Older blog entries for Skud (starting at number 151)

Written? Kitten!

Seems like everyone around me is either doing NaNoWriMo or is in the throes of fannish holiday exchanges. I refuse to make any writing commitments at present, but that doesn’t mean I’m not sympathetic to those that have them. And so…

This afternoon, my housemate Emily and I made Written? Kitten! It’s more or less along the lines of Write Or Die, only without the AUGH AUGH OH NO AAUUUUGHHHH DIEEE!!!!, and with more cuteness and fluff.

written kitten screenshot

It was a quick hack in an afternoon, and we only have the browsers we have at home, so if you find problems with it please let us know.

ETA: source code, if anyone cares.

Syndicated 2011-11-13 08:56:49 from InfotropismInfotropism | Infotropism

Announcement: I’ve changed my name to Alex Bayley

I’m not sure how to post this in a way that’s not awkward, so here it is: as of last week, I have legally changed my name to “Alex Bayley”.

The recent Google+ names debacle was the catalyst, but not the underlying reason, for this change. When Google insisted that I use my previous wallet name, “Kirrily Robert”, on its services, it made me realise how much I didn’t want to. I’m not strongly attached to “Kirrily” as a name. Among other problems, it’s hard to spell, hard to pronounce, and an all-round nuisance when working internationally and in the public sphere as I do. And more importantly, I don’t feel like it’s me — whatever that means.

Throughout my life I’ve chosen and used a variety of other names, of which Skud is the best known and longest lasting. In relation to Google+, a lot of people asked me, “Why don’t you just change your legal name to Skud?” The problem is, Skud isn’t an easy name to use offline. Like Kirrily, it needs to be repeated and spelled and explained each time I use it, and there are many offline circumstances where I simply wouldn’t be comfortable using it. Even online, I’ve come to realise that being legally mononymous can be rather fraught (just ask Sai or Stilgherrian). So, “Skud” is not the solution.

As I worked through this problem, I realised that my return to Australia, going back to school, and picking up a new career would mean introducing myself to hundreds of new people. I didn’t want to introduce myself as “Kirrily”, nor as “Skud”. The whole situation started to get me down, until I realised that I could choose something else to appear on my legal paperwork, school enrolment, and so forth, while keeping “Skud” as my name online and in the tech community.

To cut a long story short, for a range of reasons I chose the name “Alex” as my new given name. As there are already a range of Alex or Alec Robert or Roberts in the music and technology industries, I switched my surname to Bayley, a name belonging to an uncle, aunt, and cousins to whom I’m quite close. And, just for good measure, “Skud” is now my legal middle name. I figured it might come in handy.

I expect that most of my friends will continue to call me “Skud”, so it should be business as usual for many/most of you. Almost all my online contact details remain the same, however if for some reason you have my old gmail address you should know that I’m retiring it; please use skud@infotrope.net instead (should work fine for sharing docs, chat, etc). When meeting me face to face, please feel free to call me either Skud or Alex, not Kirrily.

Addendum for those who are interested: to change your name legally in the state of Victoria, Australia, where I was born and now reside, you simply submit a form and payment to the Registry of Births, Deaths, and Marriages. You are issued with an amended birth certificate showing your name change within 20 working days, or 5 working days if you pay the priority processing fee (which I did).

Syndicated 2011-09-20 10:10:05 from InfotropismInfotropism | Infotropism

Status update

Just spamming this to a few places, apologies if you see it multiple times in your feeds.

I’ve landed in Melbourne and I’m staying with a friend and starting to settle in. There’s lots of paperwork to re-establish myself (phone, bank, other bank, Medicare… ugh, so much.) And then there’s been the beginning of househunting and meeting up with friends I haven’t seen in years. Even after recovering from the jetlag, I’ve been pretty busy and stressed and I’ve got some writing deadlines this week as well, so I’m a bit fried. I’m expecting this state of friedness to continue for at least a week, and most likely for the rest of the month.

So, this is just a post to say, yes, I’m in Melbourne now, and I’m sorry if I don’t have time to chat and hang out online. I really appreciate everyone’s thoughtfulness in pinging me to ask if I’m here and if I’m settled, but I’m getting a little flooded, so hopefully this will serve as an answer to many of you.

Syndicated 2011-09-08 09:29:00 from InfotropismInfotropism | Infotropism

Skud vs. Google+, round two

Today, two weeks since I was first suspended from Google+ and just over a week since I was blackholed in their so-called customer support system, I submitted a fresh request for review via the form linked on my suspended profile page.

The name I was using: Kirrily “Skud” Robert

Evidence I provided: links to about a dozen websites calling me by that name, or simply by “Skud”, including GitHub, Wikipedia, Ohloh, the Geek Feminism blog, and LinkedIn (which has the Kirrily “Skud” Robert variant). I also linked a news article in Wired that referred to me as Skud.

Just a few minutes after I submitted the form, I got this from Neil @ Google Profiles Support, along with a shiny new ticket number:

Hi,
Thank you for contacting us with regard to our review of the name you are trying to use in your Google Profile. After review of your appeal, we have determined that the name you want to use violates our Community Standards. Please avoid the use of any unusual characters. For example, numbers, symbols, or obscure punctuation might not be allowed.

You can review our name guidelines at http://www.google.com/support/+/bin/answer.py?answer=1228271

If you edit your name to comply with our policies in the future, please respond to this email so that we can re-review your profile.

Sincerely,
Neil
The Google Profiles Support Team

I replied with:

I have removed the quotation marks. Could you please re-review?

Again, very soon, I received:

Hi,
Most users choose to use their First and Last names in the common name field in order to avoid any future name violation issues. All pseudonyms or nick names can be placed in the other names field below the common name field.

Sincerely,
Neil
The Google Profiles Support Team

“Most users” do, do they? Could it be because, as senji pointed out on Twitter, they get their accounts suspended if they don’t?

