Why Google+ Wants To Know Your Real Name

Google Plus Privacy PolicyDespite the dream start of Google+, I’ve always believed that it was a matter of time before it would run out of time. I always maintained that Google+ won’t kill Twitter or Facebook and that it may not be able to sustain its scorching growth for long periods of time. While Google+ continues to rake in large volumes of users, concerns over its ‘real name’ policy may soon lead to an identity crisis for its users.

Google’s current Chairman and former CEO Eric Schmidt says that G+ was built primarily as an identity service, so fundamentally, it depends on people using their real names if they’re going to build future products that leverage that information. However, not everybody is comfortable with revealing their real name and a large number of users are already claiming their right to anonymity and pseudonymity.

So, why is Google hell bent on people using real names on Google+? Does it see as a solution to address privacy concerns? Or is it to misuse the use of social networks such as Google+ for riots, uprisings, political dissidents and regional/ national riots. Let’s try and understand the reasons and implications of this move.

Real Name

Google has laid out the law in clear letters – if you want to use Google Plus, use your real name. If you can’t use your real name, don’t use Google Plus. However, the question remains how does Google verify real names? What about people in third-world countries who do not even have social security numbers, passports and other name proofs?

In fact, Google+ recommends that if using a real name creates a danger, for people like those in in Iran or Syria for instance, they don’t have to use Google+. I’ve to admit that when I read this first, it came across as a comply-else-leave order. In a practical world, I don’t think this is a workable solution in several countries.


To be honest, I’m not really sure if the real name policy will help streamline Google+ privacy. In fact, using your real name may make you more vulnerable to privacy issues. I’ve thousands of people in my circles and though I currently use my real name, I was actually planning to switch to an alias.

In fact, I’m a bit concerned about the privacy aspect of Google+ Games. When I play a game, Google+ asks me to agree to grant the game and its developer various permissions to access and use information from my Google+ Profile–including my Circles. Why the heck does Google need to know my circle info? Needless to say, I’m concerned over such features which potentially compromise my G+ privacy.


Google knows that fake and hacked accounts are frequently used on social networks to send malware or for online frauds. Most often, attackers get away with their motives because we place far too much trust on our friends in these networks. Establishing identities will help Google reduce such incidents.


Google is a champion at advertising – both direct and indirect. Speculations suggest Google+ wants people to use real names so that advertisers can make direct attacks and attachments of other identifying information, including age, location, gender, and associations including family and in some cases, friends. If that’s the case, it would be a huge plus for business users and advertisers. However, it may be irritating for end users if there’s no mechanism to turn these ads off. Of course, at this point of time, it’s mere speculation.

In your opinion, what’s the reason behind Google+ real name policy? Are you comfortable sharing your real name on G+? Please share your experience by leaving a comment.

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  1. CoachInAction

    “Google’s current Chairman and former CEO Eric Schmidt says that G+ was built primarily as an identity service” – that is an interesting statement. What is an identity service? Should that be better described as a database of people. As has been highlighted what will they do with that data. How does the various Data Protection Acts across the globe impact what they can lawfully do with that information themselves and with third parties? The fact that G+ers are only on for less than 6 minutes a day suggests it may be a slow burn.

    1. Anonymous

      Yes, what will they do with all that data, that’s what concerns me too. The real name policy means that Google is collecting massive amounts of identifiable data on those using its services. What will they do with it? Unfortunately we don’t have the benefit of hindsight here as we’re effectively still breaking new ground giving them this global information database. Who really knows where it will lead in say 10 years time and if all this sharing of real information with Google is a great idea. We’ll have to wait and see…

  2. Terri Nakamura

    Douglas, I know there are many reasons why people don’t wish to use their real names, just as there are people who do not want to use real images of themselves. I don’t have a problem with either of these practices, but those who conceal who they really are should understand the likelihood of building a meaningful relationship, at least as far as I’m concerned, is zero.

    Maybe it’s unrealistic for Google to expect people to be honest about who they are. That would mean “owning” what you put out there. Elsewhere, presently people can hurl verbal hand grenades in the comfort of their anonymity. 

    I like the notion of having to be responsible for what you do and say. Maybe it will yield a higher calibre of behavior. 

