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This is a crosspost from Infotropism. You can comment here or there.

So this happened.

I like to think that in another, better, universe, it went like this:

When we launched Google+ over three years ago, we had a lot of restrictions on what name you could use on your profile. This helped create a community made up of people who matched our expectations about what a “real” person was, but excluded many other real people, with real identities and real names that we didn’t understand.

We apologise unreservedly to those people, who through our actions were marginalised, denied access to services, and whose identities we treated as lesser. We especially apologise to those who were already marginalised, discriminated against, or unsafe, such as queer youth or victims of domestic violence, whose already difficult situations were worsened through our actions. We also apologise specifically to those whose accounts were banned, not only for refusing them access to our services, but for the poor treatment they received from our staff when they sought support.

Everyone is entitled to their own identity, to use the name that they are given or choose to use, without being told that their name is unacceptable. Everyone is entitled to safety online. Everyone is entitled to be themselves, without fear, and without having to contort themselves to meet arbitrary standards.

As of today, all name restrictions on Google+ have been lifted, and you may use your own name, whatever it is, or a chosen nickname or pseudonym to identify yourself on our service. We believe that this is the only just and right thing to do, and that it can only strengthen our community.

As a company, and as individuals within Google, we have done a lot of hard thinking and had a lot of difficult discussions. We realise that we are still learning, and while we appreciate feedback and suggestions in this regard, we have also undertaken to educate ourselves. We are partnering with LGBTQ groups, sexual abuse survivor groups, immigrant groups, and others to provide workshops to our staff to help them better understand the needs of all our users.

We also wish to let you know that we have ensured that no copies of identification documents (such as drivers’ licenses and passports), which were required of users whose names we did not approve, have been kept on our servers. The deletion of these materials has been done in accordance with the highest standards.

If you have any questions about these changes, you may contact our support/PR team at the following address (you do not require a Google account to do so). If you are unhappy, further support can be found through our Google User Ombuds, who advocates on behalf of our users and can assist in resolving any problems.

I’m glad they made the policy change. But I sure would have liked to see some recognition of the harm done, and a clearer demonstration that they don’t think that “real people” and “people who were excluded” are non-intersecting sets.

skud: (skud)

Mirrored from Infotropism. You can comment there or here.

A few people have contacted me lately asking where “My Name Is Me” (previously at http://my.nameis.me/) had got to. Well, the domain registration expired, the WordPress site that I didn’t login to very often got malwared to hell and back, and when I asked around, nobody wanted to take it over.

However, I recently set up WordPress Multisite (and wow, that was easier than I thought it would be — recommended!) and I’m in the process of moving all my various blogs to it. Among them, since I had an archive sitting around, is MNIM.

And so, in “celebration” (a ha ha) of Google+ releasing a “community” feature that excludes LGBTQ people; abuse survivors; refugees; whistleblowers; people in the military, medical, legal, political, education, or social work fields; people from countries which commonly use monomyms or mixed character sets for names; people who want to chat with their gaming, open source, fandom, or SCAdian buddies; nuns and monks; performers known by their stage names; authors known by their pen names; activists and political dissidents… oh look, just go see the site. In recognition of all these people and their exclusion from G+ and similar social networks, MNIM is now back at mynameisme.org.

Note that it’s in “archival” mode — I’m not actively soliciting new people to list on the site, and the forms for submitting stories have been removed. It took a team of hard workers slogging away at all the editorial work for MNIM, and we’re no longer up for that. Hopefully the work we did last year will still be useful as it stands.

skud: (skud)

Mirrored from Infotropism. You can comment there or here.

You think those Google recruiters would know not to contact me, but the other day I got another perky “Opportunities at Google” email from one of them, telling me that they’d found my “online profile” and that based on my experience they think I “could be a great addition to our team!”

Riiiiight.

Since I just deleted my LinkedIn profile, I emailed them asking where they’d found this “online profile”, since it was obviously outdated. Oddly enough, it seems they’d found a page about me on the Geek Feminism Wiki, and were using the rather sketchy outline of my open source background there as justification for trying to recruit me.

