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Google muzzles political dissidents with YouTube ID tweaks

It's about silo wars not real ones here at Google+

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

As recently as February this year, Google allowed its users to sign up to its revenue-challenged video sharing website YouTube using a pseudonym.

In fact, Mountain View was so proud of that option that its director of privacy, product and engineering, Alma Whitten, penned a blog post in which she pointed out the importance of allowing individuals to provide content anonymously online.

"Using a pseudonym has been one of the great benefits of the internet, because it has enabled people to express themselves freely – they may be in physical danger, looking for help, or have a condition they don't want people to know about," she wrote in February on Google's public policy blog.

"People in these circumstances may need a consistent identity, but one that is not linked to their offline self. You can use pseudonyms to upload videos in YouTube or post to Blogger."

It's likely that Whitten was seeking to surf the Arab Spring wave. Indeed Google has made a big deal about the use of YouTube by activists across the Middle East as protests erupted across the region.

But, even before the arrival of Google+ – which is supposedly storming the interwebs according to, er, buzz from Ancestry.com founder Paul Allen – the company's policy about identity verification has ominously changed.

It's no longer possible for individuals to simply log on to YouTube with an anonymous username. The world's largest ad broker has clearly spotted a flaw in the site's business model and is now forcing users to sign in to the video-sharing site using an existing Google account such as that used for, say, Gmail.

This, of course, means Google is increasingly herding users of its products into one gated field.

However, up until very recently, it was possible for a Gmail account to be created that didn't require a real name to authenticate the individual was who they claimed to be.

That's a process that has long been in pace at Facebook. Indeed, Mark Zuckerberg's company even goes so far as to ask its users, whose accounts have been temporarily disabled for violating certain terms, to provide official photo ID to help get their stalking privileges reinstated.

And now, Google, with its latest attempt at social networking, is following suit.

As we pointed out last week, Google is telling people who have created private profiles in, say, the company's free email service Gmail, that their profile will be deleted after 31 July unless they switch it to public view first.

Furthermore, Google has an optional request for individuals to provide photo ID to reactivate disabled accounts. It also demands that real names are created from here on in.

What does this mean for the likes of political dissidents wanting to "freely express themselves" without fear of "physical danger" for exposing their real identity?

According to a post on the New World Notes blog that details one such case where a Google profile was suspended for using a pseudonym, the company's stance is as follows:

"Google Profiles are designed to be public pages on the web, which are used to help connect and find real people in the real world," said Google spokeswoman Katie Watson.

"By providing your common name, you will be assisting all people you know – friends, family members, classmates, co-workers, and other acquaintances – in finding and creating a connection with the the right person online."

But she declined to comment further on how Google differentiates between "common name" and "real name".

The Register put a number of queries to Google about the ID verification shift within its entire online estate now that Google+ has arrived, including requesting a statement about the changes to YouTube.

The company pointed us at this link that details its Google Profiles policy. Beyond that we were told: "At this stage, there is no further information to share." ®

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

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