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Google+ seems to be continuing building steam and putting itself on the map as a contender, not merely an also-ran to the Facebook behemoth. Part of its strategy is to enforce the use of real names, not just the more common online pseudonym. The logic goes that this will reduce the likelihood that cybercriminals might use guises when interacting with other users on the service, hopefully making it easier to spot and stop nastiness.
So far it has garnered a fair amount of spurious protest, especially from those who wonder what steps are being taken to protect their private information, in light of the string of data breaches to hit the headlines recently. The public seems to trust companies less and less to protect their private data, and are less likely to want to volunteer all the minute details, starting with their real name. After all, if criminals got the account details for SlimB0yFat, it would be harder to datamine with the intent of reverse engineering and causing nastiness.
One major selling point when the internet was first rolled out en masse was the ability to protect identities for people wishing to discuss sensitive topics to avoid things like bullying – and also protect basic privacy. It seemed like a “good thing” to be able to freely discuss ideas and ask questions without fear of reprisal. Also, a certain amount of anonymity comforted people into thinking they might have some shelter from “Big Brother” type forces exercising the same meddling tendencies they experienced in real life. The internet seemed to be a way to escape that and create communities of interest, no longer geographically limited, furthering the movement of freedom of expression and the greater good. Also, this allowed skirting some countries’ heavy use of censorship, which tended to clamp down on free speech.
Proponents of using real names only say it tends to raise the level of discourse to something more tolerable and constructive. I guess if SlimB0yFat told someone to take a hike (but with more flowery phrasing), it would easier to get away with than if John Smith did it, with the accompanying biopic of John located next to the post.
The irony comes when a system that uses real names tends to make people THINK the conversations are more trustworthy, and therefore lower their guard a bit to scams. This opens the door for reverse-engineered persona schemes (complete with someone else’s cut/paste biopic). Google+ says they’re working hard to watch for suspicious identity activity, to ensure scams like this don’t run amuck. Also, they say they’ll be working on sane ways to allow pseudonyms, calling it a high priority, but for now they’re only accepting what seem to be real names. So if you see Madonna on Google+, should you complain?
Author Cameron Camp, ESET