Monday, January 30, 2012

your heart is now washed up in bleach

Interested in the music of trees? We can help with that. Though I'm not sure they didn't use a slice of tree-growth from Mirkwood...

Sometimes fundraising gets seriously quirky. That being said, this year's random giveaway may net you that signed copy of the book. Take a chance! It'll support a great cause!

Also, Indonesia takes ghosts very seriously.

And dandelions are now precursors of ecological doom. Makes sense, really.

More from the Google+ thread of doom.

From Gary to Yonatan, January 23rd:
So, Yonatan, it looks to me from reading the new policy text like there is still an expectation that I have to fill in my "real" name as the primary name and any pseudonym by which I am known in the "other names" field. If this is not the case, the text needs significant clarification. If it is the case, then this is really still inadequate.
I really don't think Google's ever going to budge on this point, which is really, really sad. Because in my eyes, and in the eyes of many other people, this has severely diminished our embrace of, and use of, Google. We just don't trust them anymore like they used to. They're still ubiquitous, but that makes us paranoid, not happy.

Scott to Yonatan, the same day:
Yonatan Zunger said, "In fact, we do not give a damn whether the name posted is 'your'name or not: we will not challenge you on this basis, nor is there any mechanism for other users to cause you to be challenged for this."

Then why did my friend Thomas Paine get suspended? His name certainly does not look like a handle. And it is a very common name, look in a phone book. He submitted links to other websites that he uses that name on, but was told that only a Driver's License will get him unsuspended. Not cool.

Also, anyone can report anyone else and use the reason of "Fake Profile". So yeah, there is a mechanism for that.
Exactly. Which, again, puts me right back to that precarious position in the first place: while many people use Emilly to address me, online and off, and while I've had this blog active since 2007 (and had other websites establishing use of the "Emilly" part of the name, prior to that), it's still not the name on my birth certificate.

And the thing is--I really cannot stress this enough--it's never going to be. Not only do I not want to "solve" the problem by changing my name legally, that would only compound the difficulty. I am fine with having an online personality, and an offline identity, being separate.

Moreover, I do not believe that this means my online presence is then "disposable"--while I'm sure I'm not in the majority, if I say something online, I do my best to back it up. If it's my opinion, quite likely it's my opinion offline as well. I endeavor always to stand behind my words, right or wrong--while I have blindly attacked in the past (and may yet in future), I try to always recognize that it's a blind attack, at least, and apologize if I feel I'm in the wrong. This, to me, does not say "disposable troll identity". This should also say to Google that I'm trying to live online and offline as a person of integrity, even if it's scattershot integrity.

Chris to Scott:
"Google has set up a situation where the user must gamble their pseudonym on whether or not they will be deemed as legitimate" You phrase it as a gamble. What are they losing if their pseudonym is rejected? simply the opportunity to call themselves 'potato salad' when no one know them by that name anyways?? a gamble implies a significant loss.
Not exactly. While I'm sure there are people, many people, trying to do just this, where I see the main problem for me (and people like me), is that we are trying to state the case that our pseudonyms are legitimate. Because we have chosen them (and stood behind them) for several years now, that should be proof of our good intent.

Unfortunately, Google is pigheaded on this point.

Scott in comment to Chris:
The risk is in the exposure. Once Google is has the connection between the real name and the pseudonym, the trust by the user has been established. If Google rejects the pseudonym, the user cannot undo that connection. Google already has is in their database.

Think of it like this. If I came to you and told you I was Batman, even if you do not believe me I cannot untell you. It's too late.
I'd put it this way. If Bruce Wayne came and told Google he was Batman, that link is forged. If I came to Google and revealed my real name as XY, and my online name as Emilly Orr, that link is forged. It doesn't matter on the belief; the point is, the database now has that information, and the database can (and likely will) update personal pages with that information. Which is precisely what we don't want.

It doesn't get more clear and simple than that, but dealings with Google are rarely simple.

Again on the 23rd, Sai finally responds to Yonatan (his first response was linked in yesterday's post. I'm choosing to repost the entire thing because I think it's important):
1. I understand and actually agree with wanting names over handles. Handles are often (but not always) reasonable to handle (ha) as 'nicknames'. I think they should be included in + mentions also, but there we're talking less a matter of principle and more one of implementation.

However, the two aren't strictly separable. For instance: +aestetix aestetix. It's his handle, yes, but it's also the name he goes by all the time IRL. It's how I met him. I happen to know his wallet name, which is different, but even so I and most of his friends call him "aestetix" most of the time.

Is it his "handle" or his "name"? I would argue it's both, and he has more than one legal name under the centuries-old common law understanding of the term.

Indeed I would argue that the only worthwhile point of such a policy is to have people identified here as they would be if you met them at a party IRL. But that's not something you can prove or verify other than by asking the person themselves.

2. Why can't non-celebrities have pseudonyms too? I'm no celebrity and would probably have been rejected under this doctrine. I see no substantive justification of this policy.

3. Drivers' licenses do not capture false positives against common law names. Consider (just for instance) the many trans people whose drivers' licenses reflect a different name than the one they go by IRL.

