Google+ adds support for established pseudonyms

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Google has relaxed somewhat its strict real-names policy on Google+: Existing members can now attach an alternate moniker to their profile name, and new members can sign up with just a pseudonym, provided it is an “established” identity online or offline.

Google is stopping short, however, of letting people use a brand-new pseudonym as their Google+ member name, although this policy could be further revised in the future, the company said on Monday.

Until now, Google has required that Google+ members use their real, common name to identify themselves on the social networking site, a policy criticized by some who argue that users should have the option to use a pseudonym that masks their real identity for security reasons, as in the case of political dissidents or victims of spousal abuse.

Google will roll out the new feature over the next week, so that current Google+ members will be able to add a pseudonym or a maiden name to their account. If they choose to enter an alternate name, it will be added to the common, real name that’s already registered with the account.

In the case of people who haven’t set up a Google+ account, they will be able to choose just a pseudonym for a name, as long as they have used it previously online, such as in a blog or on services like Twitter and Flickr and generated a “meaningful following,” the company said in a blog post.

Google will also accept “unconventional” names if the person submits as evidence that it’s an established identity with samples from print media, or copies of official documentation, like a driver’s license.

Google is confident that this will resolve issues with most of the people who have been unhappy with the real-names policy—a very small minority of Google+ users, the company said. “The vast majority of users sail through our signup process—in fact, only about 0.1% submit name appeals,” wrote Google+ Product Vice President Bradley Horowitz in a blog post on Monday.

About 60 percent of “name appeals” have been from people who want to append a nickname to their real name, while another 20 percent want to use a pseudonym or “unconventional” name, he wrote. The rest are errant appeals from businesses, which already have a special type of profile that they can set up for their brands.

“Today we’re pleased to be launching features that will address and remedy the majority of these issues. To be clear—our work here isn’t done, but I’m really pleased to be shipping a milestone on our journey,” he said.

Thus, Monday’s announcement will not resolve the real-names controversy in its entirety, because it doesn’t allow for creating an account that uses as its name a new pseudonym the person hasn’t used before online, but it adds flexibility to the original policy.

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