(In passing: how annoying is it that they can’t tell you if there are multiple problems in their first contact? Instead you have to go back and forth, as they keep disclosing additional rules and requirements one by one.)

In any case, I wrote:

“Most users” may choose to do that, but for me, it won’t help, because I am not commonly known by my first and last legal names.

“Skud” is the name by which I am primarily known. I am compromising here, and trying to come up with something you’ll accept, by including my birth name at all. Few people on Google+, or indeed anywhere, know me by my birth name. I am known as Skud by professional colleagues, friends, lovers, people I live with, almost everyone. Many of them do not recognise me if I use “Kirrily Robert”.

Google previously denied my request to use the name that I’m commonly known by (i.e. Skud), which I thought conformed to your policy of “use the name that your friends, family, and colleagues know you by”, so I am trying to come up with something that still makes me identifiable to my social network, but meets your requirements.

I beg you to reconsider your decision. My social network as “Kirrily Robert” is weak and irrelevant, but as Skud I am well known. Perhaps not as well known as Lady Gaga or 50 Cent, but still moderately famous. I need Google+ to recognise that Skud *is* my common name and allow me to use it in a way that is visible on my posts and comments, not just on my profile (which people won’t generally see).

Yours, respectfully,

Skud

That was at 3:52pm, US west coast time. I know that Google has TGIF from 4-ish onwards, and that I shouldn’t expect a response after that time. From what I hear, though, if Neil went to TGIF he would have seen a question about my case appear on the Google Moderator system that’s used for Q&A, and would have seen Larry Page skip right past it, refusing to respond. Stay classy, Google management.

Syndicated 2011-08-06 01:04:01 from InfotropismInfotropism | Infotropism

Google+ names policy, explained

I’ve been talking to anyone and everyone about what’s going on with Google+’s names policy, and thought it was well past time to write up my best understanding of what’s going on. I was going to say “I’m no expert”, but actually, I probably know more about this than just about anyone outside of Google (and perhaps more than them), and the Googlers aren’t speaking. So, here’s what I know.

The following information is gathered from user reports, public statements by Google+ staff, and a variety of unofficial/backchannel discussions I’ve been involved in. I’m not going to cite every assertion here, because many of them were given to me privately (eg. by affected users who forwarded their communications with support), so you’re just going to have to take it on trust that I’m not pulling this out of my arse.

In any case, I hope this provides some clarity as to what’s happening, and helps with our ongoing discussions around the G+ “nymwars”.

Table of contents


The policy as written

Google+’s Content policy, aka “Community standards”, says:

13. Display Name

To help fight spam and prevent fake profiles, use the name your friends, family or co-workers usually call you. For example, if your full legal name is Charles Jones Jr. but you normally use Chuck Jones or Junior Jones, either of those would be acceptable.

Additionally, on the page Your name and Google Profiles they say:

Use your full first and last name in a single language.
If you use your full name, you’ll help people find you online and connect with the right person. Note that professional titles such as “Dr.” or “Prof.” aren’t allowed in the first or last name fields. If you’re referred to by more than one name, just choose one, and place the others in the “Other names” section of your profile.

Avoid unusual characters in your name.
When you create your profile, our system will check the name you submitted for unusual characteristics. For example, numbers, symbols, or obscure punctuation might not be allowed.

Your profile and name must represent one person.
Google Profiles doesn’t support profiles for couples or groups of people. Additionally, you can’t create a profile for a non-person entity such as a pet or business. Google may continue to allow existing profiles that don’t meet these criteria, as long as the profile names are unchanged.

Don’t use the name of another individual.
Impersonation is a serious issue. Pretending to be someone else could cause your profile to be deleted.

The difference between the two statements (one: “use the name you are commonly known by”; two: “… as long as it has exactly two parts in a single language, etc.”), and the problems with assuming that people are known only by one identifier to everyone they communicate with, are subjects for another post. I’ll just note that the language as written is not non-problematic, but I’ve included it here for reference.


The policy as implemented


What triggers suspension

Profile are flagged for review when one of the following triggers occurs:

  1. Another user flags a profile for any form of abuse, including but not limited to “fake profile”.
  2. A user changes the name in their profile, and the name they change to contains something that trips the automatic flagging system.

Note that “legacy” names — those carried across from profiles that predate Google+, or which were created very early in Google+’s public availability, seem to be “grandfathered” into the system, and don’t seem to be checked unless reported.

If you change your profile name, the following things seem to trigger the automatic flagging system:

  • Mononymity, i.e. having only one name (and having just a dot, or similar, in the “last name” field).
  • “Unusual characters”
    • Actually unusual characters, like a heart symbol (&heart;).
    • Punctuation marks, including quotation marks, parentheses, and possibly even hyphens and apostrophes.
  • Unusual capitalisation (including capitals appearing within a name, as in McWhatever)
  • Spaces in either part of your name, for instance “Marie Claire” as a first name.
  • Name using more than one character set, such as a Hong Kong user who includes an English-style first name in the Latin character set and a Chinese-style surname in the Chinese character set.
  • Certain words, possibly including profanity, names of famous figures or deities, etc.
  • Professional titles such as Dr., Prof., etc.
  • Suffixes such as III or Jr.

The above is an incomplete list.


Stage 1 review

Once a profile is flagged as possibly violating the standards, it goes through a very basic review by a human (which I will call Stage 1 review — note this is not an official term, just what I’m calling it for convenience. The people involved in this are dealing with high volumes, are not well trained, and appear to have been instructed to err on the side of suspension of there is any doubt. They look briefly at a name, and if they think it is in violation, they will suspend the account.

