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Google+ Profiles: Just What Gets You Booted?

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Google+ users who ignored or stretched the rules of the service are getting cut off from the budding social network without warning.

Whether or not this really is a sudden purge, or just a continuation of announced policy, Google's moves are irritating a lot of the service's early fans. Google already has admitted its mistakes in the handling of Google+ business profiles, which are not yet officially supported. While gearing up for the official launch of company profiles, Google has been suspending accounts created with the name of a business rather than an individual crammed into the first name and last name fields.

Now the company seems to be cracking down on accounts registered with fake names or pseudonyms (even though it looks like accounts for Testy Tester and Pseudo Nym are still live). But users are also complaining of accounts that were shut down over the use of a nickname or funny punctuation, such as a nickname or handle included in parentheses.

Aside from arguing for the legitimate uses of anonymity on the web, many users are arguing that the rules are unclear and unevenly enforced. Asked for clarification, a Google spokesperson provided links to a couple of support forum posts and added, "I cannot go into more detail on our processes or policies, and I cannot confirm the removal of individual accounts."

From the published rules and some reading between the lines, here is what we can tell you about the rules and how they are being interpreted:

Use your common, real-life name

The documentation for the Google Profiles feature that is the foundation of Google+ and other Google social media says users must be identified so "you can be certain you're connecting with the right person, and others will have confidence knowing that there is someone real behind the profile they're checking out. For this reason, Google Profiles requires you to use the name that you commonly go by in daily life."

That phrase "in daily life" leaves some room for real life nicknames, and Google+ project head Vic Gundotra noted in a conversation with Robert Scoble that "Vic" is not his own full, legal name. Gundotra also told Scoble that Google is rethinking the policy and ways that it might address some valid complaints, but without abandoning the principle that requiring people to use their real identities is likely to result in more civil discussions and a better community.

One challenge here is that many social media users have become far better known by their online handles and pseudonyms than by their real names. Programmer and former Google employee Kirrily Robert, better known as Skud, believes he was adhering to the letter of Google's law when he signed up for an account under that name--even though he was not surprised when the rule was interpreted differently in practice.

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