Google continues to purge pseudonymous users

Google is continuing to delete Google+ accounts that it feels violate its community policy on the use of 'real' names, but without an official statement on what constitutes 'real' the company's victims are feeling rather hard done by.

As we reported at the start of the month, Google has begun to close accounts which it claims violate the Community Standards code on the use of 'real' names, with Second Lifer Opensource Obscure one of the first to fall foul of the seemingly random cull.

Obscure, who claims to be well known in professional circles under that name thanks to high-profile work carried out on Second Life technical forums, logged in to Google+ to see the following message: "After reviewing your profile, we determined that the name you provided violates our community standards."

That short message - which resulted in Obscure's account disappearing from view completely, and which Google has not yet clarified to ourselves or Obscure - hinted at the problem lying in the Community Standards document, which requests that Google users 'use the name your friends, family, or co-workers usually call you.'

When that name is not on the approved list, however, the problems start.

What could have been a one-off has turned into a PR nightmare of epic proportions as Google continues to seek out and ban users for choosing to be identified by a pseudonym regardless of whether it's 'the name your friends, family, or co-workers usually call you.'

Adafruit Industries founder Limor 'Ladyada' Fried - whose Google+ profile page featured a copy of the Wired cover on which she appeared when the magazine ran an article detailing her work in hobbyist electronics - is just one of the high-profile names to fall under the Google banhammer, although her account has since been reinstated without explanation.

Writer AV Flox is a victim who has been less lucky in having her account restored, while (relatively) high-profile nerdcore artist Doctor Popular has had his account nuked as well. Further semi-celebrities are detailed in this ZDNet article by Violet Blue, but one name may come as a surprise: Kirrily 'Skud' Robert.

While you'd be forgiven for not knowing her by name, Skud is an ex-Google employee who has publicly defended the company's right to demand that users provide their real names. In an ironic twist of fate, Skud found her own account suspended. Despite providing a dossier detailing all the uses of her pseudonym Skud over her 'real' name, the account - like Obscure's - remains closed.

Worse, Skud - and others - are reporting that the bans are extending beyond Google+ to other Google services. "While I'm suspended," she writes, "it appears that I can't use Google Takeout to export my profile and stream," preventing him from taking the content he has already submitted to Google+ elsewhere.

Considering that Google has trumpeted its Takeout service as a means of 'liberating' a user's data - compared to something like Facebook, for example, which lacks an all-encompassing export option for those who wish to leave the service - that's a potentially devastating move on Google's part.

Despite providing the required 'proof' as to her real-world existence, Skud has yet to have her account restored - or her issue acknowledged in any way by Google. If an ex-Googler can be hit, what hope is there for the thousands of other users who go by a name which may or may not attract Google's attention?

Thus far, Google has not responded to our request for comment on this matter, and nor did we ever receive a response to our original article nearly a month ago.

UPDATE 26/07/11 08:26:

Skud has been in touch to clarify her stance on the matter of real names: "Just wanted to clarify that I have *never* defended Google's policy of asking for so-called "real names" (i.e. the name found on someone's government ID.) I have been a strong advocate of pseudonymity for many years. I believe that people are getting the wrong idea because I said I was originally pleased that Google's policy said "use the name people know you by", believing that this would allow for long-standing nicknames, pseudonyms, pen or stage names, etc."