The recruiter admitted that the page was out of date, and asked me to let them know what I’d been up to lately so they could add it to their records. Below is a copy of what I sent them. I’m posting it here, lightly edited, for anyone who’s interested, and in the hopes that the next Google recruiter (I have no doubt that there’ll be one) might use that web search thingamajig to find out whether I’m a suitable candidate before emailing me.


Here’s what I’ve been up to for the last couple of years, since you asked.

In July 2010 the startup I was working for, Metaweb, was acquired by Google. I was brought in on a 1-year fixed term employment contract, since the group we were acquired into (Search) didn’t really know what to do with a technical community manager. I attempted to transfer my role over to Developer Relations, but was told that I “wasn’t technical enough” for the job I’d been doing for 3+ years, presumably because I didn’t have a computer science degree and believed that supporting our developer community was more important than being able to pass arbitrary technical quizzes.

Around the same time, Google started to develop Google+. As a queer/genderqueer woman, victim of abuse, and someone who was (at that very time) experiencing online harassment and bullying, I was very vocal within Google for the need for Google+ to support pseudonymity. Google decided not to do that, and instead told people they should use “the name they are known by” while in actual fact requiring their full legal names, in many cases requiring people to provide copies of their government ID when challenged. (Extensive documentation about this is available on the Geek Feminism wiki, if you’d like to read it. See Who is harmed by a “Real Names” policy? for starters.)

When I walked out the door of Google’s San Francisco office on July 15th, 2011, I was very glad to have left a company I thought was doing evil towards any number of marginalised and at-risk people. My first tweet on leaving was to criticise them for it.

Less than a week later I got my first email from a Google recruiter — not first ever, of course; I’d been spammed with them for years, but first since I quit working for them. Here’s the blog post I wrote about it. In case you can’t be bothered clicking through and reading it, here’s the money shot:

If you are a Google recruiter, and you want me to interview for SWE or SRE or any role that has an algorithm pop quiz as part of the interview, if you want me to apply for something without knowing what team I’ll be working on and whether it meshes with my values and goals and interests, if you want me to go through your quite frankly humiliating interview process just to be told that my skills and qualifications — which you could have found perfectly easily if you’d bothered to actually look before spamming me — aren’t suitable for any of the roles you have available, then just DON’T.

The very day after I blogged about that, my Google+ account was suspended, for using the name I was almost universally known by. Over the next couple of months, I campaigned tirelessly for Google+ to change its policies, working with the EFF and other advocates. My work was covered in Wired, The Atlantic, and a number of other mainstream press outlets. Obviously this was to no avail as Eric Schmidt (at the time, CEO of Google) described pseudonymous users like me as “a dog or a fake person” and no substantive change has ever been made to allow pseudonymous use of the service, despite promises to do so.

I returned to Australia and went back to school. I did a semester of Sound Production at TAFE, but it turned out that the sound engineering course I was enrolled in wasn’t really my cup of tea, just like I’d previously decided, back in the ’90s, that university wasn’t for me. Like so many others, I quit my computing degree because I was more interested in the Internet and open source software than in fixing COBOL applications for banks who were worried about Y2K. But then, I’m sure Google’s HR system already knows all about that — if I’d had a degree, you might have considered me worth keeping on last year. Instead, Google’s reliance on higher education credentials causes it to weed out people like me, even though I have a track record a mile long and buckets of evidence to show that I’m good at what I do.

In the end, I’ve spent most of the last year lying in hammocks reading books, working in my garden, going to gigs, hanging around recording studios, doing the odd bit of freelancing, and, over the last few months, travelling around Europe. It’s given me a good opportunity to reflect on my previous work.

Since I’ve been out of the Silicon-Valley-centred tech industry, I’ve become increasingly convinced that it’s morally bankrupt and essentially toxic to our society. Companies like Google and Facebook — in common with most public companies — have interests that are frequently in conflict with the wellbeing of — I was going to say their customers or their users, but I’ll say “people” in general, since it’s wider than that. People who use their systems directly, people who don’t — we’re all affected by it, and although some of the outcomes are positive a disturbingly high number of them are negative: the erosion of privacy, of consumer rights, of the public domain and fair use, of meaningful connections between people and a sense of true community, of beauty and care taken in craftsmanship, of our very physical wellbeing. No amount of employee benefits or underfunded Google.org projects can counteract that.

