Google+ Name Game: Who Are the Biggest Losers?
Google's begun the process of weeding suspiciously named accounts out of Google+. The company says it's about setting a positive tone for the budding social network, but the idea of removing accounts because of how a name is spelled has raised some concern. Also, some users whose accounts have been shut down say they lost a whole lot more than access to Google+.
Google has begun cleaning up its recently launched Google+ service, and in doing so, it's deleted some legitimate users' accounts.
Dylan M. was among several people who used various Google services and purportedly lost all their data as a result of being struck off Google+, for one reason or another.
Google+ head honcho Vic Gundotra told blogger Robert Scoble that he's trying to set a positive tone with the cleanup, and that people who spell their names in weird ways or use obviously fake names are being removed from Google+.
"With social networks like Google+, there's a great deal of concern surrounding people misusing what is a position of trust," Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group, told TechNewsWorld.
This includes sexual predators and identity thieves, Enderle said.
Gundotra reportedly said Google's made some mistakes and is learning from them.
"It could be an accident that some people lost access to all their Google services," Jia Wu, a senior analyst at Strategy Analytics, told TechNewsWorld
"Perhaps the person who did this didn't realize that Google+ is linked to other Google services and that he'd deleted all other Google services by deleting subscribers' Google+ accounts."
Google did not respond to requests for comment by press time.
A growing number of people claim to have been not only delisted from Google+, but also removed from Google's services entirely.
David M, A.K.A. @thomasmonopoly, posted an angry screed about his delisting.
Claiming that he did not violate any terms of service, he said Google had no reason to take him off Google+, although it sent him an automated message stating it perceived a violation.
Repeated approaches to Google's help forums didn't work, David M said, and the conversation was closed after five days. A Google employee who had tried to help after seeing his account of the problem on Twitter finally emailed that he'd spoken with someone at Google who told him David M's account had been disabled but refused to explain.
David M claimed to have lost information pertaining to his application for graduate school, as well as contacts from other email accounts. Other information lost included banking information, more than seven years of correspondence, nearly 5,000 photographs and videos, his Google Voice messages, more than 500 articles saved to Google Reader for scholarship purposes, his bookmarks, personal and collaborative calendars and medical records.
Protecting the World
Incidents like David M's aside, the basic idea behind delisting suspicious Google+ names may have its upsides. Social networks are based on trust, and cybercriminals take advantage of that in various ways, such as sending victims emails purporting to be from their friends.
"You can find a lot of junk on social networking sites such as Facebook -- spam and irrelevant information and spam accounts sending out emails," Strategy Analytics' Wu said. "I think Google wants to make the Google+ service as clean as possible in terms of not having all these problems."
Ensuring subscribers to a social network such as Google+ are really who they say they are will make users safer and help law enforcement punish transgressions, Enderle said.
"This appears to be the path Google's on," Enderle added. "However, initially they are probably primarily focused on making sure that folks don't create names that are inappropriate in and of themselves, such as racial slurs and sexually explicit names."
Safety Is Expensive
However, Google needs to flesh out its process further, with an appeals process handled by real people, Enderle suggested.
"To make this work, they have to involve a living person from time to time, but they're under-funding this effort, so people are getting penalized for having unusual names or IDs," Enderle observed.
Perhaps Google should cough up the money and consider it a long-term investment.
"You'd think they would check first, in this day of making communities friendlier," Tole Hart, a senior analyst at the Yankee Group, told TechNewsWorld.
That would help Google, which "wants to get to people who are who they say they are and do what they say they do, to target ads," Hart continued.
It's All About the Muscle
It's not clear whether Google may come out ahead anyway in the long run because of the tremendous interest in Google+.
Comscore's figures show Google+ had 20 million visitors in the first 21 days of its existence.
"These are the early days of the service, and Facebook is still viable and dominant," Enderle pointed out. "A big mistake here could kill Google+."