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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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Gabe Small's profile photoaestetix aestetix's profile photoKenei Misty's profile photoNaomi Parkhurst's profile photo
32 comments
 
G+ wants users to use their real names or other common names. This has been happening for weeks now. I'm happy you got back but some other idiot at google might delete you :)
 
shared with Tom (myspace tom) and a member of google staff i've been conversing with (at?) about it.
 
Even though they ended up reinstating your account without an ID, I find this very discouraging.

Why should pseudonyms only be acceptable for an elite club of people who, through fame or prolific web presence, can provide evidence of their pseudonym's "common" usage?

No offense to bloggers and Twitter celebrities, but bloggers be damned--it's far more important that marginalized people have a safe way to have a voice than bloggers with persistent pseudonyms have a convenient way for their fan base to find them.
 
+Gabe Small Its happening to celebs too. Google really wants people to use real names. So comapanies and celebs who aren't using real names are getting booted. I'm sure in time the rules will change but for now alot of people are fucked
 
I know it's happening to celebs, but celebs will be reinstated because they'll be able to prove the persistence of their pseudonym.

People with little to no history of using a pseudonym won't be able to use one at all. It seems rather elitist to me.
 
+Gabe Small Absolutely. I'm still unclear on why my account was reinstated. I am assuming that it's because I gave a bunch of links, but I don't actually know.
 
I agree and thats true. But google is crazy and thats why we love them :)
 
I'll have you another aestetix name reference on the PhreakNIC15 speakers page shortly.
 
One question i have after reading all that, what would have happend if you just photoshoped a government ID with whatever name you wanted and emailed it. How good do you think Neil's photoshop detection skills are?
 
To +aestetix aestetix and +Sai . Thank you so much for sharing Aestetix's story with us, Sia. It's incredibly important to us that we get feedback on our policies and processes so that we can continue to improve the user experience on Google+. In this case, +aestetix aestetix is correct: providing a government ID is an optional part of the Common Names process and our reviewer is incorrect when he says that he needs a government issued ID to confirm the name. We are adjusting our process to prevent confusion about this in the future.
 
+Natalie Villalobos You're welcome, and I'm glad you liked my writeup. One of the reasons I'm really happy with Google Plus is that you guys seem to actually be listening to people and making positive changes. However, I will admit I am a bit confused as to why my profile is ok, while +*****'s seems to have been suspended again...
 
Ok that's interesting, I was trying to link to Doctor Popular's profile and it gave an error, then I clicked "Post comment" again and it gave a bunch of ****s. When I clicked to "edit" it, it showed 112037150377228065957, which I assume is his account profile ID number.
ruel hz
+
2
3
2
 
+Natalie Villalobos hopefully, google's people will get more correct precise training on "names". at least look it up in wikipedia such as at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Name_change which has a good discussion and particularly look at the sections on assumed names and the usage method. otherwise, the google+ crew really needs to bring in an attorney from the google legal department to go over how names are a very open area under at least california law as one jurisdiction to start with since google is headquartered in california. there's even that nolo book that you can buy if you don't want to bring in the lawyer to go over things, look at your policy, train your people, etc. of course, google is a business and can do whatever it wants, but as a service offered to the public, google should at least try to make it's policies consistent with what is expected in the real world.
 
does typing / and then "subscribe" actually stop you from getting notifications now?
 
+Denny Webb, actually, what it does is it means you get notifications, so that you can see when people comment in the future. It's an IRC-style command action, and typing it when you comment just to subscribe to the thread is a nice way of letting someone know why you commented.
 
ahhhh.... i was seeing it more like the html/bbcode concept of "/" = end. thought they had added a nice groovy easter egg i didn't know about.
 
"Your common name does not have to be the name on your ID." "I need to get your name off the ID to confirm that your name is aestetix, because it is an uncommon name." Two completely contradictory statements in the same paragraph. o.O
 
I usually try to say something a little more meaningful but I was interested in getting notifications right away.