Over time, I’ve come to consider that this situation is irremediable, given our current capitalist system and all its inequalities. To fix it, we’re going to need to work on social justice and rethinking how we live and work and relate to each other. Geek toys like self-driving cars and augmented reality sunglasses won’t fix it. Social networks designed to identify you to corporations so they can sell you more stuff won’t fix it. Better ad targetting or content matching algorithms definitely won’t fix it. Nothing Google is doing will fix it, and in fact unless Google does a sharp about-turn, they’ll only worsen the inequality and injustice there is in the world.

I guess you’ll want to know what I’m working on at the moment. My current project is an open source, open data project called Growstuff, which helps food gardeners track and share information about what they’re growing and harvesting. It is built on principles of sustainability, including a commitment to a diverse and harassment-free community, to actively supporting developers rather than excluding them based on misguided ideas of meritocracy, and to funding the project through means that will never put the people running the website in opposition to our customers. That means no ads, in case you’re wondering. We’d rather our members paid us directly; that way, we’ll never forget who we’re meant to be serving. I’m working on Growstuff from home, where I can be myself and feel safe and comfortable. I work with volunteers from all round the world, and get to teach programming and web development and system administration and project management and sustainability to all kinds of people, especially those who’ve previously been excluded from or marginalised in their technical education or careers. We get to work on things we know are wanted and appreciated, and we don’t have to screw anyone around to do it.

Let me know when Google has changed enough to offer me something more appealing than that. If you don’t think that’s likely to happen, then please put me on whatever “Do Not Contact” blacklist you might have handy. I know you must have some such list; I only wish you regularly referred to it instead of spamming people who not only don’t want to work for you, but have nightmares about it.

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This is a copy of a poll I've posted on Google+, seeking people's feedback on HOW Google should fix the names problems.

I know there are a lot of DW users and others who choose not to use G+, so this is an attempt to gather more responses from those people.

It should be accessible to anyone who is logged into DW, or who has an OpenID login from any other site.



Sorry, DW doesn't support fully anonymous poll responses, but hopefully the above gives you plenty of options.

----
ORIGINAL POST (https://plus.google.com/103325808503679220346/posts/KStJ8NKWaAM):

There are so many of us talking about the issue that it can be hard to tell what people really want. So here are a list of statements based on different things I've heard people suggest, and I'm trying to get a sense of what the majority of pro-nym supporters really want. (I have my own opinions on this, based on my impression from the people I read, but I might be wrong.) And yes, there are people at Google who will read this and may be able to help us based on the results, so please, let's be constructive here.

Here's how the poll works: you simply vote by +1-ing a comment below, to show your support for the statement. While of course you can +1 as many options as you like, I'm going to ask that you limit yourself to the statement(s) you most strongly support.

Comment policy for this post: I don't want this to be a free-for-all comment thread, so I'm going to moderate strictly to keep this focused on the topic of proposed improvements to the G+ names situation.


Here are the comments I posted:

POLICY AS WRITTEN IS TOO STRICT, I WANT ANYONE TO USE ANY NAME THEY LIKE. "The name you're commonly known by" is not acceptable to me, as it's too strict. I want people to be able to use any name they like, regardless of whether it's an established identity. You should be able to sign up with anything at all.

POLICY IS OK, FIX ENFORCEMENT. I think "The name you're commonly known by" is a reasonable standard to apply. However, Google needs to be liberal in what it accepts, and err on the side of believing people who say "this *is* the name I'm commonly known by", even if that name is unusual. And there need to be ways other than government ID to prove name use.