Also, I consider it objectionable a priori that I should have to show my ID — something you don't even verify in any sensible manner — merely because I have a weird name. What do you think the reaction would be if Google+ applied this policy consistently, requiring ID from everyone who wants to sign up? (Forget about the workload of doing so, consider simply the evilness quotient.)

Evil policy + discriminatory application ≠ less evil.

4. That's not really a substantive response. How do you intend to minimize the problem for people with unusual names?

5. Dismissing the number of people who need to use pseudonyms, and saying "well it works for the privileged majority", isn't really a good response here. Again: how do you propose fixing this bug?
Let's break this down in order.

Point one has been my point all along. If I, on a daily basis, have both my partners getting my attention by saying "Em"...first, what makes Google think I'd want to be known by another name, and second, what makes Google think my so-called "wallet name" is more important to my life than my chosen name?

Let's talk chosen names for a minute. I have three. Two are legally established--let's say, for convenience's sake, they're my maiden and my married names. Because of common-law practices, in many states, I can legally use either. Even in those states which don't allow common-law provisions, all I have to do to establish my married name legally is change it in a court of law. (Which I've been meaning to do for years now, anyway--because the state in which I married did not automatically change my name. That does not, however, make it any less my name.)

So which name does Google really want? My ID name? The (three, now) names the post office delivers mail to? Which is it? And if I change my name, do I have to re-verify all of this information just to use a name which isn't my legal one? And why does Google care in the first place? It seems inordinately invasive.

Point two I also agree with, vehemently. Why can't non-celebrities have established pseudonyms? Because if celebrities get a pass over not having to go through all this needlessly cumbersome verification, that establishes a class system I'm fairly sure Google does not want.

Point three is interesting from an international angle: for one, many transsexual people do change their names (and their gender) on their ID, so which one is valid at that point--their "birth" name, or their updated ID name? Further, in England (at least, and possibly in other countries as well), crossdressers are issued two legal IDs--one with their birth name (and gender), and one with their "presentation" name. That doesn't even take into account transgendered folk, just people who want to present as the other gender.

So which name does Google want? Do they want them all? Wouldn't that be a nightmare for the verification folks?

And this is well worth repeating, and bolding:
Evil policy + discriminatory application ≠ less evil.
Which is so very, very true in this arena. When did Google stop behaving by the precept "don't be evil"? Because this is innately discriminatory, judgemental, I believe I already said pigheaded, and hey, I'll make that leap into "evil" behavior. Any time a major corporation is deciding by fiat who gets to play with the other kids, and who doesn't, based solely on the name sounding normal, what kind of lesson is that sending to the net at large? To society at large? That we can only be "good" people if we have "normal" names? And Google gets to define what's "normal" and what's not?

Yeah. That's just wrong. And it's not getting less wrong.

Point four and point five are really good questions, but Google doesn't have any good answers, yet, because they just implemented this (massively flawed) policy revision, over the previous (also massively flawed) policy on Google+. I fully support Sai's desire to have these questions answered, but frankly, Google just doesn't know yet.

But let's look those questions over again before we tie this entry up: for those of us with unusual names, or established pseudonyms, or who chose specific alternate names over their "wallet names": what Google seems to be telling us is either:
  • change our names so they sound more "normal" (thereby removing almost all interesting names, all ethnic names, and a substantial chunk of international names);
  • be able to prove, conclusively, to a corporation we no longer trust to be given such information, that our names are our names;
  • or be able to prove that we have sufficient "celebrity" or "internet following" that our names are our names (without telling us how that following is going to factor out)
Which standards are we going by, too? Forget the "celebrity" issue or the issue of proof--look carefully at the top line. Names that aren't "traditionally" name-shaped are getting thrown out. Who's deciding what's a "name shape" in the first place? How many letters are allowed? Are only two names allowed, not three? Is having four names right out? Do we have to register with our full legal names and be referred to as our full legal names in perpetuity, or can we simplify--"Joe Smith", for instance, over "Joseph Ablemarle Vinicunus Smith". Or would that full legal name be thrown out anyway because it's not "name-shaped" enough?

And more--are the criteria for deciding what is and is not "name-shaped" purely limited to Latin character sets (it seems to be) and, in fact, Western naming practices? So how would that work out with "Joseph Running Bear", for instance? It's his name, right? Would that be "name-shaped" enough to get through without a fight, or would the "Running Bear" last name scotch the entire thing? What about Asian naming practices, where the given personal name is usually the last name?

Let's be more specific. "Ming Yen" in Japan and China would refer to "Yen Ming" in Western parlance. Okay, that's still name-shaped. What about "Hang Bok-nam", which usually gets Westernized as "Bok-nam HANG" for Korea? Would the fact that the last name is completely upper-case toss out the name entirely? Who knows?

And, let's not forget, I'm posting these commentaries off Google+ because I'm afraid that posting them on Google+ (and thus reactivating my account) will get me banned from Gmail! Why should that even be a consideration for what's essentially a social network--make a comment, lose your access? What forum on the planet does that?!?

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