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Hoping, perhaps, to bring the curtain down on the so-called ‘nym wars’, Google chairman Eric Schmidt has discussed the advertising giant’s identity policies in a Q&A at the MediaGuardian Edinburgh International TV Festival.

Google+, which the outside world thinks of as another social networking service, is in fact something else, Schmidt said: “It essentially provides an identity service with a link around your friends,” he said in a transcript provided here.

Asked about the so-called ‘nym wars’, Schmidt explains Google’s policy (while sidestepping the implementation that prohibits some real names): “But we want people to stand for something, we want people to be willing to express themselves. There are obviously people for which using their real name is not appropriate, and it’s completely optional, and if you’re one of those people don’t do it. Seems obvious.”

Saying that he’s been thinking about identity for 20 years, Schmidt calls it a “hard problem”: “The Internet would be better if we had an accurate notion that you were a real person”, he says.

A real person, Schmidt says, can be held accountable: “we could check them, we could give them things …bill them, you know, we could have credit cards and so forth … there are all sorts of reasons.”

“My general rule,” Schmidt said, “is that people have a lot of free time and … there are people who do really evil and wrong things on the Internet, and it would be useful if we had strong identity so we could weed them out.”

This doesn’t mean “eliminating them”, he says: “if we knew their identity was accurate, we could rank them. Think of them like an identity rank.”

He admits this is a problem in countries with oppressive attitudes to their citizens or their citizens’ communications, but adds that “sensibilities are different”.

“There, there’s no assumption of privacy, everybody assumes the Internet is bugged and that the secret police are after them.” ®

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