POLICY AND ENFORCEMENT ARE OK, BUT MAKE "OTHER NAMES" MORE VISIBLE. I'm OK with the policy and enforcement as it stands, and with Google making people use the name on their ID (or an invented name that's acceptable to Google, if their ID name isn't accepted). However, I want it to be easier to find people by their nicknames/other names, to be able to see those nicknames/other names when people post or comment, and generally to have those other names much more visible.

ALLOW PSEUDONYMITY WITH OPTIONAL VERIFIED NAMES. Google+ should allow anyone to sign up with any name they want, but you should be able to get a "verified name" checkmark if you want one. Google may up-rank content created by those with verified names, and down-rank unverified posters, but that would be OK with me.

ALLOW PSEUDONYMITY BACKED BY "REAL" IDENTITY KNOWN ONLY BY GOOGLE. I'd like people to be able to choose what name they display, as long as Google knows who the real person is behind an account (presumably by checking their government ID or similar).

ALLOW MULTIPLE IDENTITIES IN ONE ACCOUNT. Google needs to recognise that people present themselves in different ways depending on context, and to allow for multiple identities linked to one account. This would be in addition to the options currently available by having multiple google accounts.

OTHER, WHICH I WILL EXPLAIN BELOW.

Poll #7874 G+ names improvements
Open to: Registered Users, detailed results viewable to: All, participants: 107


Vote here:

View Answers

Policy as written is too strict, I want anyone to use any name they like.
82 (76.6%)

Policy is ok, fix enforcement.
19 (17.8%)

Policy is ok, but make "other names" more visible.
1 (0.9%)

Allow pseudonymity with optional verified names.
61 (57.0%)

Allow pseudonymity backed by "real" identity known only by Google.
9 (8.4%)

Allow multiple identities in one account.
50 (46.7%)

Other, which I will explain below.
5 (4.7%)

skud: (Default)

Mirrored from Infotropism. You can comment there or here.

I’ve been updating this post as I hear anything from Google Profiles Support, most recently three days ago (Thursday 28th July). However, that post’s getting long, and I keep having people ask me what’s going on, or why I don’t do X or haven’t I considered Y, so I thought I’d post a summary/update.

The current status is:

  • My account is still suspended — nine days and counting.
  • They won’t accept my evidence that I am called “Skud” in daily life, and have asked to see my government ID instead.
  • As far as I can tell, they want me to change my name on their service to “Kirrily Robert”, with “Skud” in the nickname field on my “about” page. This is not acceptable to me, as “Skud” — the common name by which most people know me — would not show anywhere on my posts.
  • I don’t want to change to just “Kirrily Robert” as that would confuse many of my friends. However, I am willing to change to a hybrid (eg. Kirrily “Skud” Robert) as long as “Skud” shows somewhere on my posts and comments. (My name is not a true pseudonym, but a long-standing and widely-used nickname, so unlike many, I don’t have privacy concerns about disclosing the name on my government ID.)
  • In fact, a few days ago I actually edited my profile to show Kirrily “Skud” Robert and enquired whether this is acceptable. They have not responded, and do not appear to have reviewed it.
  • In my email to them, I said that if the formatting on “Skud” (with quote marks) bothered them, I would like to hear their suggestions on more acceptable formatting. They aren’t answering.
  • After a week of no resolution, I attempted to escalate by Cc’ing my support emails to relevant staff within Google. There was no response whatsoever, and pointed silence from a good friend who works as a user advocate on G+ identity issues, which leads me to believe that staff have been instructed not to speak on the issue, or not to respond to me, or both.

Here’s what I want from Google, in order of immediacy:

  • A meaningful, non-form-letter response to my support request.
  • A solution which allows me to show my commonly-used name, “Skud”, on my posts and comments. As far as my own case is concerned, I’m quite willing to compromise (for instance with Kirrily “Skud” Robert), but I’m not willing to use a name that doesn’t include “Skud” in any way, or that consists of only the name on my government ID, as most of my social circle would not recognise me under those conditions.
  • A clear, unequivocal statement from Google+ management that they understand that many people have names that differ from their government ID, and that those names, if commonly used in daily life, are explicitly permitted on Google+.
  • A consistent, well-documented way for people whose commonly used names don’t match their government ID to provide evidence that those are the names they really are known by (note that this should not be limited to Facebook or other services which implicitly or explicitly require a match with government ID.)
  • Google to develop better ways to handle spam and personal reputation on social networks. They have the smarts and the data for this, and could make a much more meaningful and positive change to the Internet if they were to take it on.

