Friday, 29 July 2011

My new friend Sean Hunt, Violator of Community Standards

This is my new friend Sean Hunt.

He and I were not friends a week ago when our views on the use of pseudonyms clashed. Fortunately, I resisted my usual desires to fight the good fight and chose not to pursue the argument. (Those who know me, know just how much effort that took.)

You see, while I wish to judge people on more than their name, Sean wishes for us all to be proud of who we are and, to show that he is a man true to his convictions, he changed his name on Google+ to reflect that which appears on his very own passport.

And that's where Lady Irony stepped in.


"After reviewing your profile, we determined that the name you provided violates our Community Standards"

Sean was good humoured enough to alert me to this irony, and asked that I share it as further evidence of the problems here at Google+ when it comes to our profiles.

There are three concerns that I have had with the Google Profile issue:
1. The UNCLEAR policy, which I documented in a letter to Google last week.
2. The INCONSISTENT ADMINISTRATION of that policy.
3. Google's PROLONGED SILENCE on the issue.
It's not about whether or not Google+ should allow pseudonyms despite the fact that this argument is still popping up in our streams almost as much as the cats. While we argue, very real people, whether they use "real" names or pseudonyms - are being suspended from their accounts.

There is no three-strikes-you're-out. There is just the hammer that slams down - some say because of an algorithm, some say because of user-reported abuse.

Whatever causes the suspensions, the fact is, Google's first response to our offenses within a TRIAL has been to suspend us.

How's that for customer relations?

And when people have been providing ample feedback and expressing their concerns on this, so much so that it has breached the media, Google remained silent.

How's that for public relations?

Google VP Brad Horowitz FINALLY made an (un)official announcement on the issue. Nothing like having your public relations failure make it to the mainstream media to inspire a response! Among other things, he indicated that users would be given "a warning and a chance to correct their name in advance of any suspension."

There is no word on when such changes would take place (Sean received no such warning).

While this suspension warning is a nice gesture, the more appropriate action and response would have been something like:
"We will cease the suspension of accounts based solely on apparent profile name violations until such time as we have come to a solid conclusion over the use of pseudonyms. Our policy regarding this issue will be updated accordingly to clearly reflect Google's new standards, and an official announcement will be made to allow users time to address any profiles that may be in violation..."
Some people are crying for patience. "Google will get it in the end." I suspect these people are (A) those who feel they are safe from suspension, because they are using their real name, or (B) those who are using pseudonyms and trying to remain under the radar and don't like others rocking the boat by standing up for something we care about.

I'm sure Google will get something in the end. Meanwhile, users are still being suspended and reinstated in an inconsistent manner. How patient can we be when even Sean changing to his rightful name results in a suspension?

How patient can we be when the administration of suspensions works a little something like this (actual examples):

- Person A (pseudonym): Returned in tact; no hassle.
- Person B (pseudonym): Returned in tact, after providing links to their personal website
- Person C (pseudonym): Changed name in fear of further repercussions
- Person D (real name): Required to show ID to prove that his real looking name is actually real
- Person E (real name): Returned because Person E is famous
- Person F (pseudonym): Returned after changing last name to an initial
- Person G (pseudonym): Returned in tact after providing Google-approved ID (Linkedin and Facebook profiles)
- Person H (pseudonym): Denied after providing Google-approved ID (Linkedin and Facebook profiles)
- Person I (pseudonym): Returned in tact after enough people vouched for the use of his name offline
- Person J (pseudonym): Politely asked by Google to use his real name
- Person K (pseudonym): Profile untouched because she is famous
- Person L (pseudonym): Reinstated with restricted access after providing Google-accepted ID; suspended again a day later

Are we still using the pretense of fake profiles? Are we still proclaiming that Google is doing this in an attempt to protect us from Britney Spears wanting to network and have relationships with us? Because if that's the notion, it's not working.

By now, at least one person in your Circles will have been suspended, whether you realize it or not. For me, it's been several. Several people whom I dare to call friend because they are very real people with real profiles and real content.

Real people - many of whom have been with Google for a long time and have even been trusted by Google to test their products - who deserve to be treated a lot better.

We all joined in excitement and thought we had been welcomed by Google, only to have the welcome mat pulled out from under some of us. It is not a pleasant experience, and it is only being amplified with time.

Feel free to condemn me for voicing my disagreement with the actions of a company providing me with a free service in a 5 week old trial. Feel free to contact me when your own profile or that of a good friend is suspended. I do not hold grudges. I only demand that Google do the right thing and take responsibility for this mess.

[NOTE: We suspect Sean's suspension has to do with adding a hyphen to his name, which may have violated the "avoid using symbols" policy. However, I am hardpressed to believe that Google has never encountered real names using hyphens (or apostrophes) before and lacks the coding skill to ensure that such names aren't flagged for suspension!]
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