Google carries out account cull on Google+

Google may still be throttling sign-ups to its social networking service Google+, but it's also thinning out the ranks of its current members as it struggles to meet demand.

Businesses were the first to go, and they've now been joined by those who value their privacy or have other reasons to use a pseudonym.

Various tech publications have found their corporate accounts unceremoniously booted, with Google claiming that it's trying to keep the service for individuals at present. While this has been met with stoic understanding by the people involved, the company's next step in the cull might cause a bigger stir: the advertising giant is focusing on those who prefer to be known by an avatar.

Opensource Obscure, a Second Life user who prefers to be identified by his/her avatar rather than by his/her real-world identity, is one of the first to be have been selected for removal from the service. While the account is still present on Google+, it is listed as 'suspended'.

"After reviewing your profile," a message from Google reads, "we determined that the name you provided violates our community standards." As a result, the account has been locked and, so far, Google hasn't responded to a request for the profile to be reviewed.

"I usually don't publicly associate my real name to social networks or social on-line services," Opensource Obscure explained to thinq_, "for privacy reasons."

It's a sensible precaution to take, and one that other social networking services don't seem to have a problem with.

"On Twitter, I currently have 1100 followers - and that's legit followers, as I block all spammers and SEO-people," Obscure explained. "After I started using Second Life I became quite competent about some of its aspects - mostly technical. This gradually gained me a good reputation in the community of Second Life users."

That reputation appears to count for nothing in the world of Google+, with the company seemingly declaring war on those who refuse to divulge their true identities. The fact that such information can be used to drive the company's lucrative advertising business - which isn't the case with fictional information, at least at present - is, we're sure, purely co-incidental.

"I already had hundreds of 'virtual persons' in my Second Life circle on Google+," Obscure claimed, "and I think most of them are using my same approach with regard to username, picture, and identity. So, we're probably going to hear soon from them if their accounts get locked."

The problem, it appears, can be found buried in Google's Community Standards document which is implicitly agreed to when a Google Account is created. 'Your profile should represent you', the document states. 'We don't allow impersonation of others or other behavior that is misleading or intended to be misleading.

'To help fight spam and prevent fake profiles,' the document continues, 'use the name your friends, family, or co-workers usually call you. For example, if your full legal name is Charles Jones Jr. but you normally use Chuck Jones or Junior Jones, either of these would be acceptable.'

While it's hard to argue that Obscure's profile would be in any way misleading - the profile picture is of the user's Second Life avatar while the name is well known in Second Life circles as pertaining specifically to that user, and is in any case significantly less common than something like John Smith - it seems, at least at first glance, that it does indeed violate Google's rules for the creation of profiles.

The requirement for 'real-world' identities could prove to be a sticking point for the growth of Google+: while many will be happy to share their personal details for the sake of access to a much-hyped social networks, others may not be so keen. By excluding the small but vocal community of people who prefer to be known by a pseudonym - whether gamers, role players, or even those looking to escape a digital stalker - Google is limiting the service's appeal.

So far, Google hasn't responded to our request for clarification on the matter, and appears to be ignoring Obscure, too. Asked whether Google could be seen to be discriminating against those who choose to be known by another name on-line - for whatever reason - Obscure explained: "I'm waiting to get the official reply before making my judgement about this."