Privacy and Security
the Politics of
FaceBOOK’S terMS Of service xplicitly require its users to provide their “real names and information.” Indeed, the norm among many Facebook users is to provide a first and
last name that appears to be genuine.
Thus, when Google+ launched in the
summer of 2011, it tried to emulate
Facebook by requiring that new users provide similar credentials. Many
early adopters responded by providing
commonly used nicknames, pseudonyms, and stage names. Google, determined to ensure compliance, began
expelling people who did not abide by
the “real names” requirements. They
ejected high-profile geeks, including
Limor Fried and Blake Ross for failing
to use their real names; they threatened to eject Violet Blue, a well-known
sex educator and columnist.
IllustratIon by brIan greenberg/an Dr Ij borys asso CIates
The digerati responded with outrage, angry with Google for its totalitarian approach. The “nymwars,” as
they were called, triggered a passionate debate among bloggers and journalists about the very essence of anonymity and pseudonymity. 2, 3, 6 Under
pressure, Google relented, restoring
users accounts and trying to calm the
storm without apologizing. Meanwhile,
Google’s chairman Eric Schmidt publicly explained the “real names” policy
is important because Google Plus is intended to be an identity service. 1
While the furor over “real names”
has subsided—and Google now supports pseudonymity—key questions
about the role of identity, privacy, and
control remain. Why did people respond
with outrage over Google while accepting Facebook? Do “real names” policies
actually encourage the social dynamics that people assume they engender?
Why did people talk about “real names”
policies as a privacy issue? This column
explores these issues, highlighting the
challenges involved in designing socio-technical systems.
Facebook vs. Google: norms,
Values, and Enforcement
At Harvard, Facebook’s launch signaled
a safe, intimate alternative to the popu-
lar social network sites. People provided
their names because they saw the site as
an extension of campus life. As the site’s
popularity grew, new users adopted the
norms and practices of early adopters.
The Facebook norms were seen as op-
erating in stark contrast to MySpace,
where people commonly used pseud-
onyms to address concerns about safe-
ty. Unlike MySpace, Facebook appeared
secure and private.