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Tell HN: Google Plus doesn't like my name
152 points by orp on Mar 30, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 71 comments
I just got an email from Google Plus telling me that I'm in violation of their Naming Policy.

Apparently, Google thinks my real name (transliterated from Hebrew) is a nickname. That's also the name, by the way, that appears on my passport.

I have no idea why Google thinks 'Or' is that odd of a name (I can't imagine that they took exception to my last name).

I've been warned that if I don't appeal the decision within 4 days, my Google Plus account will be suspended. Other than pressing an 'appeal' button of Google Plus, I couldn't find any way to provide 'further information', as requested in their email.

Comments: 1. Good work scaring your users, Google. 2. Facebook never had a problem with my name. 3. People at Google really needs to read this : http://www.kalzumeus.com/2010/06/17/falsehoods-programmers-believe-about-names/ 4. On a further note on 3, Part of my day job is writing software for name identification. Trust me, My name is not all that odd.


Notes: * Naming policy: http://support.google.com/plus/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=1228271

* Google email:


After reviewing your profile, it appears that the name you entered does not comply with the Google+ Names Policy. Please log in to Google+ and visit your profile to learn more and take action.

The Names Policy requires that you use the name you are commonly referred to in real life in your profile. Nicknames, previous names, and so on should be entered in the Other Names section of the profile. Profiles are limited to individuals; use Google+ Pages for businesses and other entities.

If you do not edit your name to comply with our Names policy or appeal with additional information within four days of receiving this message, your profile will be suspended. While suspended, you will not be able to make full use of Google services that require an active profile, such as Google+, Buzz, Reader and Picasa. This will not prevent you from using other Google services, like Gmail.

The Google+ team.

Sadly, Goooglers are not unaware of this issue. That's the trouble of problems with Google: at J. Random Megacorp this would be a stupid oversight. Multiple Googlers have brought up internally that this policy would result in them locking accounts of innocent users and they lost the argument. You're quite literally acceptable collateral damage of a core design goal of Google+: for strategic reasons, they want real identity relationships not "Internet identities" which may or may not be pseudonyms. They want Facebook names, not IRC nicks, and they're willing to backstop that with their famous willingness to use individualized customer service. These decisions were internally controversial but supported at the highest levels of the company.

Oh, I realize that. I even agree with their reasoning.

I just don't like the fact that their algorithm is so bad that I came up as a false positive. Algorithms is the one place you don't expect Google to fail.

I mean, come on, the have thousands of my emails, my geolocation, my facebook profile is public, and they can't figure out Or is my real name?

They haven't failed. They have a huge body of identified individuals that they can sell to advertisers, efficiently and economically harvested.

Oh, they failed at individual user service? What farmer is concerned about an individual cabbage? It would cost way to much to get down off the truck and carefully retrieve the few units that rolled off the truck.

There is absolutely no failure here. None.

I believe what the OP is saying here is "failure" occurred not on a strategic corporate level, but on a computer-science-algorithm-geek level. He hasn't disclose his full name, so we cannot fully judge, but how would you react if "Joe Smith" came out as a false positive?

Of all the crazy things we're hearing about Google lately, failure on an algorithmic level may be the last thing we expect.

Then again, maybe the name is indeed more subtle than the OP seems to think...

And I'm saying that the algorithm is imperfect by design, and accepted as such, because perfection would cost too much in computing and human resources.

You cannot fail a cabbage.

I'm sure cabbage truck designers pay a lot of attention to the cabbage loss rate... Look how much effort was put into the design of shipping containers.

> What farmer is concerned about an individual cabbage?

What a great analogy! We don't think twice about the farmer leaving a few cabbages out in the field, but we get all up in arms when we realize that we are that cabbage.

OMG, a talking cabbage!

> Algorithms is the one place you don't expect Google to fail

Maybe this thing (the reality of names) is not rationalisable, and therefore not modelizable with an algorithm. For instance, I know someone who has chosen the name of a Russian president has his nickname, and I guarantee you it is not his real name. How would Google detect that? On the opposite, "Ng" is a perfectly valid surname in Southern Chinese, and it really looks like a nick...

This is not true. Unfortunately, I can't elaborate further.

Ah, the classic "If you knew what we knew, you'd be okay with torturing terrorism suspects" argument popularized by multiple US administrations. A blanket assertion that due to your secret knowledge of the situation you can declare that all the statements by ex-Googlers about the internal debate and the references by Google executives to careful consideration of the policy are false is on the face of it unproductive. What conceivable secret reason for its name policies could Google have that couldn't be revealed to the public without damage to the company, but would be convincing if it was?

