Why is Google hiding their "real name" requirement from new users?
Google has been adamant from day one that everyone must use their "real" name on Google+. They have suspended the accounts of people they personally invited to the service. They have forced their employees to use their legal names instead of the ones they are known by to their friends. They have suspended the same users multiple times because their names looked fake. They have done this continuously since Google+ was launched, and they have done it despite the fact that the suspension process has had bugs (which they have only mentioned in passing to the press) that have caused people to permanently lose access to data on other Google services. They continue to suspend accounts even though it means that Google users are losing access to services like Buzz, Reader, and Picasa that they had before they signed up for Google+.
In short, if you've signed up for Google+ with a pseudonym or odd name, you run a serious risk of ending up losing data and services. So why isn't Google telling new users not to use pseudonyms?
I'll walk you through the process in a moment, I've included all twenty one screen shots with captions. (Yes, it takes twenty one page views to sign up for a Google+ account from scratch! Seventeen if you skip the ToS and related pages.) I've excerpted the captions below.
This is where Google tells new users about their strict policy on names and the risks they face should their Google profile, rightly or wrongly, end up suspended. It is buried three pages deep, below the fold, behind a link on the words "full name", that is behind a twelve pixel high question mark on page eleven of the signup process.
I can't say I blame them. I mean, would you sign up for a social network that warned that your account might be suspended because someone didn't like your name, and that if it was, you'd have to upload a scan of your driver's license to get it back? I've used a lot of beta products before, but never one that put my non-beta services at danger as well. When the risk of lost data, services, and reputation (several people have had their profiles suspended at times which lost them business) is so great, shouldn't Google say something up front?
Here's what I had to do to find the hidden policy.
1. First we click on the little "Create an account" link under the big "Sign In" button. I would have made it more obvious, but this isn't a post about esthetics (much).
4. Account creation is confirmed. We get some info about what applications we're getting and a Gmail upsell. Continue.
5. Now we're asked to send a verification mail so Google can verify that we are somewhat real. This is step one in the fight against spammers and throw-away anonymous accounts.
6. Verification mail sent, we go now to check our mailbox.
7. Here's the verification mail. We click on the verify link.
8. The account is now activated, we're asked if we want to add a mobile number in case we forget the password. Continue.
9. Step two in spam prevention, we're asked to confirm via a text message to our phone. Presumably Google frowns on people reusing the same mobile number for verification too often. We send ourselves the verification code.
10. We get a verification code on our phone and enter it here.
11. Finally, after eleven pages, we actually get to create our Google Profile for our Google+ account. This is the page where we enter our name. But wait, where is the warning that we must use our real name? Where is the warning that if we don't use our real name, we will lose the ability to fully use Picasa, +1, Buzz, Reader and possibly other services? Where's the stuff about having to send in our driver's license?
Now would be a good time to decide whether we really want to use our legal name on Google+.
What about that tiny little question mark?
13. The tiny question mark leads to a page which tells us what a profile is and how it's used. Still nothing about the name policy.
Except…note that "full name" is a link. It's a little less obvious in this image because I'd already visited it when I took the screen shot, but it's still pretty obscure.
So here's my question. How likely are you to click on a tiny question mark next to the words "Google profile"? Having done that, how likely are you to wonder what the phrase "full name" means, and click on that?
I was searching for this information, and it took me a while to find the link. Let's click on it.
14. Voilà! We finally found the "real name" guidelines. Note that they are not part of the Terms of Service, as some have claimed. They also don't say that we must follow them, they simply say that it's "important". I don't know about you, but lots of sites tell me that entering all my personal information is important, and I'm sure it is…to them. Here is where Google say's we should use the name that our friends, family or co-workers call us. A thousand or so people online and off know me only by my pseudonym, so my reading of this is that I can use it on Google+. Except they it also says "Put nicknames or pseudonyms in the Other Names field". Unfortunately, that doesn't really make sense, given that a pseudonym is used instead of a legal name. Furthermore, it contradicts the previous instructions to use the name I'm known to by my friends. Confusing, no?
But what about the dangers of not following these recommendations? Where are they?
Ah, for that, we need to scroll down. They are hidden below the fold.
15. This is where we finally get warned about the danger of not doing whatever it is that Google wants us to do with our name.
But there's nothing here about the government photo IDs that Google has been requiring. Instead we are told that we might have to submit a trademark or DBA. What on earth do those have to do with telling Google our legal name?! All I can think is that wording was meant for business accounts. It makes no sense, and makes me even less likely to take Google's recommendations seriously. On top of that, Google says providing that information won't necessarily help.
Finally we are told that if we are suspended for violating an extremely contradictory policy, we will lose full use of some Google services including Buzz, Reader and Picasa. We are also told that we can get them back by making an approved name change. We aren't told that if we aren't willing to, or can't, change our name back, we will permanently lose the ability to fully use those services.
Okay, let's enter our name and continue. We've seen the meat of the issue, and it's not very enlightening, but we might as well walk through the rest of the process.
16. We're invited to add additional profile information.
17. We're invited to import our address book from other services.
18. We're told that we really ought to import our address book from other services.
19. We are invited to follow a bizarre assortment of celebrities. What demographic is Google targeting again?
20. We're warned that if we don't follow Paris Hilton, we'll get lonely. Someone please point me to the nearest monastery.
21. And on page twenty one, we finally have a Google+ account.
Until, of course, Google suspends us for violating their name policy.
P.S. Google, twenty one page views?!