Here's the brief chronology of my Google Plus account getting suspended, and the process I went through to appeal it and get it back. As you can see in the emails, it doesn't actually make a whole lot of sense, and I have no real guarantee that it won't get zapped away without notice again. I'm rather frustrated with the whole ordeal, feel that Google crossed a line in a few places, and want to make sure that others know how this went down in case someone else winds up in this mess.

Thanks so much to +Jillian C. York, +Sai ., +Doctor Popular, and @Skud for all your help and suggestions.

I woke up the morning of July 23 (saturday, day one) to see my Google Plus profile replaced with this notice: http://technocracylive.com/suspended.png

I'd heard about a number of other people, including +Fox Magrathea Circe and +Sai . getting suspended, so it wasn't a big surprise to me. I will admit I feel they crossed a line by going ahead and suspending my account without notice, rather than sending me an email notification, but that's for another post. Although their "Community Standards" link wasn't working, their appeals form was, so I went ahead and filled out an appeal on their appeals form. It asks for your name (I put "aestetix") and a link to your Google Plus profile, and then, as you can see, optional additional information.

Screenshot of my appeal form (shortly after this I got the first email from them):
https://plus.google.com/photos/115896012705745653160/albums/5632799745079026497/5633556515739965714


You can't see on the screenshot super well, so here's the information I provided them:

Link to aestetix.net (old website, but still mine, and incidentally a whois of the domain name resolves the name as being "aestetix aestetix"
Gizmodo article where I was interviewed and referred to as "Aestetix"
The most recent Notacon speaker page, where I am listed as giving a talk under "aestetix"
The Next HOPE speaker page, where I am listed as giving a talk under "aestetix"
The 26c3 speaker page, where I am listed as giving a talk under "aestetix"
A link to my facebook profile
A link to my twitter (which incidentally contains a link to aestetix.net)


Shortly after this, I got my first email from Google!

Date: Mon, 25 Jul 2011 22:17:06 -0000
From: "Google Profiles Support" <profiles-support@google.com>
To: aestetix@gmail.com
Subject: Re: [#840058273] Google Profile Review

Hi,
Thank you for contacting us with regard to our review of the name you are
trying to use in your Google Profile. After review of your appeal, we have
determined that the name you want to use violates our Community Standards.
You can review our name guidelines at
http://www.google.com/support/+/bin/answer.py?answer=1228271

If you edit your name to comply with our policies in the future, please
respond to this email so that we can re-review your profile.

Sincerely,
Neil
The Google Profiles Support Team

I thought this was reasonable enough, although I disagree with their assessment.
Twittered: https://twitter.com/#!/aestetix/status/95621900419604480

I sent the following reply to attempt to clarify things:


Date: Mon, 25 Jul 2011 15:24:31 -0700
Subject: Re: [#840058273] Google Profile Review
From: aestetix aestetix <aestetix@gmail.com>
To: Google Profiles Support <profiles-support@google.com>

Neil,

Thank you so much for responding to my appeal. Can you please elaborate, in
light of information provided by my appeal, on what part of my name violates
your standards, and how, so that I can clarify things for you and help move
the process along?

Cheers,
aestetix



Date: Tue, 26 Jul 2011 20:46:29 -0000
From: "Google Profiles Support" <profiles-support@google.com>
To: "aestetix aestetix" <aestetix@gmail.com>
Subject: Re: [#840058273] Google Profile Review

Hi,
Aestetix is not a common name. If you do not use a common name you need to
confirm that the name you choose is your common name. Most users choose to
use their first and last names in the common name field in order to avoid
any future name violation issues.

Sincerely,
Neil
The Google Profiles Support Team


Date: Tue, 26 Jul 2011 14:43:36 -0700
Subject: Re: [#840058273] Google Profile Review
From: aestetix aestetix <aestetix@gmail.com>
To: Google Profiles Support <profiles-support@google.com>

Neil,

Thanks for the reply. How can I confirm this is a common name? Is saying
"aestetix is my common name" enough? I'm happy to provide more supporting
links, and even have people who are already verified by Google Plus to vouch
that it is a common name. Let me know what I can do to help.

Cheers,
aestetix


This negotiation seemed like progress, so I went ahead and mentioned something positive about the team on twitter:
https://twitter.com/#!/aestetix/status/95974102942224384

But then I got the following email:

Date: Wed, 27 Jul 2011 17:04:51 -0000
From: "Google Profiles Support" <profiles-support@google.com>
To: "aestetix aestetix" <aestetix@gmail.com>
Subject: Re: [#840058273] Google Profile Review

Hi,
I will need a government issued ID to confirm that your name is Aesteix. I
will dispose of the ID after the review.