In addition to the aforementioned things that can trigger an automatic flag, we’ve also seen the following types of names suspended presumably based on other users’ reports of abuse leading to Stage 1 review:

  • Names where both parts look like a given name, eg. “Blake Ross”
  • Names from other non-Western/non-WASP/etc cultures, eg. “Mohammed —” and Native American names
  • Names belonging to celebrities (Ariana Huffington, William Shatner) presumably thought to be impersonating the celebrities

In short, anything that “looks weird” to the poorly-trained operators working through thousands of flagged profiles may be suspended.


How you know your account is suspended

You will receive no notification by email or otherwise. Your Google+ homepage (i.e. your “stream”) will appear as normal. The symptoms of a suspended account are:

  • You can’t post anything, or comment. (Error message: “There was a problem saving your post. Please try again.”)
  • Your profile page has a message on it saying that you are suspended (see image below).

notice of suspension

Your profile is suspended. After reviewing your profile, we determined that the name you provided violates our Community Standards. If you believe this profile has been suspended in error, please provide us with additional information via this form, and we will review your profile again.


What services are affected

When your account is suspended, the following are affected:

  • Your Google Profile page will return a 404
  • You will not be able to post or comment on G+
  • You will not be able to post or comment on Buzz
  • You will not be able to share posts in Google Reader
  • You won’t be able to +1 anything on third-party websites
  • Many/most features of Picasa will be unavailable
  • Google Groups will not show your profile information and you will receive a warning to that effect

Additionally, by not having access go Google+, you will be at a relative disadvantage with respect to Google Search results.


Are people losing access to all Google services?

Some people have reported losing access to all logged-in Google services including email, calendar, docs, even Android phone features. This seems to occur when an account is suspended for supposedly-more-serious Terms of Service violations, however, people like GrrlScientist have experienced this and have no reason to believe they violated anything other than the names policy.

This was claimed to be a “bug” and we were told that they would fix it. Here’s what Google’s VP of Product, Bradley Horowitz, said on July 25th:

MYTH: Not abiding by the Google+ common name policy can lead to wholesale suspension of one’s entire Google account.

When an account is suspended for violating the Google+ common name standards, access to Gmail or other products that don’t require a Google+ profile are not removed. Please help get the word out: if your Google+ Profile is suspended for not using a common name, you won’t be able to use Google services that require a Google+ Profile, but you’ll still be able to use Gmail, Docs, Calendar, Blogger, and so on. (Of course there are other Google-wide policies (e.g. egregious spamming, illegal activity, etc) that do apply to all Google products, and violations of these policies could in fact lead to a Google-wide suspension.)

The frequency of these incidents seems to have slowed in the last week, but some accounts in this situation have not been restored, so this is still an issue.


Submitting your profile for Stage 2 review

Once you’ve realised that your account has been suspended, you can submit a request for review, which I will call Stage 2 review to distinguish it from the earlier, non-interactive review of flagged profiles.

Appeal form

Our Community Standards play an important role in insuring a positive experience for everyone using Google Profiles. As part of our standards to help fight spam and prevent fake profiles, please use the name that your friends, family, or co-workers usually call you. [...] If you believe that we have mistakenly suspended your profile for having an unauthentic name, please fill out the form below.

The form asks for:

  • Name (required)
  • Email (required)
  • Profile URL (required)
  • Photo ID (optional): “Attach a copy of your ID with your name and photo clearly visible. You can block out other personal information. Your ID will only be used to verify your name and will be deleted after review.”
  • Links on the web (optional): “Please provide us with a link to a reputable website where you are referred to by this name. Examples include Facebook, LinkedIn, a school or university student directory, or a news article.”


What it takes to get your profile restored

As far as I am aware, the following will result in having your profile restored fairly promptly:

  1. Your name is a simple, Western-style two part name, eg. Jane Smith and,
  2. You submit your government ID that shows exactly the same name, or a close approximation of it, or,
  3. You submit a link to a Facebook or LinkedIn profile that shows exactly the same name as you use on Google+, or a close approximation of it.

No other combination of factors is guaranteed (or even likely) to get your profile restored promptly.

(Note: I have not yet heard of any successful cases of people using a school directory or news article to challenge suspension, so cannot say that it will necessarily work.)


What won’t get you restored

The following situations will not get your profile promptly restored, but rather, will most likely lead to (at best) back-and-forth with support and (at worst) refusal to reinstate your account:

  • You have a name which is not a simple, Western-style two-part name. For instance, the legally mononymous Sai and the unusually named 3ric Johanson, both of whose names appear on their ID, had trouble getting it accepted by support.
  • You have a nickname, pen name, or other “aka” which you use more commonly than your legal name, but which doesn’t appear on your government ID, nor on Facebook or LinkedIn. No amount of documentation of the fact that you use the name in daily life and are known by it by the majority of your acquaintance will suffice.
    • Exception: major celebrities such as Lady Gaga, 50 Cent, T-Pain, and Soulja Boy seem to be exempted from this.
    • Exception: a small handful of non-famous people seem to have managed to get exceptions through direct contact through friends at Google, but this route has dried up since the mass suspensions of July 20-somethingth.
  • A Facebook or LinkedIn profile that does not match closely based on the first/last name. For instance if you are “Skud .” on Google+, and “Kirrily Robert (Skud)” on Facebook, that is not considered sufficient match.
    • Match is based on only on first/last name, not “aka” or other names shown.
    • The URL of your Facebook profile page doesn’t count for anything either.

The following types of evidence are documented as having been refused by Google Profiles Support:

  • Accounts on social networking or blogging sites other than Facebook or LinkedIn (eg. Twitter, LiveJournal).
  • Publications under the name you use (eg. links to a book on Amazon or to major/mainstream websites that have published you under that name).
  • Public appearances under the name you use (eg. conference speakers who appear under that name in conference proceedings).
  • Credits under that name for musical works, film and television, etc.
  • Testimonials from employers, parents, cohabitants, or anyone else who knows you by that name, regardless of the number or sincerity of them.