And here are some responses to things a number of people have asked me, just to conveniently put them all in one place:

  • You use Kirrily “Skud” Robert elsewhere, why don’t you just go with that? I’ve tried, they haven’t responded to my email requesting review.
  • You have a Facebook account under Kirrily Robert. Why aren’t you complaining about Facebook? If you’ll look at my Facebook account, you’ll see it’s just a placeholder, which I hardly ever use, in large part because it’s strange to do so under a name that few people know me by. Though I’ve spoken in the past about Facebook’s name policy, I was less insistent about it because they were just one website (albeit a large one) and because their policy was at least clearly stated and apparently consistent.
  • If you don’t like the policy, don’t use G+. If only it were that easy. That’s more or less what I’ve done on Facebook — as I said, I mostly just use it as a placeholder — but I don’t feel like that’ll work so well on Google+. Google+ has tentacles that extend into other services. Even though Google have said that the name policy doesn’t affect anything outside G+ and Profiles (which in itself is a bit disingenuous, as related policies, equally poorly communicated and enforced, do), I’ve seen some effects start to show up in other products. For instance yesterday I got a warning on Google Groups, saying that I had limited functionality because my G+ profile was suspended. Similarly, Jon Pincus points out that use of G+ is already affecting search results, disadvantaging those not using the service. If “everything is social” and Google starts to connect other products with G+, then a wide range of services start to be affected. This is not just “don’t use one website”, it’s “limit your use of a significant number of services”.
  • It’s a field trial, they’ve said they’re working on it, hang in there and it will get better. I have to say I mistrust this. Google has a poor history when it comes to promising “we’ll get to that later”. Furthermore, they’ve already had months and months to figure this out before launch, and chosen not to. If the pressure and advocacy that have been applied so far haven’t been enough to make them prioritise the issue, then I don’t think quietly sitting around and waiting for them to do it is going to get results.
  • Blah blah anonymity blah. Just to be clear, I am not speaking at all about anonymity online, which is a different issue (an interesting one, but one I’m not dealing with right now). I’m talking about long-standing, widely-used, persistent names that have accrued reputation and social capital, but which just happen not to match government ID.
  • Don’t you have anything better to do? Not really, I’m unemployed, and I think this is important.
Fists of Fury

ObMural: "Hearts of Gold, Fists of Fury" in Clarion Alley, in SF's Mission District, ca. 2007. "Everywoman -- her weapon: rising up"

skud: (Default)

Mirrored from Infotropism. You can comment there or here.

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.

4 people with names written on their hands

Party nametags from my couchwarming party, September 2010, at my house in San Francisco. Three of four people shown -- who I know offline, and interact with face to face -- are using names which would not be permitted on Google+.

skud: (Default)

Mirrored from Infotropism. You can comment there or here.

So, just to backtrack and fill everyone in on the details:

  • I’ve been a strong advocate of pseudonymity for a considerable time. Hacker News and pseudonymity is a good example of my writing on the subject, from June last year.
  • The startup I worked for was acquired by Google in July 2010.
  • I left Google last Friday, July 15th, one year after the acquisition. My reasons are described, in part, here.
  • During the time I was at Google, Google was working on the project that would become Google+. I was not involved directly in that project, but I did try to keep myself informed of their planned policies regarding pseudonymity, and advocated strongly in favour of Google+ allowing it. Obviously, that advocacy wasn’t successful.
  • My first tweet upon leaving Google, posted from the BART station about ten minutes after walking out the door, was to state my belief that Google+’s anti-pseudonym policy was harmful and discriminatory. (I didn’t say so publicly before then because, as an employee, I couldn’t really publicly criticise my employer. Once I’d left, I felt more able to do so.)
  • Because I knew Google’s policies pretty well (as much as anyone can, when they’re so unclear), I knew I was at risk of my account (under the name of “Skud .”) being suspended. I prepared this page about my name gathering evidence and testimonials from people who know me primarily, or solely, as “Skud”.
I KNW SKD

Viral shows off his home-made "I know Skud" button, on my second-last day at Google

So today, I got off a plane this afternoon to find a pile of tweets, emails, and blog comments asking whether it was true that my Google+ account had been suspended. When I managed to get some wifi and check, it turned out that it had been.

