I’ve been seeing a lot of the same things get asked/said repeatedly so I thought I’d cover a few of them here.
“Why not just change your Google+ name to Kirrily Robert? That would get your account reinstated.”
Honestly, if Google’s support people tell me that’s what I need to do, I will do so. They have not yet told me that I need to do that. I’m playing dumb for now, and seeing how it plays out, because I’m interested in the review/appeal process.
If I do change my Google+ name to Kirrily Robert, I will (presumably) get my account back, but I won’t use it much any more. It will become like my Facebook or Quora accounts, two other services where I have an account but seldom use it because it feels weird to be using an identity at odds with how most of my friends know me.
“You knowingly violated the TOS, what did you expect?”
Sort of. The so-called “Community Standards” say, “Use the name your family/friends/colleagues know you by”. I am abiding by the rules as stated, though I admit that I am doing so in the knowledge that policy that’s actually enforced by Google differs from what they have published.
So yeah, I knew I would probably have my account suspended. I’m not too worried by that, because I’m not all that invested in the platform. And I thought it would be interesting and educational for someone who understands the system quite well (my recent ex-Googler status helps with this) to poke at it from outside and see how it appears to work.
My goals were, firstly, to help highlight the problems with the policy, and secondly, to test out and document the processes around it. This seems to be going well so far.
“People are losing access to all their Google services when their account is suspended!”
A lot of people are talking about this so I wanted to address it.
As far as I know, people are not losing access to all their Google services simply for using a name that Google doesn’t like. I have not yet heard of a single documentable case of this. (A documentable case would involve a G+ profile page that looks like this and contains the words, “we determined that the name you provided violates our Community Standards.”)
What I have heard is that many people are losing access to all Google services for some form of ill-defined “violation of our Terms of Service”. This is getting conflated with the names issue, and it’s not surprising. Google’s communication is weak, and they don’t tell you exactly what TOS you broke, so it’s easy to think it must be the name-related thing you’re hearing about happening to other people.
Some other considerations:
- Google+’s TOS forbids a range of content including “spam”, “hate speech”, “copyright”, and so-called NSFW content but nobody’s quite sure where the lines are or how it’s enforced, so it might be that you’re getting shut down for content violations you didn’t expect.
- Google+ allows anyone to report an account for abuse. While it’s unclear how those reports are escalated or how many of them are needed to lead to account suspension, if the bar is set too low (as it seems to be), this can lead to many capricious suspensions. (If you thought DMCA takedown notices could be used inappropriately to harass or intimidate, consider that Google+ only requires someone — anyone, not even the copyright holder — to click a button that says “copyright” to achieve the same effect.)
- Google+ has no facility for “warnings” prior to suspension. Other services (even Google-run Youtube) typically freeze/hide/take down specific content, or send you a warning telling you that you must do so yourself, rather than suspend an entire account with no warning.
- There is no clear understanding of the scope and range of TOS enforcement. Does TOS violation on one Google service result in losing access to that one service, or to multiple services? This doesn’t seem to have been well thought through.
The last point is an important one. As Google encourages people to consolidate more and more of their online lives in Google services, it’s going to be increasingly important for Google to maintain separation between services when it comes to TOS enforcement. You shouldn’t lose access to your email and documents just because you posted a risque picture on Google+ or a fan video to Youtube, any more than you should have your car towed for not paying your phone bill.
So, to sum up: as far as I can tell, people are not losing access to GMail and other services for using the wrong name on Google+, but they are losing access to those services for a cluster of other reasons which relate closely to the names problem.
“Their service, their rules.”
I’ve heard a number of people say that restaurants, retailers, and other businesses can put up signs that say, “We reserve the right to refuse service for any reason,” so why can’t Google? The thing is, businesses can say that all they want, but they if they attempt to not serve someone because they’re black, or queer, or disabled, they can expect public criticism and, in many cases, prosecution under anti-discrimination laws.
Sometimes, when businesses discriminate, they do so indirectly. “We don’t discriminate against women,” they say, “just against people who care for children,” or who have long hair, or any of the myriad other traits strongly associated with being female, or part of some other class. Indirect discrimination is discrimination nonetheless, and in some jurisdictions is just as illegal as direct discrimination.
(And just to make it completely clear: using a name other than that which appears on your legal ID is strongly correlated with being a member of one or more marginalised or discriminated-against groups. See: Who is harmed by a “Real Names” policy?)
So no, first of all, businesses can’t just say “our service, our rules”, if those rules are considered discriminatory under the law. Secondly, even if the law does not recognise their practices as discriminatory, it’s still valid to complain about them. This is especially true when it relates to an institution in a position of widespread power and ubiquity, rather than a niche or specialised service.
“It’s only a field trial, you can’t expect perfection.”
I believe this field trial went out too early, and that policy and communication strategies around the names issue — which Google knew would be a big deal — should have been in place before they went live. While I don’t expect perfection, I do expect something at least halfway usable, and the names policy, its enforcement, and the review/appeal process aren’t anywhere near that. (The same goes for gender privacy, too — now fixed, but shouldn’t have been launched in that state, in my opinion.)
That said, I have sympathy for the developers who are trying to do a lot under a great deal of pressure. We know to expect bugs, and we’re giving them a lot of leeway as we test out the system, send feedback, and generally kick the tires. People are being pretty good-natured about the rough edges, on the whole, and either let them slide or sent feedback. (I even sent feedback on the feedback tool, asking for a counter to show how much feedback I’ve sent.)
It would be nice if Google would provide the same sort of understanding toward us, by erring on the side of caution when wielding the banhammer, as we try and figure out how the system works based on, quite frankly, very little clear information.