They really want government ID

Attempts to prove that you are using “the name you are known by” by any means other than those listed (as “optional” and “examples”) on the review form will be met with a response insisting that you send government ID:

Thank you for contacting us with regard to the name used in your Google Profile. We have reviewed your appeal and need more information in order to verify that the name entered [whatever] is your common name.

Please reply to this email with a copy of your government issued ID, which we will dispose of after review. Once we receive this information we can review your appeal and come to a final decision.

(emphasis mine)

So in short, although government ID is listed as “optional”, attempts to use anything other than a limited handful of types of evidence will result in them insisting on government ID.

On July 29th, Google+ community manager, Natalie Villalobos, wrote in comments here:

In this case, +aestetix aestetix is correct: providing a government ID is an optional part of the Common Names process and our reviewer is incorrect when he says that he needs a government issued ID to confirm the name. We are adjusting our process to prevent confusion about this in the future.

However, many accounts are still suspended and people are still being asked to provide government ID.


Profile reinstatement

If your profile is reinstated, you will receive an email that says:

Thank you for contacting us with regard to the name you want to use with your Google Profile. After further review, we have determined that your name is within our Community Standards policy. Thank you for your patience while we reviewed your profile name.

(emphasis mine)

Your profile and access to all Google+ and related features should be immediately restored.


The black hole

Certain questions or behaviours can land you in the “black hole”, where support refuses to communicate with you in any way. These include:

  • Refusing to give Government ID when prompted, or asking why your other evidence was not accepted.
  • Refusing to rename your account to what they think it should be. If they think your “common” name is Foo Bar, but you continue to insist that you are primarily known as Baz.
  • Any repeated contact, after about three back-and-forth iterations.
  • Any request to escalate to a support supervisor.
  • Any rudeness or incivility whatsoever, including frustrated snarkiness.

Due to the nature of the black hole, it’s hard to tell exactly what gets you put there, but the above seem to be common factors.


Re-suspension

If your name is finally approved and your profile reinstated, you are not out of the woods. No flag is set saying “this name is approved”, and you may be re-suspended at any moment.


Other mis-communications

Support may claim that you have:

  • Changed the name on your profile since they last looked at it
  • Deleted your profile

… when you have done no such thing.


Updates etc.

I’m hoping to keep this updated with the my understanding of what’s going on. If you know of anything I’ve missed, or have other examples, please get in touch.

Syndicated 2011-08-04 23:53:30 from InfotropismInfotropism | Infotropism

An update on my Google Plus suspension

I’ve been updating this post as I hear anything from Google Profiles Support, most recently three days ago (Thursday 28th July). However, that post’s getting long, and I keep having people ask me what’s going on, or why I don’t do X or haven’t I considered Y, so I thought I’d post a summary/update.

The current status is:

  • My account is still suspended — nine days and counting.
  • They won’t accept my evidence that I am called “Skud” in daily life, and have asked to see my government ID instead.
  • As far as I can tell, they want me to change my name on their service to “Kirrily Robert”, with “Skud” in the nickname field on my “about” page. This is not acceptable to me, as “Skud” — the common name by which most people know me — would not show anywhere on my posts.
  • I don’t want to change to just “Kirrily Robert” as that would confuse many of my friends. However, I am willing to change to a hybrid (eg. Kirrily “Skud” Robert) as long as “Skud” shows somewhere on my posts and comments. (My name is not a true pseudonym, but a long-standing and widely-used nickname, so unlike many, I don’t have privacy concerns about disclosing the name on my government ID.)
  • In fact, a few days ago I actually edited my profile to show Kirrily “Skud” Robert and enquired whether this is acceptable. They have not responded, and do not appear to have reviewed it.
  • In my email to them, I said that if the formatting on “Skud” (with quote marks) bothered them, I would like to hear their suggestions on more acceptable formatting. They aren’t answering.
  • After a week of no resolution, I attempted to escalate by Cc’ing my support emails to relevant staff within Google. There was no response whatsoever, and pointed silence from a good friend who works as a user advocate on G+ identity issues, which leads me to believe that staff have been instructed not to speak on the issue, or not to respond to me, or both.

Here’s what I want from Google, in order of immediacy:

  • A meaningful, non-form-letter response to my support request.
  • A solution which allows me to show my commonly-used name, “Skud”, on my posts and comments. As far as my own case is concerned, I’m quite willing to compromise (for instance with Kirrily “Skud” Robert), but I’m not willing to use a name that doesn’t include “Skud” in any way, or that consists of only the name on my government ID, as most of my social circle would not recognise me under those conditions.
  • A clear, unequivocal statement from Google+ management that they understand that many people have names that differ from their government ID, and that those names, if commonly used in daily life, are explicitly permitted on Google+.
  • A consistent, well-documented way for people whose commonly used names don’t match their government ID to provide evidence that those are the names they really are known by (note that this should not be limited to Facebook or other services which implicitly or explicitly require a match with government ID.)
  • Google to develop better ways to handle spam and personal reputation on social networks. They have the smarts and the data for this, and could make a much more meaningful and positive change to the Internet if they were to take it on.