I understand that you have internal knowledge of the debate within Google and the reasoning for the policy, but it doesn't contribue to the public discussion to make an unsupported statement without evidence or or argument beyond the unstated appeal to name recognition. The information content beyond "trust me" is nil. Please, you've proven you can do better than this - if you can't speak about the issue, don't speak about it.

I see things have improved little since the days when I couldn't have a Hotmail account with my real name (because "Cumming" is an offensive term) but I was able to register using the name Ivana Watch-Teenz-Screwing.

PS Went into my archives to check on this and discovered two things:

1. It was actually Ivana Watch-Teens-Give-Head and here are two screen shots that date back to April 2003 showing the denial of my real name and the acceptance of Ivana.



2. In the same period Google used to serve pornographic ads against my name.


Just out of curiosity, why did you register under "Ivana Watch-Teenz-Screwing" ?

Tests an offensive, obviously fake name, and inclusion of hyphens.

Patrick McKenzie's article mentioned in comment (3) is very important. Most forms and procedures (paper and digital variants) apply unnecessary and incorrect restrictions to field values. The mistakes are carried all the way up into legislation where it is assumed that everyone has a permanent physical address.

Some other very common mistakes include assumptions that people:

* have a physical address

* have one physical address

* use a mobile phone

* use any sort of telephone

* can access the Internet

* use email

* know their mother's maiden name

* have had a pet at some stage

* attended a school (and other password recovery question options...)

* have an occupation

* have one occupation

* have a credit card

* have a bank account

* have 20:20 vision

* can read English and understand what is expected of them in a form

* know their own date of birth/age

* know their own name

* know their place of birth

* have money to print forms, send letters or make phone calls

And importantly, assumptions are made that people will will agree to provide information that is not required for the interaction/transaction.

Common sense usability is to not ask unnecessary questions or collect unnecessary data.

You should not assume that these assumptions are indeed assumptions. For example, banks want you to have a physical address, so they can track you down for debt.

UK readers... Please remember that students are 1 of the only groups to officially have 2 permanent addresses. Furthermore, it's illegal to collect unnecessary information.

A rental address with 1 month remaining on the lease is usually accepted as a permanent physical address. How does this allow debtors to track down debts?

In the UK, what would an official permanent address be? Electoral registration?

Yeah, i think so.

Welcome to Nymwars. There's a reason Google+ has earned itself nothing but contempt from many quarters. Come back to Facebook; as long as you keep clicking their ads, they don't care what you call yourself.

I've had a friend banned from facebook for using a nickname, instead of a real name. Facebook may not do it as often, or it may not be as publicized, but they do also have a real name policy in place.

There's a lot more to it than that. Part of it is that Facebook does have a "real names" policy, but they don't actually define what a "real name" is, and they also don't enforce it nearly as recklessly as Google does.

Also, it's important to separate the notion of a "real name" from a legal (wallet) name. A legal name shows up on government issued ID, and is called "legal" because it falls within the law of that government.

A "real" name, to me, is a label that can refer to an individual, animal, place, or thing within a given context. For example, I consider "aestetix" just as real as any other name, and there are some people who have known me for over a decade, solely by "aestetix." To them, it's quite a real name.

But consider people who use different names for political reasons, social reasons, safety reasons, etc. Mark Twain, Voltaire, Richard Bachman (aka Stephen King), and so on all had very legitimate reasons for using a non legal name. Imagine you're trying to post updates on Facebook about awful things your oppressive country is doing to you (think Iran or Syria). Or imagine that you have a stalker who is trying to hunt you down. The list goes on.

I think it's pretty obvious that none of the major websites have thought this stuff out very well.

I think Facebook has thought this stuff out quite well: When people use real names on their service, it's easier for family, friends, and college acquaintances from thirty years ago to find them, thus increasing user engagement with the site. It also gives them an easy excuse to delete troll accounts. Furthermore, having people's real names (and often address etc.) makes them a more attractive target for advertisers. Most of the Facebook biographers seem to agree that the real-name policy was one of the factors that helped it win out over MySpace and other social networks. (Among many, many others, of course.)

In light of how much money this policy is presumably making them, and considering that they have about a billion customers who seem to accept the policy as is, I strongly suspect they don't care in the least that the occasional person with an unusual name falls through the cracks, or that they're screwing over people who need to remain anonymous for legitimate safety reasons.

Do I agree with their decision? Not at all. But I think they know exactly what they're doing.

I disagree with this assessment. People on Facebook tend to use the name by which they'll be most recognized. If your legal name is William Jones but most people know you as Bill Jones, you'll probably be on Facebook as Bill Jones. I don't think there's evidence Facebook has thought it out well, they simply haven't been nearly as idiot in enforcing it.