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    2. Anonymous

      I know of someone who has done very well with a pseudonym online:  Mario Armando Lavandeira, Jr. is a clever blogger who writes under the pseudonym of Perez Hilton.  Throughout history writers have written under pseudonyms.  Is the responsibility and caliber of behavior for Perez Hilton under question? Would you or should Google+ deny Perez Hilton or someone like Perez Hilton the right to use a pseudonym?  Are pseudonyms only applicable for those who have already reached fame? 

      Mario Armando Lavandeira, Jr. has been successful at promoting himself under the brand name of Perez Hilton. Would you deny that success to other bloggers?

      1. Douglas Idugboe

        Great point @rhiannarita:disqus ! What else can I say with such a succinct and valid point 🙂

        1. Anonymous

          Thank you, Douglas. I enjoyed your article which is inspiring people to think twice before they hand their keys over to Google+. Some people still want to join Google+ with its strict requirements and their right to do so is not under question. I really enjoy your articles about social media.

    3. Madfoot713

      Sorry I’m not comfortable with faceless corporations and anyone in the world seeing every part of my life.

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  4. Mike LaMonica

    I have real mixed feelings on this one. There may be people that for whatever reason might not be free to speak their mind under their real identity. For example, if someone is a government worker, they may put their position in jeopardy if they express an opinion and are identifiable. So the conversation could be missing an important voice. I take it they won’t accept Anon Government Worker as  a user identity.

    That said, I really dislike anonymous comment, especially if they are negative or inflammatory.

    Further, there have been many anonymous accounts that have provided much information and have been a source of levity. Like @FakeAPStylebook:disqus on Twitter. A little levity never hurt a social media platform.

    Like I said I have mixed feelings.


    1. Pamela Hazelton

      Then those folk can feed as a source to others who are willing to use their real names. I appreciate Google’s stand on this. There are plenty of other outlets whereas one can post anonymously (or as parody). Then, if the content is any good, it will reach Google+ via sharing.

      1. Luke Hudson

        Hmm actually if you know someone on google+ who is obviously using their real names they can set-up a Google+ page for the person who for what ever reason doesn’t want to use their real name. Spur of the moment thought so needs much more thought placed into the idea

  5. Anonymous

    But many have a same Name ! >? what will happen to others.

    1. Douglas Idugboe

      That’s a great question @graphicandwebdesignblog:disqus . People already have that issue and the deepest concern to most users is the extent to which their names are put into use.

  6. Duncanmcduncan

    This is really interesting to me. The only online method widely been used to verify age i can recall is through credit card – and i guess it might works to know your real name. So in this case, i guess age verification is another thing behind the real name curtain, so they could have more straight to the target potential profits coming in? 

  7. Corfy

    I will say this… as long as Google+ requires people to use their real name, it will never replace Twitter. Some very popular accounts on Twitter are fictional characters (or rather, someone posting on Twitter pretending to be a fictional character). That includes accounts such as Batman, Voldemort, Darth Vader, the dog from Warehouse 13, and others. That is hard to do on both Facebook and Google+, but very easy on Twitter. Until that changes, replacing Twitter would largely be a non-issue.

    Facebook, on the other hand, is fair game. Although I don’t think it has quite as formal of a real name policy, Facebook does come pretty close.

    1. Pamela Hazelton

      Google+ doesn’t need to replace Twitter, nor should it.

      1. Corfy

        Nearly every story I’ve read about Google+ (including the one above) mentions both Twitter and Facebook (whether Google+ will replace Twitter and/or Facebook or not is up to the story… some say yes, some say no, but nearly every story I’ve read talks about them both).

        And I’m not going to argue whether it should replace those services or not. As for need… do we really need a replacement for Facebook? Do we need a replacement for Twitter? Do we need another social networking site? I would argue that we don’t “need” any of those things, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to see competition.

  8. Pamela Hazelton

    I’m all for the real names… 

  9. Joerg

    Because of Google’s interest in incorporating +1s into its search ranking algorithm:


  10. خالد

    yes I’m comfortable sharing my real name, and I think the reason is to stop spammers from joining the site

  11. Anonymous

    This sums it up: 

    right to withhold your identify, like the right to remain silent, is
    not the sign of a thug or child predator. It is the sign of a free human
    being.”  From “The Defense of Internet Anonymity” 

    Google+ is an information trap for the benefit of advertisers.  Google is using a social format to lure users into this.