And here are some responses to things a number of people have asked me, just to conveniently put them all in one place:

  • Your blog says Kirrily “Skud” Robert, why don’t you just use that? I’ve tried, they haven’t responded to my email requesting review.
  • You have a Facebook account under Kirrily Robert. Why aren’t you complaining about Facebook? If you’ll look at my Facebook account, you’ll see it’s just a placeholder, which I hardly ever use, in large part because it’s strange to do so under a name that few people know me by. Though I’ve spoken in the past about Facebook’s name policy, I was less insistent about it because they were just one website (albeit a large one) and because their policy was at least clearly stated and apparently consistent.
  • If you don’t like the policy, don’t use G+. If only it were that easy. That’s more or less what I’ve done on Facebook — as I said, I mostly just use it as a placeholder — but I don’t feel like that’ll work so well on Google+. Google+ has tentacles that extend into other services. Even though Google have said that the name policy doesn’t affect anything outside G+ and Profiles (which in itself is a bit disingenuous, as related policies, equally poorly communicated and enforced, do), I’ve seen some effects start to show up in other products. For instance yesterday I got a warning on Google Groups, saying that I had limited functionality because my G+ profile was suspended. Similarly, Jon Pincus points out that use of G+ is already affecting search results, disadvantaging those not using the service. If “everything is social” and Google starts to connect other products with G+, then a wide range of services start to be affected. This is not just “don’t use one website”, it’s “limit your use of a significant number of services”.
  • It’s a field trial, they’ve said they’re working on it, hang in there and it will get better. I have to say I mistrust this. Google has a poor history when it comes to promising “we’ll get to that later”. Furthermore, they’ve already had months and months to figure this out before launch, and chosen not to. If the pressure and advocacy that have been applied so far haven’t been enough to make them prioritise the issue, then I don’t think quietly sitting around and waiting for them to do it is going to get results.
  • Blah blah anonymity blah. Just to be clear, I am not speaking at all about anonymity online, which is a different issue (an interesting one, but one I’m not dealing with right now). I’m talking about long-standing, widely-used, persistent names that have accrued reputation and social capital, but which just happen not to match government ID.
  • Don’t you have anything better to do? Not really, I’m unemployed, and I think this is important.
Fists of Fury

ObMural: "Hearts of Gold, Fists of Fury" in Clarion Alley, in SF's Mission District, ca. 2007. "Everywoman -- her weapon: rising up"

Syndicated 2011-07-31 21:51:38 from InfotropismInfotropism | Infotropism

Google is gagging user advocates

So, I’ve mentioned that while I was at Google (until July 15th) I disagreed strongly with the Google+ names policy. I wasn’t the only one, but of course those who still work for Google need to be careful not to criticise their employer, so they’re being fairly careful about what they say online.

Take Liz Fong, a friend of mine who is — among other things — a transgender and disability rights activist, and often tweets and posts about social justice issues. She’s also interested in BitCoin and online anonymity.

In comments on this post she stated that she works on G+ identity stuff in her 20% time:

Saul Tannenbaum – You were posting interesting things about names and gender, from a perspective that needed to be heard. And, you were dissenting from your employer’s policy on their own system and doing it with professionalism. From all that, I thought you were a voice worth my attention.

Liz Fong – Yup, I’m an Official Professional Dissident and Devil’s Advocate in my 20% time :) – even though I’m personally not happy with the decision, I’m glad that I’m being allowed to play devil’s advocate :)

When G+ launched, she regularly reshared articles about names and identity on the service. Of course she was very professional and tried to be neutral and balanced in what she posted, but she did post and reshare a lot on the subject. Here is a history of her relevant posts:

Jun 28: You’re safest using your full name
Jun 30: [Policy] may be helpful for people using pseudonyms to reread
Jul 6: Official word on business profiles (reshare)
Jul 7: Abbreviate your name for privacy
Jul 7: File feedback if you feel strongly about gender privacy
Jul 7: Yet another reminder about policy
Jul 8: Reshare of Siderea’s post about names (without comment)
Jul 8: Reshare of Geek Feminism pseudonymity bingo (without comment)
Jul 10: Reshare of link to Geek Feminism post about social networking and women (without comment)
Jul 11: Well, it looks like Google PR has officially commented
Jul 11: I’ve been going by Liz since I was 15 / link to Rowan Thunder’s story of G+ suspension
Jul 11: Michael Hermeston comments on Rowan Thunder’s case
Jul 12: Reshare of Rowan Thunder’s account of the appeal process
Jul 12: Surprised that I hadn’t seen this yet in my stream (links to posts from Second Lifers)
Jul 12: Google starts wrestling with identity issues on G+ (reshare without comment)
Jul 12: More press coverage on the identity issue
Jul 12: Link to “level-headed” article by Lauren Weinstein (with comment, not speaking for employer)
Jul 12: Yes, people at Google care
Jul 12: Link to Geek Feminism roundup, asking for a similar anti-pseudonymity resource
Jul 12: Petition seems like a tool for anti-pseudonymity griefers, please send feedback
Jul 12: A personal story: I’m alive today because I was able to pseudonymously network with other transgender people online
Jul 13: TLDR summary of author’s viewpoint: verifying ‘proof’ of identity is hard, forgery is easy.
Jul 13: Playing the other half of the coin for a moment (on dress codes)
Jul 14: When I speak, I speak only for myself and not for Google
Jul 16: No safe place (reshare without comment)
Jul 16: Potential pseudonym options, “very well-written and cogent”
Jul 16: Once again, Lauren is persuasive, levelheaded, and takes the big picture into account.
Jul 18: I’ve been noticing an increase in incivility in conversations about naming issues.
Jul 19: Here’s the official word on the SMS issue and on the abuse flagging issue.
Jul 19: If you want to chat about Google+ privacy, Jonathan’s your person :)
Jul 19: An insightful post on untangling psuedonymity and anonymity
Jul 19: Some uses cases for pseudonyms are addressed by abbreviating first or last name / competition is just a click away (not speaking for employer)
Jul 21: The pants theory of Google+ (reshare)
Jul 21: You can’t have a corporate profile
Jul 21: Use individual employees to represent your business
Jul 22: This is the appeals process for suspensions
Jul 22: Welcome back Kryptyk Fish and CZ Unit
Jul 23: Here’s what Skud has to say about her suspension
Jul 23: I’m interested in seeing data from users about how the naming policy is being applied
Jul 24: Google, the pseudonym banstick, etc; “+1 insightful”
Jul 24: Matt Cutts has responded publicly on the Thomas Monopoly issue (reshare)
Jul 24: I’m trying to enjoy a quiet weekend… better start reading from the firehose
Jul 24: Reshare of Sai’s post, “one of the most thorough examinations”
Jul 24: Signal-boosting Michael Hermeston’s comments
Jul 25: I’ve been trying to solicit discussion on how to tell pseuds from obscure nicknames
Jul 25: Reshare of Bradley Horowitz’s statement

So here we have a clear history of Liz posting frequently, seldom missing a day, and often posting multiple things about Google+ identity each day.

