Google+ boss clarifies common name policy

Google's vice president in charge of the Google+ social sharing service - the advertising giant's answer to Twitter, Foursquare, and Facebook all rolled into one - has broken cover to try and clarify the company's recent closure of accounts linked to pseudonymous identities.

While Google+ is still officially in a closed field trial, the service has attracted an estimated 20 million users in just three weeks. Sadly, some of the those users are finding their accounts suspended over an alleged violation of the company's 'common name policy,' a rule which enforces the use of names by which a person is most commonly known as their Google+ profile.

Although it doesn't specifically rule out pseudonyms, many are finding that to be exactly the effect that the policy is having: accounts are being removed from the service at a startling rate as Google identifies them - and in some cases, misidentifies them - as having a 'fictional' or otherwise 'non-real' identity.

Bradley Horowitz, vice president in charge of Google+, has issued a statement - appropriately enough via his Google+ page - which he hopes will clarify his company's position, which has - until now - been somewhat unclear.

"We’ve noticed that many violations of the Google+ common name policy were in fact well-intentioned and inadvertent," Horowitz writes, "and for these users our process can be frustrating and disappointing. So we’re currently making a number of improvements to this process - specifically regarding how we notify these users that they’re not in compliance with Google+ policies and how we communicate the remedies available to them."

The changes, which Horowitz claims will arrive in the coming weeks, include warning users as to their violation of the common name policy and giving them a chance to correct their accounts before suspending them outright, and a clear indication of exactly why Google has flagged the name as being unsuitable for its service.

Horowitz also addressed claims that users who are suspended on Google+ are finding themselves unable to use other Google services, such as Gmail and Google Docs.

"When an account is suspended for violating the Google+ common name standards, access to Gmail or other products that don’t require a Google+ profile are not removed," he explained. "If your Google+ Profile is suspended for not using a common name, you won't be able to use Google services that require a Google+ Profile, but you'll still be able to use Gmail, Docs, Calendar, Blogger, and so on."

For those who wish to be known under an identity which might trigger a violation of Google's common name policy, Horowitz also suggests a work-around. "If you add nicknames, maiden names, etc. to the 'Other names' portion of your G+ profile, those with permission to view those fields can search for you using that term. For example: some of my colleagues call me 'elatable,' a pseudonym I’ve used on many services, so I've added it to my list of other names."

While Horowitz has also promised to set better expectations and timeframes for users who need to reverse or appeal a suspension, many users - including Second Lifer Opensource Obscure, one of the first to be suspended from Google+ for the use of a pseudonym - remain in the dark as to when, or even if, access to their accounts will be restored.