Sincerely,
Neil
The Google Profiles Support Team


Remember in the appeals form where it said "optional" next to ID? I personally consider "government issued ID" to be sensitive information, and do not appreciate being asked for it when I see no reason to show it-- they already had plenty of links to information about me, and had not commented on them at all. Also, given that the name on my ID is not aestetix, there's not much point in me giving them that information except so they can know more about me.

Further, I consider this to be data retention, and we've already seen a few issues with places keeping copies of IDs without any real retention or deletion policy:
http://www.idscanner.com/id/scanner-legal-issues/id-scanner-required-in-san-francisco-proposed-event-rules/

Also, the spelling mistake on my name was a bit offensive.

I replied with a much more assertive email, because this was getting annoying.

Date: Wed, 27 Jul 2011 10:39:35 -0700
Subject: Re: [#840058273] Google Profile Review
From: aestetix aestetix <aestetix@gmail.com>
To: Google Profiles Support <profiles-support@google.com>


Neil,

Can you please confirm that you define "common name" exclusively as the name
on a government issued ID? I'd also like to know specifically the
information you want from the ID, how long you will be using it, and the
manner in which you will dispose of the ID after you're done.

Cheers,
aestetix


My next question to them along those lines was going to be "Can you confirm I am being denied service until I show you my government issued ID?"


Date: Thu, 28 Jul 2011 17:01:39 -0000
From: "Google Profiles Support" <profiles-support@google.com>
To: "aestetix aestetix" <aestetix@gmail.com>
Subject: Re: [#840058273] Google Profile Review


Hi,
Your common name does not have to be the name on your ID. Richard's common
name can be Ricky or Rick. I deleted the ID after the review by deleting
the attachments. I need to get your name off the ID to confirm that your
name is aestetix, because it is an uncommon name.

Sincerely,
Neil
The Google Profiles Support Team


This is interesting, because we seem to have a bunch of confusion between "real name" and "common name." I am still not sure what the difference is, and it seems like Google sort of decides that at random.


Date: Thu, 28 Jul 2011 10:54:53 -0700
Subject: Re: [#840058273] Google Profile Review
From: aestetix aestetix <aestetix@gmail.com>
To: Google Profiles Support <profiles-support@google.com>


So if the name is the only thing you need, can you use the information I
provided in my appeal to make the same judgement? I'm confused as to why it
must be a "government issued ID."

aestetix


At this point, I was pretty convinced that my account would not be reinstated, and was preparing to concede that I would no longer be able to use Google Plus. Kind of a shame, but I would much rather keep my identity (and dignity) than concede to a policy which I think is wrong.

The next email caught me totally off guard:


Date: Thu, 28 Jul 2011 22:22:00 -0000
From: "Google Profiles Support" <profiles-support@google.com>
To: "aestetix aestetix" <aestetix@gmail.com>
Subject: Re: [#840058273] Google Profile Review


Hi,
Thank you for contacting us with regard to the name you want to use with
your Google Profile. After further review, we have determined that your
name is within our Community Standards policy. Thank you for your patience
while we reviewed your profile name. I will trust it is your real name.
Most users just try to explain that it is the pseudonym that they have
always used.

Sincerely,
Neil
The Google Profiles Support Team


I'm not sure what's going on here. Are there two people named Neil, the good one and the bad one? Did a supervisor give Neil permission to grant me access? Maybe he googled my name (har har) and discovered that I'm actually doing things under "aestetix"? Or maybe he saw my twitter and realized that I was being a bug that wouldn't go away? As far as I'm aware, I didn't escalate internally, and I've had no official contact with Google save the appeals form and these emails. It also looks like the last two sentences are tacked on.

Really, this whole ordeal makes no sense to me, reflects rather poorly on their "customer service" interface, and reveals a lot about broken policies and procedures. I've heard that thousands of people got their accounts suspended; I wonder if they all went through the same chain of emails, or if Google asked for their IDs first. I wonder how many people sent them IDs, whether it was through a secure fashion or not, etc. There are a lot of security problems with this.

In general, the whole experience was kind of crummy. I've heard of stories of others getting access to other services revoked. I've been using Gmail for over six years (using the name "aestetix aestetix"), and it would not be good if they suspended my gmail on a whim. Also, since the appeals process was going through my gmail, I'm not sure how I would have been able to have recourse.

While I disagree with Google's policy on pseudonyms-- there are a few fantastic blog posts showing why it's actually quite hurtful, I am not Google and cannot decide what they want to do. If they do continue to use this system, however broken, I have a few suggestions on ways to improve it:

1. Send notice to people ahead of time before suspending their accounts. Maybe have a grace period where users in violation can either correct or clarify their profile names for you.

2. If you collect government issued IDs, please state a reason why it is necessary (are there any laws you can cite?) and publicly post your data retention and removal procedures.

3. Clearly delineate what distinguishes a "real name" from a "common name." I'm still pretty confused.


Cheers,
aestetix
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