I know there’s a lot of people wondering what happens when you get suspended, so here is my experience so far.

Gmail works fine, I can check my email. There’s no official notification that my Google+ account has been suspended, though.

When I click on “+Skud” in my Google toolbar (top left), it takes me to Google+, and I can see my stream, and that 16 new people are following me. When I click through to my own profile, though, I see this:

notice of suspension

Your profile is suspended. After reviewing your profile, we determined that the name you provided violates our Community Standards. If you believe this profile has been suspended in error, please provide us with additional information via this form, and we will review your profile again.

Note, by the way, that the Google+ “Community Standards” (actually linked as Content Policy at the bottom of most pages on the site — just one of many inconsistencies) says:

To help fight spam and prevent fake profiles, use the name your friends, family or co-workers usually call you.

I had been pleased when I originally saw these terms, thinking that they would allow people with long-standing pseudonyms, or who regular use names that don’t match their state-issued ID, or who have unusual names, to use the service without difficulty. However, we’ve seen multiple cases of people having their accounts suspended despite this.

Anyway, I clicked through the form, which looked like this:

Appeal form

Our Community Standards play an important role in insuring a positive experience for everyone using Google Profiles. As part of our standards to help fight spam and prevent fake profiles, please use the name that your friends, family, or co-workers usually call you. [...] If you believe that we have mistakenly suspended your profile for having an unauthentic [sic] name, please fill out the form below.

It then asks me for my name (uh, don’t you know that already?), email (ditto), link to my profile (ditto), and asks me to provide documentation. I can either give them a scan of my photo ID (obscuring “personal information”, whatever that means), or links to places on the web that demonstrate that this is my name. They suggest using Facebook (the site that allows Google founder Sergey Brin to go under a pseudonym, and whose own founder has a page for his dog) as evidence. I have something better, though, because I expected this to happen and I had already collated my evidence. I linked to that page and submitted the form.

The result was this ill-formated, uninformative page:

feedback received

Thank you for sending us your feedback about Google Profiles.

No further word on what the appeals process looks like, how soon I can expect to hear back from them, or anything like that.

So, while I’m suspended, it appears that:

  • I can view my stream, including posts to “Limited” circles that include me
  • I can add people to my circles using the tool in the right sidebar
  • However, it says I have 0 people in my circles, on my profile page
  • When I go to my circles page, it says “People who’ve added you (undefined)”
  • I can’t comment on anyone’s posts
  • I don’t think anyone can add me to posts explicitly using +Skud/@Skud
  • I can send feedback on Google+ (though I don’t much feel the urge to)
  • ETA: I can’t use Google Takeout to export my profile and stream (screenshot).

People have been asking whether this suspension is in relation to me criticising Google’s hiring practices yesterday, or publicly criticising Google+’s pseudonymity policies over the past week or so (you can bet I’ve been criticising them privately, as an employee, for much longer than that). For the record, I don’t think these things are directly related, but I do think it is probable that my profile was reported by someone who disagrees with my pro-pseudonymity activism. Unsurprisingly, the very policy that was meant to make Google+ “a positive experience for all users” is easily used as a griefing tool against those expressing non-mainstream views. Who could have foretold that? (That sound you hear is is my head hitting my keyboard.)

Anyway, I will attempt to keep you all updated on the appeal process, with screenshots and so on. Hopefully if I can bring nothing else to this steaming pile of bullshit, I can bring documentation.

Also, if you’ve made it this far, you should check out the community-curated list of groups of people who are harmed by this policy and accompanying blog comments over at Geek Feminism.