On July 25th (four days ago) she stopped posting on the subject altogether. Looking at her stream, though, I see that she did post, without any comment, a link to a Wikipedia article talking about gag orders.

Today I was bugging Googlers to try and get a response on my suspension (I tried to escalate my case yesterday, and didn’t hear anything for more than a day), so I reached out to Liz on Twitter, where we’ve been friends for some time.

It went like this:

@Skud: hey @lizthegrey since you care about identity and g+ can you prod them about my case/help me get a response? ticket #839791762

@Skud: @lizthegrey btw i forget, do you know @sparkymonster? if not you definitely should, she is made of awesome.

@lizthegrey: @Skud I know @sparkymonster but don’t think I’ve met her face to face yet (which reminds me, I should get an ‘I know Skud’ button from her)

@lizthegrey you definitely [should]! btw did you see my previous tweet? can you prod them to respond to me?

@lizthegrey: Annoyingly long/tiring week. I plan to keep twitter for short things, and use G+ for longer essays. I doubt 3000+ people care that I’m tired

@Skud: @lizthegrey *hugs* if you want ‘em… this must be rough for you :( i’m worried that you don’t seem to be responding to my qs about g+ tho

@Skud: @lizthegrey sorry to bug you but… you haven’t posted anything about identity lately, are you not allowed to any more?

@Skud: ok, unless someone tells me otherwise, it looks like google employees who don’t support the names policy have been gagged. #nymwars

@Skud: @lizthegrey this is your chance to tell me i’m wrong, btw.

@lizthegrey: CSA veggie fetching time, then one or two more code reviews, and then home, thank goodness. *thud*

So here we have a Googler who is working on identity stuff part-time as a “Devil’s Advocate” (I guess the users are the “devil” from Google’s perspective, ugh), who has repeatedly helped disseminate information about Google+ identity policy, and who has always taken a balanced view in her public posts, asking for anti-pseudonym resources or suggestions from the community, all while being very clear that she doesn’t speak for Google officially… silenced, and forced not to speak.

(Additional irony: Google are also saying that companies/brands should have their staff use Google+, to show a human face, and are now shutting down the very employees who are doing this for Google itself.)

To be clear, this is far worse than the prior restrictions Googlers had wrt confidentiality. Of course Googler’s can’t speak about forthcoming projects or other confidential matters, and they’d be silly to post anything too critical of the company if they wanted to keep their jobs. But now Google is preventing its staff from commenting at all on existing products/features/policies, or engaging with the user community in any way, even to quell FUD or share information. That’s scary.

I know Liz as an activist and I know it must be hard for her to be silenced in this way. Her tweets and G+ posts read, to me, like someone who’s exhausted and frustrated by the whole situation. I hope she gets the weekend of rest that she so badly needs.

Meanwhile, Google are refusing to respond in any way to the questions I asked their support staff, and eventually escalated by Cc’ing to Google+ management. To summarise, they were:

  1. What evidence will you accept that “Skud” is the name I commonly use, and in what way does this page fail to satisfy you?
  2. How would you suggest I edit my name on G+ to meet your standards, while still showing my commonly-used name on posts and comments?
  3. Since some users seem to get exemptions for special reasons, what is the process for getting such an exemption?

Google are choosing not to respond, and my account is still suspended. It’s Friday afternoon, and one week since my account was first blocked. What the hell is going on in there, and why are they so scared of saying anything?

To all my friends at Google, I’m thinking of you. Stay strong, look after yourselves and each other. And give my love to everyone at TGIF this afternoon!

ETA: A couple of Googlers have told me that this gag isn’t universal, so it looks like it might apply only to those advocating on behalf of G+ users. In which case, I think that’s even worse.

Where's Skud?

A protestor holding a sign saying "Where's Skud?" outside Google's Cambridge, MA offices. Image by Shava Nerad under CC-BY 3.0

Syndicated 2011-07-29 21:57:48 from InfotropismInfotropism | Infotropism

Wanna buy my shit?

So this is the first of what will probably be many relocation logistics posts. Right now, I’m looking for people to take some furniture and other items off my hands. The following are available for pickup in San Francisco. With regard to price, just make me an offer. Anything halfway reasonable will probably be fine. If you need details, ask.

Furniture

(Google for pics of all these, most of them are discontinued by Ikea.)

  • 2 x Ikea Lillberg rocking chairs (black cushions)
  • 2 x Ikea Leksvig bookcases (tall, open-backed)
  • Ikea Leksvig dresser (tall, 4 big drawers + 2 small drawers)
  • Ikea Leksvig side table (I use it as a TV stand)
  • Ikea Leksvig coffee table (large, with storage underneath)

Tech

  • OLPC XO computer
  • 750GB external hard drive (LaCie, about the size of a mac mini)
  • Grace internet radio device (streams everything, including Pandora)

Kitchen and other appliances

  • Food processor
  • Stick mixer
  • Rice cooker
  • Iron

Misc

  • artificial Christmas tree, about 5′ tall, quite a nice one

Interested? Drop a comment here and I’ll get back to you.

