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Google Play Takes Away Reviewers' Mask of Anonymity

Google Play Takes Away Reviewers' Mask of Anonymity

Google has begun to require that reviewers on Google Play be signed in through Google+. "Signing in to a service enables providers to offer a more feature-rich experience that is tailored to each user," said Josh Crandall, principal analyst at Netpop Research. "Users who wish to remain anonymous can either sign out of their accounts and not receive the enhancements, or they can devise ways to juke the system."

By Peter Suciu
11/27/12 12:33 PM PT

Those who want to post reviews on Google Play will be required to use a Google+ account, the parent company of both announced on Tuesday. The new rules will be implemented with the latest version of Google Play, which the company is now introducing for Android devices. They have already been implemented in the online store.

Google will only allow user comments in Google Play accompanied by user's Google+ name and picture. The official reason for the change has not been given, likely reasons include reducing spam and irrelevant reviews as well as discouraging negative reviews from competitors.

Google had previously looked to remove anonymity when it required Google+ members to use their full legal names online. In the case of the reviews, it also could benefit Google.

"Google is trying to both increase and protect the integrity of online reviews on its system and also boost usage of Google+," said Greg Sterling, principal analyst at Sterling Market Research. "It does affect anonymity, although anonymity isn't entirely dead, but the totality of the new policies across Google properties gives them a lot more data to use."

Google did not respond to our request for further details.

Anonymous Online

"There are certain things on the Internet that require a signed-in state," said Josh Crandall, principal analyst at Netpop Research. "Twitter, Facebook, and Foursquare, for example, require that users are signed into their account to see content that they wouldn't be able to access otherwise."

Sites such as Google Play, YouTube and other Google-owned sites now offer similarly enhanced features when the user is logged in, Crandall told the E-Commerce Times.

"Signing in to a service enables providers to offer a more feature-rich experience that is tailored to each user," he stressed. "Users who wish to remain anonymous can either sign out of their accounts and not receive the enhancements, or they can devise ways to juke the system by creating multiple identities and different email addresses that mask their identity. Where there is a will, there's a way."

Less Anonymity, More Quality

Google+ requires registration, and even if the user fakes an identity, it is linked to an account whose activity history can be tracked, said Charlene Li, partner and founder at the Altimeter Group. This would create greater accountability.

"This could reduce the number of anonymous reviews, so hopefully the quality of the reviews will go up," Li told the E-Commerce Times. "But it obviously is also a way to support Google+. It increases the amount of content in Google+ and makes it more useful as a result."

Need for Anonymity

The question this issue raises is whether there is a need for some level of anonymity online, even when it comes to reviews. One consideration would be apps related to medical conditions or other matters that users might wish to remain private.

"There could be a whole category of apps that could benefit from reviews, but the nature of them is that the users might not wish to publicly share their thoughts," said Li.

In this way the real-name initiative is a double-edged sword, but the benefits could outweigh the negatives of requiring real-names.

"Individuals using real-name identification online have incentives to behave more responsibly and this could create more pronounced tiering between real-name users and users who choose to remain anonymous," said Billy Pidgeon, senior analyst at Inside Network.

"Anonymity is valuable for free online interaction, but also provides an effective blind for anti-social behavior such as trolling. Real-name use could conceivably help identify bots and scammers and could discourage nuisance and nefarious behavior, while fostering higher quality, higher value online interaction," Pidgeon told the E-Commerce Times.

"It won't be easy to implement and regulate, however, and there is high potential for abuse," he said. For example, businesses could misuse, violate privacy agreements or even expose accurate user data, while bad actors using spoofed real-name identification would erode trust in the system and could do greater harm than anonymous trolls and scammers.

"The biggest reason that people are against is it that it is Google. They don't want to be beholden to Google," said Li. "However, if you want good reviews you need to pay for it somehow, and the way it is paid is through losing that anonymity."


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