Technology

Google+ relaxes real name policy to allow pseudonyms

Bradley Horowitz's Google+ page
Google said the change in policy was a response to "community feedback"

Established pseudonyms can be used to register accounts on Google+ after the social network relaxed its name policy.

The move follows criticism from human rights groups which had said there were circumstances under which individuals could have become unsafe if they revealed their identities.

The search giant said it had already begun rolling out the amended policy.

However, it is said users must prove their pseudonym has already attracted an audience elsewhere.

The change of rules wasconfirmed on the account pageof Google executive Bradley Horowitz.

He noted that 0.1% of all applicants filed name appeals, and 20% of this number wanted to use a pseudonym or other unconventional name.

Mr Horowitz said that users wanting to take advantage of the new policy might have to provide "references to an established identity offline in print media, news article, etc" or offer "proof of an established identity online with a meaningful following".

He said users might also need to provide "scanned official documentation, such as a drivers' licence" and that the review process would take a "few days".

Google told the BBC that it would destroy any documentation provided as part of an appeal once it had completed the verification process.

'Sidestep'

Users who do not fulfil the requirements are also given the option of displaying their nickname or maiden name alongside their legally recognised identity.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation had flagged up issues with Google's previous pseudonym ban last July, describing the policy as "shortsighted".

The San Francisco-based digital rights pressure grouphighlighted a US Supreme Court Justice rulingthat said: "Anonymity is a shield from the tyranny of the majority. It thus exemplifies the purpose behind the Bill of Rights, and of the First Amendment in particular: to protect unpopular individuals from retaliation - and their ideas from suppression - at the hand of an intolerant society."

Privacy International, a London-based campaign organisation, said it was still not satisfied with the change.

"This is a sidestep, not a step forward," said Gus Hosein, the group's executive director.

"We would like to see an identity policy that allows for multiple simultaneous identities relevant to each circle and each interaction. That's how the real world works.

"Only a company with engineers as bright as Google's could make this a reality, so until that happens we will remain disappointed."

Google has hinted that a further relaxation of its rules might be possible.

Mr Horowitz's posting notes: "We will be listening to feedback from the community and will continue to refine all aspects of how we handle names and identity over the coming weeks, months and beyond."

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