Syndicated 2011-07-28 04:34:20 from InfotropismInfotropism | Infotropism

Preliminary results of my survey of suspended Google+ accounts

The other day I posted a call for people who have had their accounts suspended by Google for name-related reasons to fill in this form.

I’ve received over a hundred responses so far (N=119), so it’s time to start talking about the results.

Firstly, 74% of respondents are using the name that most people know them by. Specifically, 18% say that the name they are using on Google+ is the one they are known by “exclusively” and 56% say that “a majority of people know me by this”. However, only 13% of respondents say that it’s the name that appears on their government-issued ID.

No surprise whatsoever: many people are known by names other than what’s on their ID.

What types of names are causing suspensions? Here are some that respondents have said it’s okay to share:

  • Many names that seem “normal” even by the fairly limited standards Google seems to be employing: george meagles, Winter Seale, b. pepper, Jacqueline L., Laurence Simon, etc. Though he didn’t reply to my survey, William Shatner was also suspended.
  • Names that incorporate a nickname or handle as a middle name or using an “aka”, eg: Steve “robUx4″ Lhomme, Robert Myers aka Zarber Paracelsus, Josh (slayerXcore) Kimble. Another well-known example who didn’t take the survey is Limor “LadyAda” Fried.
  • A number of people using mononyms, including some for whom it is their legal name/on their government ID (“Sai”) and some who commonly use mononyms that don’t match their government ID (I’m in this bucket, as I used “Skud”). Some mononymous people have used a dot as their surname, while others have repeated their name, eg. “aestetix aestetix”.
  • Many cases of online identities of long standing, including Second Life identities, bloggers, etc.
  • Many cases of professional names: authors, artists, musicians, and technologists who are known by pen names/stage names/etc.
  • A handful of cases of names of non-English origin (Arabic, Taiwanese, etc) being suspended — I have heard that there are many cases of this, but I haven’t heard from many, perhaps because my survey is only in English.

Most telling are the reasons people give for their choice of name:

  • “I am a high school teacher, privacy is of the utmost importance.”
  • “I publish under my nom de plume, it’s printed on my business cards, and all of the thousands of people I know through my social networks know my by my online name.”
  • “I have used this name/account in a work context, my entire family know this name and my friends know this name. It enables me to participate online without being subject to harassment that at one point in time lead to my employer having to change their number so that calls could get through.”
  • “I do not feel safe using my real name online as I have had people track me down from my online presence and had coworkers invade my private life.”
  • “I’ve been stalked. I’m a rape survivor. I am a government employee that is prohibited from using my IRL.”
  • “I work for a private club. I have to carry a card around which states I will not share any element of the club with any sort of media. So, If I want to talk about work (and I do) on the net, I have to use an alias.”
  • “I’ve been using this name for over 10 years in the “hacking” community. There are a nontrivial amount of people who know me *only* by that name.”
  • “As a former victim of stalking that impacted my family I’ve used [my nickname] online for about 7 years.”
  • “Under [this name] I am active in a number of areas of sexual difference for which it would not be wise for me to use my flesh legal name.”
  • “My actual real name is utterly non-identifying, as 1) it is the name of a character in a movie (Girl, Interrupted), and that overwhelms google search results 2) it’s not unique at ALL.”
  • “[this name] is a pseudonym I use to protect myself. My web site can be rather controversial and it has been used against me once.”
  • “I started using [this name] to have at least a little layer of anonymity between me and people who act inappropriately/criminally. I think the “real names” policy hurts women in particular.
  • “I use the pseudonym to maintain my online anonymity because I am polyamorous and have no desire for professional acquaintances to discover this.”
  • “I enjoy being part of a global and open conversation, but I don’t wish for my opinions to offend conservative and religious people I know or am related to. Also I don’t want my husband’s Govt career impacted by his opinionated wife, or for his staff to feel in any way uncomfortable because of my views.”
  • “I have privacy concerns for being stalked in the past. I’m not going to change my name for a google+ page. The price I might pay isn’t worth it.”
  • “We get death threats at the blog, so while I’m not all that concerned with, you know, sane people finding me. I just don’t overly share information and use a pen name.”
  • “This identity was used to protect my real identity as I am gay and my family live in a small village where if it were openly known that their son was gay they would have problems.”
  • “I go by pseudonym for safety reasons. Being female, I am wary of internet harassment.”

It reads like a reiteration of the list of groups harmed by a “real names” policy that we started putting together last week, doesn’t it? And I’m not at all surprised that more than 10% explicitly cited safety concerns (stalking, harassment, etc), and the majority of those were women.

I’ve put together a spreadsheet that shows the data from those people who said I could share it. Note that the group who agreed to share their data are, on the whole, more likely to be from Western/English-speaking cultures, and more likely to have names based on Internet identities than those in the “don’t share” group. In other words, Internet pseuds are over-represented in the public spreadsheet, and international respondents are under-represented. Here are the public responses.

As I said, this is a preliminary round-up of the data. I’m hoping to get more responses and do more analysis over time. Please keep sending people to take the survey if they’ve been suspended. If you previously took the survey and want to update your information (for instance, if your account has been reinstated), you can email me the details at skud@infotrope.net.

Mural from Balmy St, San Francisco

ObRandomPic: one of my favourite San Francisco murals, in Balmy Street in the Mission District.

Syndicated 2011-07-25 22:18:06 from InfotropismInfotropism | Infotropism

More comments on Google+ and names

I’ve been seeing a lot of the same things get asked/said repeatedly so I thought I’d cover a few of them here.

“Why not just change your Google+ name to Kirrily Robert? That would get your account reinstated.”

Honestly, if Google’s support people tell me that’s what I need to do, I will do so. They have not yet told me that I need to do that. I’m playing dumb for now, and seeing how it plays out, because I’m interested in the review/appeal process.