My major concern in this case is what constitutes "documented use", given that many people have been using persistent pseudonyms for years in places that don't have web presence, such as chat servers. How are they going to be covered?

This is aside from the need for privacy use case -- it's also worrisome that that has been apparently put on the back burner.
 
I'm troubled by “I will trust it is your real name. Most users just try to explain that it is the pseudonym that they have always used.”

It seems all your documentation was in support of this being a pseudonym you've always used, and I agree that should be perfectly acceptable. But it sounds like Neil is saying that that simply wouldn't do, and he's pretending that Aestetix is the name on the government ID that you didn't submit.
 
+Ailish Eklof, what I think most users are failing to try to make the point as is that their nym is just as validly their name, which is what I think the OP was doing when he was suspended, and it is his name in all accounts of his life. But yes, it is troubling, I'll agree.
 
+Joe Sapient - Why stop with photoshopping the name? They require photo ID, but they have no idea what your actual face looks like. Why not find a picture of some dude on Flickr and overlay the photo? And then come up with whatever address, height, weight, etc. to match the dude. Sending a scan of a government ID over the internet as a security measure is a preposterous notion since all the security features of such ID are ineffective except when you're holding it in your hand.
 
+Sai . Actually no, the two sentences +Tao Mistwalker quoted are both included in the correspondence from Neil. So there seems to be some confusion about the interpretation of the "common name policy": the guidelines stating (as far as I understand) that they want people to use a name they are commonly known by, which has nothing to do with whether that name is a common name or a rare and unusual name. The beginning of the correspondence we've seen here seemed to suggest that the problem was with +aestetix aestetix using a name which is uncommon - hardly a crime, when there are people naming their children Fifi Trixibelle and suchlike... so Neil begins by saying the problem is with the name +aestetix aestetix is trying to use on his G+ profile is uncommon and therefore he needs verification - but demanding to see an official ID means that he's actually asking for a lot more than the official standards require, he's asking to see confirmation of the user's official name and not the name he is commonly known by. He then concedes that no, the name to be used on G+ does not have to be the official name on his government-issued ID - it's ok for example to list yourself as Ricky if the name on your official papers is Richard. Lovely, but who exactly decides what nicknames are ok? Is there some worldwide list to cover all cultures and languages and to say: if your name is Richard then you can be Ricky, Dick, Rick, but not Bob. If your name is Anthaparusha then you can go as Ant but not as Antha? (No, I didn't make this name up, I knew someone from India by that name; and, incidentally, he didn't have a surname. But that's by the by.)

So, where was I? yes, Neil starts with talking as though the problem is with the name being "uncommon" - when there isn't, of course, any rule that prohibits the use of rare names. he then asks for official ID, which can only help if you are using the name on your official papers; but he later admits that no, we do not have to use the names on our official papers. Maybe because by now he has actually read the guidelines and seen that the requirement is to use a name you are commonly known by?

It would be nice if staff read, understood and digested the guidelines before being unleashed on the general public.
It would also be nice if people were given some warning and an opportunity to discuss their situation/amend their name instead of just being chucked out without any warning and then having to go through the appeals process.
end of rant
+Natalie Villalobos +Bradley Horowitz
 
There have been a few questions on the side about my full conversations with Google. Just to clarify for the record, I have posted my entire discussion with them and have left nothing out.
Greg S.
 
/subscribe - very interested to see this conversation develop!
 
They did the same thing to me on my other account and i FREAKED because i have like 20 some videos i created and they were ALL GGNE! I cried. I somehow managed to get my videos back on but its been a year and im still suspended from my "Google Plus" and now theyve made it that because im suspended from Google Plus i cant comment on any videos, NOT EVEN MY OWN when people say nice things or ask questions i cant respond! AND i dont get notified whenever someone comments on my videos! My youtube is Mistyrious1111. We'll i think they changed it but i still come up under thename i just gave you when you search.. If you have any suggestions?   
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