Update, July 23rd

Email from Google, received at 3:23pm PDT, a little over a day since my suspension:

Hello,

Thank you for contacting us with regard to the name in your Google
Profile. It looks like you have deleted your Google Profile, and thus we
are unable to take further action on your request for us to review the
name in your profile.

Sincerely,

Ricky

The Google Profiles Support Team

Um, no, I never deleted my account, though I did have the privacy settings locked down fairly tight. I’ve contacted them and advised them to try again. (Unrelatedly, I also made my profile slightly more visible, because I like the idea of adding “Banned from Google+ for using the name everyone knows me by” to my “bragging rights”.)

Update, July 24th

Please see my followup post where I talk a bit more about some of the issues.


Update, July 25th

Another email from “Ricky” (if that’s really his or her real name — I suspect it’s not):

Thank you for contacting us with regard to the name used in your Google
Profile. We have reviewed your appeal and need more information in order
to verify that the name entered Skud . is your common name.

Please reply to this email with a copy of your government issued ID, which
we will dispose of after review. Once we receive this information we can
review your appeal and come to a final decision.

Here is the reply I sent:

My government ID does not demonstrate that “Skud” is my common name — it only demonstrates the name by which the government calls me, and unless you expect me to “circle” border control guards or people from the DMV, I don’t see why that is more relevant than the name by which my friends and colleagues know me.

My website, to which I have already linked you, demonstrates that “Skud” is my common name. Let me link it again, in the hope that you will actually read it this time: http://infotrope.net/bio/my-name/

It’s now been three days since my suspension. Tomorrow I’m having lunch with my old colleagues at Google. I’ve tried not to escalate this process through unofficial channels because I want to see what the suspension and appeal process looks like to someone who doesn’t have my insider knowledge and contacts. I don’t doubt, though, that my case is being discussed a lot inside Google, and probably today or tomorrow will be when Google starts treating me differently from most people who’ve been suspended.


Update, July 26th

Yesterday afternoon (the 25th) I got this email from “Ricky”:

Thank you for contacting us with regard to the name you want to use with
your Google Profile. After further review, we have determined that your
name is within our Community Standards policy. Thank you for your patience
while we reviewed your profile name.

I mentioned this on Twitter but didn’t get too excited, as my profile page wasn’t actually reactivated yet. I emailed them back and said:

How long will it take for my profile to be reinstated now that you
have approved my name?

Time passed, and this morning I got the following email:

It seems you have edited your name back to “skud.” and your account was
blocked. You have to keep the edited name as your common name or your
account will continued to be blocked. Every time you edit your name it is
automatically checked by our system for violations.

Now, I didn’t edit my name. I didn’t touch it. And it is my common name, as I’ve shown through repeated documentation. But this documentation route is getting a little silly, so I decided to change tack:

Ricky, I never edited my name on my profile page — it has remained as my common name (the name my friends and colleagues know me by) since I first signed up for Google+.

But do I understand you correctly — if I were to edit my name to something else that looks more like you what think is a common name, you would unblock my account? Would “Kathleen Richards” be acceptable, for example? Is it permissable to include my common name, the one everyone knows me by, as a middle name in quotation marks, like Brian “Fitz” Fitzpatrick (the Google staffer responsible for Google Takeout) does? If so, I would be willing to change my name to Kathleen “Skud” Richards, just to have my account reinstated.

I’ve updated my profile to match. Let’s see what comes of this. [Later: I switched back to Kirrily "Skud" Robert -- while I'm temporarily amused to troll them with a fake (but real-sounding) name like Kathleen Richards, I don't actually want it on my profile.]

In other news, I had lunch with my old colleagues at Google’s San Francisco office. This is the visitor badge that Google issued me with:

google visitor badge with Skud on it


Update, July 27th

Had drinks with Doc Popular and aestetix last night in San Francisco. They introduced themselves as “Doc” and “aestetix” respectively, and that is the name I know them by “in the real world”.