If I do change my Google+ name to Kirrily Robert, I will (presumably) get my account back, but I won’t use it much any more. It will become like my Facebook or Quora accounts, two other services where I have an account but seldom use it because it feels weird to be using an identity at odds with how most of my friends know me.

“You knowingly violated the TOS, what did you expect?”

Sort of. The so-called “Community Standards” say, “Use the name your family/friends/colleagues know you by”. I am abiding by the rules as stated, though I admit that I am doing so in the knowledge that policy that’s actually enforced by Google differs from what they have published.

So yeah, I knew I would probably have my account suspended. I’m not too worried by that, because I’m not all that invested in the platform. And I thought it would be interesting and educational for someone who understands the system quite well (my recent ex-Googler status helps with this) to poke at it from outside and see how it appears to work.

My goals were, firstly, to help highlight the problems with the policy, and secondly, to test out and document the processes around it. This seems to be going well so far.

“People are losing access to all their Google services when their account is suspended!”

A lot of people are talking about this so I wanted to address it.

As far as I know, people are not losing access to all their Google services simply for using a name that Google doesn’t like. I have not yet heard of a single documentable case of this. (A documentable case would involve a G+ profile page that looks like this and contains the words, “we determined that the name you provided violates our Community Standards.”)

What I have heard is that many people are losing access to all Google services for some form of ill-defined “violation of our Terms of Service”. This is getting conflated with the names issue, and it’s not surprising. Google’s communication is weak, and they don’t tell you exactly what TOS you broke, so it’s easy to think it must be the name-related thing you’re hearing about happening to other people.

Some other considerations:

  • Google+’s TOS forbids a range of content including “spam”, “hate speech”, “copyright”, and so-called NSFW content but nobody’s quite sure where the lines are or how it’s enforced, so it might be that you’re getting shut down for content violations you didn’t expect.
  • Google+ allows anyone to report an account for abuse. While it’s unclear how those reports are escalated or how many of them are needed to lead to account suspension, if the bar is set too low (as it seems to be), this can lead to many capricious suspensions. (If you thought DMCA takedown notices could be used inappropriately to harass or intimidate, consider that Google+ only requires someone — anyone, not even the copyright holder — to click a button that says “copyright” to achieve the same effect.)
  • Google+ has no facility for “warnings” prior to suspension. Other services (even Google-run Youtube) typically freeze/hide/take down specific content, or send you a warning telling you that you must do so yourself, rather than suspend an entire account with no warning.
  • There is no clear understanding of the scope and range of TOS enforcement. Does TOS violation on one Google service result in losing access to that one service, or to multiple services? This doesn’t seem to have been well thought through.

The last point is an important one. As Google encourages people to consolidate more and more of their online lives in Google services, it’s going to be increasingly important for Google to maintain separation between services when it comes to TOS enforcement. You shouldn’t lose access to your email and documents just because you posted a risque picture on Google+ or a fan video to Youtube, any more than you should have your car towed for not paying your phone bill.

So, to sum up: as far as I can tell, people are not losing access to GMail and other services for using the wrong name on Google+, but they are losing access to those services for a cluster of other reasons which relate closely to the names problem.

“Their service, their rules.”

I’ve heard a number of people say that restaurants, retailers, and other businesses can put up signs that say, “We reserve the right to refuse service for any reason,” so why can’t Google? The thing is, businesses can say that all they want, but they if they attempt to not serve someone because they’re black, or queer, or disabled, they can expect public criticism and, in many cases, prosecution under anti-discrimination laws.

Sometimes, when businesses discriminate, they do so indirectly. “We don’t discriminate against women,” they say, “just against people who care for children,” or who have long hair, or any of the myriad other traits strongly associated with being female, or part of some other class. Indirect discrimination is discrimination nonetheless, and in some jurisdictions is just as illegal as direct discrimination.

(And just to make it completely clear: using a name other than that which appears on your legal ID is strongly correlated with being a member of one or more marginalised or discriminated-against groups. See: Who is harmed by a “Real Names” policy?)

So no, first of all, businesses can’t just say “our service, our rules”, if those rules are considered discriminatory under the law. Secondly, even if the law does not recognise their practices as discriminatory, it’s still valid to complain about them. This is especially true when it relates to an institution in a position of widespread power and ubiquity, rather than a niche or specialised service.

“It’s only a field trial, you can’t expect perfection.”

I believe this field trial went out too early, and that policy and communication strategies around the names issue — which Google knew would be a big deal — should have been in place before they went live. While I don’t expect perfection, I do expect something at least halfway usable, and the names policy, its enforcement, and the review/appeal process aren’t anywhere near that. (The same goes for gender privacy, too — now fixed, but shouldn’t have been launched in that state, in my opinion.)

That said, I have sympathy for the developers who are trying to do a lot under a great deal of pressure. We know to expect bugs, and we’re giving them a lot of leeway as we test out the system, send feedback, and generally kick the tires. People are being pretty good-natured about the rough edges, on the whole, and either let them slide or sent feedback. (I even sent feedback on the feedback tool, asking for a counter to show how much feedback I’ve sent.)

It would be nice if Google would provide the same sort of understanding toward us, by erring on the side of caution when wielding the banhammer, as we try and figure out how the system works based on, quite frankly, very little clear information.

4 people with names written on their hands

Party nametags from my couchwarming party, September 2010, at my house in San Francisco. Three of four people shown -- who I know offline, and interact with face to face -- are using names which would not be permitted on Google+.

Syndicated 2011-07-24 19:15:46 from InfotropismInfotropism | Infotropism

142 older entries...

New Advogato Features

New HTML Parser: The long-awaited libxml2 based HTML parser code is live. It needs further work but already handles most markup better than the original parser.

Keep up with the latest Advogato features by reading the Advogato status blog.

If you're a C programmer with some spare time, take a look at the mod_virgule project page and help us with one of the tasks on the ToDo list!