Calling its own policy “unclear” and “difficult,” Google opted Tuesday to kill off its restriction on pseudonyms for Google+ and YouTube accounts.

Google

Google changed its 3-year-old policy that restricted Google+ users to real names. Now, current and new account holders can use pseudonyms to hide their identities. (AP)

“Over the years … we steadily opened up this policy … Today, we are taking the last step: there are no more restrictions on what name you can use,” Yonatan Zunger, chief architect at Google+, said in a blog post.

Privacy advocates had petitioned the company for years, insisting the restrictions on false names especially harmed “marginalized” society members, such as rape survivors or victims of stalking, who want to remain anonymous but still yearn to get a message out to hungry audiences who could share in their life lessons.

Google wasn’t the only social platform under scrutiny for its naming policy; privacy groups also reeled when former Facebook marketing lead — and the founder’s sister — Randi Zuckerberg said in 2011 that she would like to get rid of Internet anonymity altogether.

“I think anonymity on the Internet has to go away. People behave a lot better when they have their real names down,” Randi Zuckerberg said.”I think people hide behind anonymity and they feel like they can say whatever they want behind closed doors.”

The name change policy didn’t make all Google+ users happy; several commenters jumped on Zunger’s post to declare their fondness for accountability.

“I loved the real names enforcement … So sad to see it go, let’s hope it will not look like the Facebook mess,” Lauren Dinclaux said. And user Chris Chase didn’t hold back: “I’m not sure that I care for this change. Does this mean that YouTube comments will go back to being a steaming pile of monkey s**t? Anonymity has its place on the internet. I’m just not sure that G+ is that place.”

But Google seems confident the policy change won’t mean Internet trolls will roam free.

“Oh, don’t worry. One of the reasons this is safe to launch is that our troll-smashing department has gotten very good at their jobs,” Zunger said in response to the commenters. ”I spent two years working closely with the YouTube team on comments, and I think we have a much better understanding of what turned them into the wretched hive of scum and villainy we all know.”

Zunger indicated the change will likely affect the way comments are rated and shown, which perhaps opens the company up to a freedom of speech and censorship discussion.

“Our troll-smashing department has gotten very good at their jobs…”
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“It had to do with more subtle aspects of the interface there: things like “top comments” rewarding people for getting the most interaction, rather than the most positive interaction,” Zunger said. “We’ve changed all of those broken behaviors that we could find and are definitely not changing those back.”

What do you think? Do you prefer to have the option to be anonymous while using online forums, or do you prefer that real names be used to enforce accountability?

(H/T: Techdirt)
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