One point I want to clarify: I do think Facebook knows what they are doing in collecting marketing data, in the same way Bank of America knows what they are doing in holding bank accounts. What they are not doing well is creating an accurate representation of identity online. If you follow Chris Pool's thesis ("Identity is prismatic"), then nobody is doing this well right now.

On the plus side for Facebook, they only care if you get reported by another user. They don't seem to be running any sort of automated "fake name" detector.

On the minus side, some people on Facebook use reporting as a form of trolling, and it appears to be fairly easy to get people kicked off of Facebook with enough flagging persistence. For friends of mine who run a religious ministry, basically everything they post gets flagged, and they regularly get kicked off the site for a few days at a time. They've finally gotten it under control after several long phone conversations with FB support.

I had the exact same problem when I opened my Facebook account. The appeal worked smoothly though. I guess if there is any kind of name checking going on (which I find useless) these things are bound to happen.

If you were to try to change your name on Facebook, they warn that it takes 24 hours and is done only after a review (probably automated though). Facebook has always had a policy of using real names - it just so happens that if you aren't always using it the system doesn't trip review (but active users are often faced with the dreaded "friending too many people" warning, or similar).

This is why G+ is dead to me. Most of my friends like to use Funny Names On The Internet. And are also early adopters who LEAPT on G+ like starving orphans when it came out, only to find their accounts disabled.

So now the people watching me are mostly... dudes in Egypt who friend anything cute that comes up for a search of "Egypt+female". Who think a photo of their penis is an appropriate icon.

I went back to the rotting husk of LJ.

Fun tangent for the curious:

Odd is a not-unheard-of name in Norway http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Odd_%28name%29

This can make introductions and hand-shaking with visiting English speakers amusing:

"Hello, I'm Odd"

Even funnier, Even is another Norwegian name. Meeting two Norwegians, you can hear "Hello, I'm Odd" "And I'm Even!"

Even more funnier; there is 30 men in Norway with "Odd Even" as their first name (http://www.ssb.no/navn/)

Well .. I routinely have people questioning my name. Especially on internet forums.

That's Danish for the Norwegian/Swedish Truls?

I think your spelling looks even more like Troll than the Swedish variant :)

In Norway, they are named "troll". The original.

Yes - causes some confusion now and then. At least I'm not autoflagged by spam filters like the poor OP, so I guess I shouldn't complain.

Sadly, there's not much hope. I hear it hasn't improved since my case:


The exchange you had sounds very much like someone whose entire job is to sit around all day looking at rather trivial things like whether or not a profile is using a "real" or "common" name, and then going through a semi-scripted series of responses, of which 90% of their exchanges with individuals will be 90% the same.

I did some inbound "Tier-1" tech support, and some inbound and outbound call center work when I was a teen in the middle of nowhere, and similar situations would happen due to the sheer mind-numbing repetitiveness of the job and large amounts of really silly "results matter! get a trinket! smile!" managers who emphasized (due to the nature of the entire thing) quantity over just about anything else.

I wouldn't be too surprised if that's the case. It's ... one of the most disappointing things I can think of if it is.

I guess John Doe would work just fine though.

Google is very "Anglo-centric" in many of its products.

That's not really surprising, because Google are an anglo-company.

(As in, the company was born-and-raised in America. Not talking about the colour of their workforce.)

Most companies work that way, even if they are multi-national. Take Apple's Siri, for instance. At first, Siri only had support for American English.

Well, considering one of their founders is called Сергей Михайлович Брин and married Ms. Wojcicki, you'd expect some international sensibility.

For this kind of thing (and others related to permissible content) I decided to delete my own Google+ account and Google profile. Now I have an old style account that works with their services (even Reader, although you can't share or comment any more), but without the big brother cr*p.

Reminds me a little of xkcd: http://xkcd.com/488/

[Use your real or fake name]

          |                                    |

        (fake)                               (Real)

          \/                                   \/
[You put your content on [You put your content on google+]

your wordpress blog] |

           \/                                   \/

                     [Google G+ flags your account]

           |                                    |

          \/                                   \/
[You create a new fake account] [You spend days desperately trying to get something back]


                                          [Google ignores you because you are not well-known.]


                                          [You create a new fake account]

Violet Blue had her account flagged as not being real.

First Name: "Violet" - well my niece is named Violet. Last Name: "Blue" - as in Allen Blue (Co-founder of LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/in/ablue )

This is why I refuse to use Google+ the flowchart only leads to account being banned. I am moving more and more content off of google systems simply because Google has this ban policy that puts content at risk.

On the other hand if you don't sign up to Google+ then your content hosted is less at risk. However, soon I am sure this will not be an option. Try to sign up for a gmail account now to see what I mean.