    New York University Law Review published in its recent July issue an important article:  “The PII Problem: Privacy and a New Concept of Personally Identifiable Information.”

    There are many users who would like to use a pseudonym and who would be true to that pseudonym.  Many people use other Google applications and would prefer that they not be joined/combined with Google+

  12. Ben

    To know you by your real name and also everybody you interact with by theirs, plus everything you and them talk about – think of the huge possibilities for businesses! Don’t you think trying to win the nymwar is one reason why corporations and such has to wait before they can have a G+ of their own?

    But I see it as a opportunity, not as a thread. My real name is the most precious part of my identity. I will sacrafice it for my own purpose and benefit, which is employability and career. Everything else (family, friends, politics etc.) will be kept out of the Google and Facebook clouds.

    In the future, when somebody secretly takes my picture with his tiny smartphone, he only will know my rank and number (I hope)

  13. ThisIsMyRealName

    Personally I have no issue with using real names, but only if we can be assured that no body organisation is collecting, or ‘farming’, this data for some later use. ….or targeted advertising.

    At first Facebook seemed like such a fantastic social service for staying in touch with friends and having fun. Then we learn that it’s basically just a big fat marketing machine for someone to make obscene amounts of money from.

    I can understand that money needs to be made to keep such services running, but I seriously dislike any ‘one’ person or organization having access to so many millions of people’s private information.

    I think a persons name for the purposes of advertising is completely irrelevant and should not be a requirement. We should be concerned why someone wants real names in situations like this. I find it frightening that zuckerberg for example has access to over 500 million (or however many it is?) peoples’s information and now google wants to do the same thing.

    Be careful people. Take a step back and think about this. …

  14. Michael

    Thanks for this article. I think it simply comes down to your last point: Google wanting to provide more value to its advertisers… with more real information, advertising efforts can  become more and more personal.  Without any real ability to regulate use of private information (government regulation), then it’s going to continue to be the wild west.

  15. thinkdisruptive

    “Real names” are the one thing that will prevent Google from disrupting the social networking space, and for good reason.

    While I may choose to use my real name, I do it for specific reasons and with an understanding of the risk associated with it (and there is a very considerable risk, especially when you have a unique name). Many don’t understand the risk, especially the young who are most likely to give up everything, and are far too likely to allow tons and tons of personal information to be linked to that identifier to their detriment.

    And, I’m not just talking about icky privacy violations, with invasive marketers stalking you all across the internet, although it’s clear that Google intends to package and sell your personal information for their gain and your loss without compensation to the individuals who are so compromised. There are serious personal security concerns, financial identity theft, and various other criminal activities that can result from sharing too much and having that linked not just to other public records to assemble a complete dossier, but also linked to false information (because there’s tons of it out there), mis-linked to other people’s records that have nothing to do with you, and embellished with photos, videos and ridiculous comments you made as a teenager that will follow you the rest of your life. And, the people in your “circles” who are linked to you are also compromised, because they don’t get the choice to not have things you post linked to them.

    The law has not kept pace with technology’s ability to amass and misuse information for purposes it was never intended for, and companies like Google and Facebook have demonstrated repeatedly that they will change terms of use and privacy/sharing rules at their whim and your peril to make a few extra bucks. Until we have extremely strong regulations asserting that I own my information — not the pirates who have collected it and created packages to sell — and that I can choose how and with who I share it, no one is safe, and most should not disclose “real names”.

    Positioned as a requirement for transparency, “real names” sounds innocent enough, and why would anyone object to that? Unfortunately, the real world doesn’t work that way. I don’t post my name and SSN on the outside of my house, together with my driver’s license number, health records, and all the dumb things I did when I was 16. Why would I enable any company to create that in the virtual world and allow millions more people to access that anonymously without even the need to drive past my house?

    Sorry to those who think we should put it all out there, but you are just plain wrong. You can do it for yourself, but you have no right to demand that anyone else does it. Google should not have the right (legally) to demand it, and they should be absolutely forbidden from using it in any way that the user doesn’t affirmatively (i.e. not passively by not unchecking a box that was checked for them) approve of if they choose to provide it.

