Google, Facebook Now Dissuade Aliases on Profiles

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By Anne Witter | September 6, 2011 12:04 PM EST

In a bid to put a stop to anonymity in their social networks, Google and Facebook urge people to sign up using only their real names while those who use aliases are banned.

Google's chairman and former CEO, Eric Schmidt, says anonymity on the internet is "dangerous," citing spams and hoax accounts that help spread internet misdeanors. Meanwhile, Facebook marketing director Randi Zuckerberg , told Marie Claire that using real names could alleviate cyber bullying.

"I think anonymity on the Internet has to go away... People behave a lot better when they have their real names down," Randi said.

However, internet analysts see only commercial goals, such as users-advertisers matching, as a reason behind this move.

Social network Google+ has recently been dealing with users' complaints about not being able to use aliases or names with only one word - mononyms. Users opt to register aliases and pseudonyms for different reasons. Many use pseudonyms to primarily protect their privacy, while others prefer a name that is easier to recall, sometimes for branding purposes.

Dr. Gavin Smith, sociology and social policy lecturer at the University of Sydney, says people losing a choice to use aliases online could be unfavorable to those who have become used to the idea of a "free space," where playful names could be used on a whim.

"If your real identity is increasingly needed to be used to access these spaces then that will absolutely transform what kinds of communications, what kinds of playfulness, what kinds of exchanges can take place," he says. However, he told the Sydney Morning Herald he understood the rationale for requiring it, noting users may be asked to pay for web anonymity, eventually.

Stephen Collins, spokesman for Electronic Frontiers Australia, sees only one reason Google is requiring real names.  "Google are gathering data because it's good for them to have that data. Not for any other reason," he says, noting that Google is a "massive advertiser" and information on people is "a bonus" for its operations.

Mark Pesce, a judge for the ABC's New Inventors program, argues that Google's and Facebook's move to require real names is all about power and money.

Pesce says Google needed real names to make transactions legally binding. "A pseudonym doesn't make them money even though your reputation may be based on your pseudonym and not on your real name," he says.

He disagreed with Google chairman Eric Schmidt's comments that real names would benefit governments and law enforcement agencies, as perpetrators of any offense in social networks could easily be traced.

"Police don't really have a huge amount of trouble getting to things when they need to," Pesce says. "If someone misbehaves, hiding behind a pseudonym does not protect [them]. It hasn't historically. Have you ever heard police throw up their hands and say 'Oh my God he used a pseudonym, we can never find him?'"

Pesce also lamented what seems to be Google's implied message that humans had only one identity. "That is simply not true," he says. "You are not the same person at work as you are at home. Period. You are not the same person at work as you are with your friends. Period. I cannot stress this clearly enough. And yet Google is insisting that all of these people are the same. It is not true."

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