Well, you are in the unfortunate position of having a name that would be easily confused for an attempt at SQL injection.

I wonder if folks named "Insert", "And", "Where", "Not" etc would have similar problems...

My name is Chevee.

Google that. I'm pretty sure I'm the only one. I've not been targeted. I don't know how my name could be any less "common" and yet I am ignored?

This begs the question on how arbitrary this process is. Do you have to have a certain level of "popularity" before they decide to investigate? Is it just a bot crawling their DB looking for "uncommon" names?

Chevee isn't a word. Or is. Google thinks that the guy entered a sentence. Or something.

That doesn't seem to be the only conditional check. If you look at aestetix's response, they confronted him for using a "not common" name. They seem to dig for names that are not plausible instead of an actual systematic process. What I'm questioning, is how they define not plausible by whatever name checking program they are using.

In Norway, both Even and Odd are normal names.

Also, my grandmother has Lick as one of her two surnames, and I've met a family called Suck (although not pronounced as in English, but with a Swedish u-sound, similar to oo in book).

The only real routes I can see are:

1) Scan passport & send that to Google 2) Change your name to the Hebrew variety and set the transliterated name as your primary yet alternate name

There are huge privacy implications for the first route, however, and @aestetix has a good point in that post about deletion policies and such.

At least they aren't going to kill your Gmail account.

> There are huge privacy implications for the first route, however

In the Netherlands, when you want to request (removal of) your data as per our privacy and person registration laws, you need to send a scan of your passport or ID card as proof of identification to the data-collecting corporation as well (which makes sense).

Fortunately you can block out and mangle large parts of this scan and they still have to accept it. It's not waterproof, but:

- you can block out or blur your photograph

- same for your social security number and the passport serial number

- place coloured letters diagonally over the scan stating that "THIS SCAN IS INTENDED TO PROVE MY REAL NAME TO GORGLE PLUS yyyy-mm-dd" (so that whoever receives it cannot use the scan for a different purpose)

Source: https://pim.bof.nl/gebruikers/geef-niet-meer-dan-nodig/ [Dutch]

"The only way to win this game is not to play" - "Joshua" war games

The real route is to not use Google+

Maybe you can just key-in your name with hebrew characters? That'll teach them.

I been through this, how I did was I told Google that I am sensitive to being found for fraud and phishing, then they allow me to use single letter as my last name. LoL

Hmm that could be parsed as you wanting a fake name to embark on fraud and phishing with ;)

Not even that uncommon in their scope:

select count() from profiles where first_name='or';

+----------+ | count() | +----------+ | 839 | +----------+

(out of dataset of ~40mil g+ users).

Do you have access to a database of G+ users or is your post hypothetical?

"a database", not "the database". it was an actual query result, which for whatever reason I couldn't get to format in any way readable

Based on my previous experiences trying to get help from Google, you're pretty much screwed. Just make your name a fake name.

Who cares? It's Google Plus.

It's a racist policy. Common white names are accepted. Certain categories of "ethnic" (non-white) names are not. We also know it's intentional. Google has no intention to change. Draw your own conclusions from this. Case closed.

Tell them your name is Orville Allegheny Smithers the Fifth.

Hey, Google: Here's one problem with your "social" program. Your support is anything but.

Seriously. Stop and think about that, for a minute.

I don't understand, why are you not appealing?

> I've been warned that if I don't appeal the decision within 4 days, my Google Plus account will be suspended. Other than pressing an 'appeal' button of Google Plus, I couldn't find any way to provide 'further information', as requested in their email.

He did appeal. There's no clear way to provide additional information, making the hopes of actually getting any results from an appeal slim.

Either way, the appeal process is tangential to the problem of google requiring "real names" as if such things actually exist.

Given that aliases are legal and not in and of themselves considered fraudulent in most of the world, the requirement to use a 'real name' for online services seems to have no real legal basis anyway.

It's a private, voluntary, non-essential service. They can do what they want, short of protected class discrimination.

They can do what they want within the law, and there is AFAIK a common law right to use aliases.

In other words, your name is what you agree to go by.

Also, you are not contractually bound by anyone to go by your given name, as you were not old enough to contractually agree to it when your name was given.

And they can allow or disallow anyone they want. It's their business.

Yes, but if they give you a contract that says that you have to provide them with your birth name to use their service, then that part of the contract just doesn't count either way in those territories where it has no legal basis.

So in that situation, if you give an alias and you click agree to their contract, you would still not be in breach of contract.

They can always remove your account anyway of course.

Legal basis? Surely its purely a data-mining basis?

We'll all be skeptical when Google try and tell us anything else.

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