very well have counted as friends some of the people who did, and that's close enough. :) Put another way, I - and you, for that matter - have made some very good friends under a handle, and I feel no qualms in counting that when it says I should pick a name my friends know me by. Most of them DO use this one, even offline (not "lietya," but "Tasha").
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[User Picture]From: vvalkyri
2011-08-06 05:31 pm (UTC)
'course cz_unit has been in and out and in and out with G+ despite forwarding messages from those of us who thinnk of him as CZ.

Clarification on their part would be useful.
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[User Picture]From: lietya
2011-08-06 05:36 pm (UTC)
Yes, it really would. The biggest issue here seems to actually be less about their stated policy and more about the inconsistent, weird, un-explained, and generally unhelpful enforcement of it. (My sympathies to CZ; I don't know him, but that sucks, and doesn't seem fair according to what they claimed their policy was.)
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[User Picture]From: vvalkyri
2011-08-06 05:39 pm (UTC)
It's actually an amusing read.
http://cz-unit.livejournal.com/tag/google


(he's one of my fave folk - the white house thing he mentions in the later posts is something he's done a few times - he works very close to the white house so on occasion will just make a poster and walk down over lunch. he doesn't fit most people's notion of a sole protester and tends to get attention.)

Edited at 2011-08-06 05:44 pm (UTC)
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[User Picture]From: lietya
2011-08-06 05:46 pm (UTC)
That certainly does seem to be insisting on ID their official policy says they don't need... how disappointing.

But you're right that CZ looks like a cool guy. :)
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[User Picture]From: vvalkyri
2011-08-06 06:00 pm (UTC)
well yes and no. the id he sent them was a bunch of us telling them that we know him as cz. i think it's more that someone must be complaining and hitting different support people. but we'll see. i think there's a huge problem with asking for a drivers license to get onto a social networkng site.
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[User Picture]From: lietya
2011-08-06 08:49 pm (UTC)
Sorry, that's what I meant - their policy says they *don't* need, for example, a driver's license, but they turned around and demanded it in an email with him. I hope it's not someone just harassing him with reports; that's an abuse of the whole system, on top of everything else.
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[User Picture]From: zachkessin
2011-08-06 05:33 pm (UTC)
Be careful, you may not be as anonymous as you think you are. I don't know how hard it would be to track down your legal name.

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[User Picture]From: vvalkyri
2011-08-06 05:57 pm (UTC)
yeah, few people have iron walls between legal name and pseudonym.

Over in my journal another friend points out that her wall between legal name and pseudonym maintains her legal name as her on line professional brand.

A search finds her professional writings and her professional services and her professional website. Not stuff about her dog, not stuff about her wedding planning, not stuff about injuring her whatever, all of which aren't at all scandalous, but all of which still dilute a brand.
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[User Picture]From: dancing_kiralee
2011-08-08 12:45 pm (UTC)
People should support her by following her example... the consumers should insist that social networking sites allow multiple identities (eg personal / professional / familial ) and have easy to use functions for maintaining firewalls between same.

I actually thought Google was making a step in the right direction... it looks like they aren't, which means (sigh) that I'm going to have a lot more work to do than I thought (I'm in the process of creating my professional brand).

Kiralee
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[User Picture]From: xiphias
2011-08-06 06:29 pm (UTC)
My legal name is in my public userinfo. I'm not anonymous, or even using pseudonymity in all the ways that it can be useful, and my legal name is strongly linked to my pseudonym. My pseudonymity is of the same category as, oh, Gordon Sumner's, Stefani Germanotta's, Madonna Ciccone's, or Norma Jeane Mortenson's. Only, y'know, six or seven orders of magnitude less.
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[User Picture]From: zachkessin
2011-08-07 06:08 am (UTC)
I didn't bother to look, but I've known your legal name for 20 years or so.
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[User Picture]From: felis_sidus
2011-08-07 01:36 am (UTC)
and, well, are you really sure that the government won't arrest you?

No, I'm not, particularly not since the Patriot Act went into effect. Between that and the various identity issues I've had, there is no way I'm giving any social networking site my real name.

Just one more thing I love about LJ, and one more reason I won't be moving elsewhere, Russian government hackers or no.

Which reminds me... Since the big DDoS attack, my processor starts laboring the instant I click on the LJ secure server site. I've scanned in safe mode with McAfee, Malawarebytes, and SuperAnti Spyware, all of which reported a spotlessly clean system. Think I should be concerned, or is this just the symptom of an aging laptop? Or maybe McAfee Security Suite getting all excited and scanning more diligently than usual?
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[User Picture]From: goljerp
2011-08-07 11:27 am (UTC)
Hmm, I wonder if Google+ would accept "Goljerp"? I'm not tempted to try, but hey -- "Goljerp" is one of my names on the Get[1] I gave my ex-wife; if it's good enough for that, shouldn't it be good enough for Google?

[1] Get: a Jewish document of divorce. It has requirements about specificity; when the Rabbi who was overseeing the process asked about other names / nicknames that I had, I honestly told him about "Goljerp". It probably didn't hurt that the friend of mine who was there had the habit of calling me "Goljerp" in person.
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[User Picture]From: dakiwiboid
2011-08-08 08:35 pm (UTC)

So far, Google+ hasn't been after me for a birth certificate name

Apparently they're OK with "Kiwi Carlisle", since that's a recognizable first and last name. That's the name I gave them for my gmail account, that's the name they can find me by on Facebook, so they aren't digging any deeper. Thank the gods, because that other person isn't REAL.
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[User Picture]From: cos
2011-08-10 03:10 am (UTC)

common names, not legal names

Avoiding getting involved in the public debate on this because I work for Google, but I do want to make one factual clarification:

"To recap: Google+ has a policy saying that, if you want a Google+ account, you have to have some version of your legal name as your account name."

Actually, the terms of service say you should use your "common name" (which many people are referring to as your "real name"), and the terms elaborate that "Your common name is the name your friends, family or co-workers usually call you." In other words, it doesn't have to be your legal name, it's supposed to be the name you're generally known by in person.

(I'm just clarifying that this is what the written policy is. I'm not commenting on other related matters.)
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[User Picture]From: vvalkyri
2011-08-14 02:51 pm (UTC)

Re: common names, not legal names

Yeah, but despite a bunch of us sending CZ mail to forward on, noting that we call him CZ he's had his account disabled several times since then.

My online presence (save on FB, which is left at acquaintance level openness) , and hence a good deal of my meatspace presence, is Val or Vval or Vvalkyri. A bunch of people call me Val.

But I seriously doubt that if G+ noticed an account made up of bits of Vvalkyri they'd let it stand.
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[User Picture]From: xiphias
2011-08-14 03:09 pm (UTC)

Re: common names, not legal names

On the other hand, Cos's G+ account is under "Cos." On the gripping hand, Cos may have had an easier time getting G+ to recognize that, in that he works for Google.
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[User Picture]From: shmuelisms
2011-08-10 10:43 pm (UTC)

Most people who STILL think they have some of online anonymity, don't realize just how easy it is to correlate different sources to identify you. It's probably enough to find a match between 3-4 friends across different sources to identify with "very high" degree of certainty that, for example, "xiphias" is Ian. I've tried this myself a number of times. Let's say that of half a dozen, there has been only ONE web-friend that I failed to find, and I know she's EXTREMELY careful/secretive about such things. With some level of leg-work, I'm sure I could locate her by finding her brother. And that's without the data-mining tools and sources the TPBs have access to.
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