    Google (as a private business) does not have the right to be the holder of my identity. I don’t even like governments having that much information. And, there is no putting the genie back in the bottle after google’s databases are compromised and millions of people’s records (including credit card numbers and other dangerous data) are available to criminals. It is already far to easy to use social engineering to compromise financial accounts — (the “secret question” attached to your online bank account is “what elementary school did you go to” or “name your favorite pet” — these are ridiculous built-in breaches of security as even without social networks, most of this can be found online for most people).

    What possible logic could make giving Google this kind of power right?

    1. Anonymous

      Thank you for your analysis, thinkdisruptive.

      I have three Google gmails each with a different name; one of these gmail accounts was created upon the insistence of Google when I became an affiliate of Google’s GAN (Google Affiliate Network) so Google has my Social Security Number and is privy to other personal/sensitive data of mine.

      I do not want Google+ to infiltrate into my Gmail accounts and join them/combine them, package all the information and sell the package to advertisers like a mortgage backed security.

      I would rather give out social media access altogether than have someone else control my identity.

    2. Luke Hudson

      That secret question scenario has been on my mind since almost the dawn of the internet. Using geo location along with a combination of know where’s you can basically get the answers to any of those secret questions within hours if not minutes using a decent search engine and other tools.

      This is why I chose the questions not based on the true answer but based on how the question resonates with the false answer I provide so as to remember the false answer thus provided.

      an example would be to use 1st born sons name and supply the name of your 1st pet instead.

      1. thinkdisruptive

        You and I may deliberately provide false answers to those questions, but
        it requires a lot of organization and memory to keep it sorted which
        answers you’ve used with which companies. The more times you give the
        same misdirection out, the more the false info gets linked to you and
        becomes a security risk in itself (a way to breach other accounts if you
        use it consistently). So, the reality is, most people won’t do it
        because they can’t (and I’m talking about the smartest 80% of the
        population, not the dumbest 20%).

        An example of this illegitimate linking of information being used for
        purposes never intended occurred when I was trying to open an online
        banking account. They asked a question to “validate my identity” based
        on a dossier that had been compiled (presumably by some identity
        verification service) from other sources completely unrelated to my
        relationship to the bank. Certainly they had never been given the answer
        to this question by me for two reasons that I can say with certainty —
        the question was one for which there was no valid “real” answer, and I
        had only ever used that question once with another institution to whom I
        provided a made up answer.

        I was livid that my security question and answer to one company had been
        provided to an external service without my permission, and then used by
        a completely unrelated company in an attempt to validate my identity.
        The bank refused to tell me what service they were getting the question
        and “correct answer” from, saying that was confidential (nice irony in
        that), but they ultimately backed down on requiring an answer when I
        told them I could prove that the question wasn’t applicable to me, and
        that as far as I was concerned, using “security” information that I had
        provided to another firm to validate me was minimally very “icky”, and
        borderline legal at best.

        So, as a rule, I also give out false answers to all security questions
        (and the above example demonstrates both why it is important to do so,
        as well as the negative impact and time cost of supplying a stream of
        different false answers to protect yourself). It’s why I know that my
        identity is much harder to steal, and financial accounts much harder to
        breach, than 99% of the population, and why I’ll never allow Google to
        compile and link such information about me to sell. I’m afraid my kids
        will have a tougher time of it unless the law catches up.

  16. Whysideas

    I use the same name everywhere online. I talk about real thing from my life. If you worked hard, or not so hard you could find me in real life. But I have the right to decided wither or not I want to give my “real name” or not. Google is free to deny me service. I was an early adapter to G+ then i got kicked off because i didnt use my real name. I haven’t missed G+ at all, almost forgot I was ever on it. Googles loss not mine.

  17. john lewis uk

    Privacy is a big issue now in the world of inter net. So it must be maintain in a proper way. 

  18. Thesnowflakegodess

    As someone with a VERY unique name, I have experienced strangers being able to easily find me across the internet. Having a requirement like this is a violation of my privacy and I am choosing not to use Google+ until I can use a false name.

  19. Sorry

    Frankly speaking, I’m not comfortable sharing my real name. I was about to sign-up for G+ when I received invitations form my friends on G+, but I saw that I have to share my name and name is publicly searchable. I do want to protect my profile for searching on my name, even though I can use alias. I wish google should lets us restrict searching on name (if user selects that option).


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