This morning, another useless email from “Ricky”:

The name you use in the name field must resemble your First and Last name. Any other name you use can be placed right below the names field in the nick names field where other users can still recognize you by that name.

Here’s my response:

Ricky, it has been five days and I am starting to lose patience. Please can you answer the following questions clearly, without evasion and without copy-pasting form letters:

1) I have repeatedly demonstrated that “Skud” is the name by which I am known by the vast majority of my acquaintance, through the webpage at http://infotrope.net/bio/my-name/ This page shows that I am known by Skud by my friends, co-workers, co-habitants, conference organisers, and Google itself (where I was an employee until July 15th). In what specific way does this fail to meet your standards of documentation?

2) If you won’t let me simply use “Skud” as my name on Google+, how would you advise me to edit my name to meet your requirements? I wish my common name, “Skud”, to be visible on all my posts and comments, but am prepared to use other names alongside “Skud” if it will help get past your rules. I suggest using: Kirrily “Skud” Robert. Is this acceptable?

(Please don’t bother telling me to use the “nickname” field, as it does not show on my posts and comments.)

3) If it is not acceptable for me to include the nickname “Skud” in quotation marks in my Google+ name (as, eg, Kirrily “Skud” Robert), due to punctuation marks being disallowed, can you please explain why others, such as Google engineer Brian “Fitz” Fitzpatrick (********@google.com, responsible for Google Takeout) are allowed to do so, and by what method a member of the public can gain a similar exemption.

If you cannot answer the above questions by yourself, please escalate this to your supervisor.


Update, July 28th

One time in high school, when I was feeling particularly pretentious, I read some Faust. I don’t remember the details but there was a guy who turned into a cockroach and a lot of bureaucracy that felt rather like Google Profiles Support. Yesterday, though, a Googler friend of mine pointed out that the case I’ve documented in this blog post looks more like this xkcd comic (click through for full size strip):

So this morning, “Ricky” emailed me again to chirp, “I’m a server!” yet another time:

Hello,

To edit your name to comply with our Community Standards Policy can be
done so rather easily. Place the name Kirrily Roberts in the name field
and right below place your nickname”Skud” in the nick name field. Both
names will be visible to users and it solves the issue of complying with
our policy. If you wish to edit your name to comply please email me back.

Thank you,

Ricky

So now I’m pulling out the big guns. Everyone knows (don’t they?) that the only way to get support from Google is to contact people you know inside the organisation and get them to advocate on your behalf. I’ve held off from doing so until now because nobody should have to do that. It’s not fair on Googlers who have to deal with begging from friends who need help with stuff the Googler knows little about, and it’s not fair on customers that a company that provides such vital services as email, website hosting, and phone service should be able to cut services off without offering a clear and usable path to resolution.

But since it seems to be the only way, I emailed the following back to Ricky, and Cc’d Vic Gundotra (SVP Social), Bradley Horowitz (VP Product), Michael Hermeston (who I believe is in charge of G+ customer support), Natalie Villalobos (Google+ community manager), and a few others I know who work on Google+ identity issues (all of whom know me as Skud). I also Bcc’d it to a number of my friends at Google, encouraging them to disseminate it widely inside the company.

Ricky, this is now the sixth day without resolution.

Yesterday I asked you three questions, and specifically asked you to answer them clearly, without evasion, and without copy-pasting form letters — or if you weren’t able, to escalate to your supervisor. You didn’t answer them, so here they are again:

[redacted for brevity]

I am now escalating this to Google+ management and [redacted] in the hopes that my questions will be answered and my account reinstated, under my common name (“Skud”). Nobody should ever have to rely on Googler acquaintances to get them customer support, but since that does seem to be the only way, I’m taking it.

You need to fix this harmful, hypocritical policy and allow people to actually use “the names by which they are known”. Not just special-cases for celebrities and people who have friends at Google, but for everyone — transgender people, those from non-Western cultures, people with only one name, even people whose names you think look silly. Google shouldn’t be telling me what my “common name” is or isn’t. It should be supporting me and validating my identity, so that I can use its services happily and encourage others to do so as well.

Yours,

Skud

October 2014

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