I Am the One You Warned Me Of

Posted on 27th September 2011

To the right you'll see the identity page of my current UK passport. This is an official UK government issued photo identity, despite what any website may think. As you can see quite clearly, the name 'Barbie' does indeed appear as my name on my passport. Other names and numbers have been redacted, but these are considered private and not required to prove my identity except when required to do so by law.

Rules of a website are not law, but complying with their requests, I have submitted this to both Facebook and Google+. As I mentioned last week, Facebook have decided that they no longer consider this to be my legal name, and rejected my passport. As to why is a little confusing as they either don't consider the UK government to be a recognised world power, or don't recognise the passports issued by them. Despite several attempts to get a response, I am now being stone-walled and all attempts to contact them are being ignored.

This week, Google+ decided that they would follow suit and issued a suspension notice. Their link to lodge an appeal fails with an error message, and although the additional information form appeared to submit my passport and additional supporting links, I received no communication (either through my gmail account or my personal email) as to whether it was received. With such poor communication methods to appeal, I am not hopeful that my evidence even got through.

I still question why any social network requires anyone to expose personal information in order to use their site. It isn't required to provide functionality, as I have been using both sites for sometime now (Facebook for over 4 years, and Google+ for about 3-4 months). It isn't a legal requirement, as there is no such restriction for those registering profiles with fake names.

Google+ state that "The Names Policy requires that you use the name that you are commonly referred to in real life in your profile", which I do. Barbie is the name I am commonly known by. Of the several hundred people who follow me or know me offline, few have ever known my full name. In many cases now, if asked many will get my full name wrong. However, they all know me well as Barbie. CEOs, MDs, colleagues, friends and family have known me as Barbie for nearly 30 years. That's at least 15 years before I had a presence online.

Having an unusual name worked in my favour as people remembered me. As a roadie and lighting engineer for bands, I got asked to work gigs because people remembered me. Had I had a "normal" name I doubt I would have been so memorable.

Since Google+ opened up to the general public, it is noticeable how many spammers and scammers have suddenly joined with legitimate looking names and have started hassling users. Some have even got so sick of the spammers they are considering leaving Google+ anyway. It really is a sad state of affairs when Google choose to eject and alienate legitimate users, who can make Google+ the kind of place they want it to be, but welcome spammers and scammers with open arms, who are only likely to give those 750 million Facebook users a reason not to join.

In the case of Google+, what makes this even more gaulling is that Google have previously dealt with me personally as Barbie on several occasions. Firstly to handle sponsorship of YAPC::Europe 2006 in Birmingham, where I was met and thanked personally by the Google representatives for allowing them to be represented at the conference. At several times over the last 5 years or more I have been approached by Google recruiters, asking me consider working for the company. I'll be intrigued to see if they ever contact me again. In addition they use my work. I have heard from a few people that Google use my CPAN code in various projects, and that they use CPAN Testers too.

For a company who seem to have a hard time acknowledging me as a real person, they seem to know me well enough when it suits them!

I'm extremely disappointed with the lack of communication from both Google+ and Facebook too. When it is quite obvious you are dealing with a real person, it should be common courtesy to keep them informed of the processes and the state of their appeal. Instead I get a wall of silence. I'm not hopeful that I will get reinstate with either Social Network site, which will be a shame as I've established quite a presence on Facebook and was starting to on Google+.

I do find it scary that the vast majority of online users are giving away more and more personal details that really should be private. It will get to the point where some are going to find their privacy so exposed that their future is severely restricted and affected by it. A casual remark or photo that is suddenly public may hamper your chances of employment, even if it doesn't truly represent you. Employers use the internet to find out about you before deciding to employing you.

And what about protecting your privacy from those that you don't know but infiltrate your life with unwanted attention? I know of at least one person on Facebook who has to conceal their identity due to a stalker.

If these Real Name Policies were actually used against every user, with no expections, such that every user had to provide evidence of who they were, it would be a bit extreme, but at least it would be seen as fair. When these policies are only applied to users who have "funny" names, then its discrimination. Sadly with the bulk of users not caring how the minority are affected and the free element to subscriptions, those who are ejected have little or no power to change anything.

Adrian Short posted an interesting article in The Guardian recently, which features an interesting perspective; "If you're not paying for your presence on the web, then you're just a product being used by an organisation bigger than you."


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