Google+ account suspensions: corporations, pseudonyms and TOS violators

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It's been rough going for some Google+ users over the past few days, and those of us who enjoy the service hope that The Powers That Be get this all sorted out soon, lest Google+ follow in the footsteps of Google Wave and Google Buzz.

There are two closely related issues causing concern among users. The first is the deletion of corporate profiles. When Google+ first opened its doors to a wide range of testers, they asked corporations not to create Profiles based on a brand, and they said that brand profiles would be deleted.

Of course, many brands assumed that rule didn't apply to them and created profiles anyway. Towards the end of last week Google started deactivating these accounts as promised. Some of the impacted brands immediately jumped up on their soapboxes and started screaming bloody murder.

I'm all for this move. Google+ doesn't currently have the tools to be a broadcast platform, and let's be realistic, these brands just want to promote, not converse. What I mean is that it's easy for brands to broadcast, but it isn't easy for real people to filter incoming content.

As an example, say I have 4 Circles: Friends, Acquaintances, Work and Brands. I could put all corporate accounts into my Brands Circle, sure, and it'd be easy for me just to see content from corporations by viewing that Circle. But there's no way for me to invert that selection. If I don't feel like being marketed to, there's no way to choose to see content from Friends, Acquaintances and Work, but not Brands. Until we have that ability, corporations are effectively just spam accounts on Google+.

I think a lot of us who're using Google+ learned this lesson pretty quickly. It's not a good platform for following brands or even the Internet super-egos who aim their firehoses at G+ and let fly. Between the sheer amount of content they post, and the exploding comments section below a post (that expands in real time if you're sitting on the page) it quickly becomes unwieldy. Google+, with its current array of filtering tools, is a platform for talking with friends. If you want to follow 1000 brands, bloggers, movie stars and politicians, stick to Twitter for now.

So that was issue one. Issue two is much more troubling. Google has also gone back to banning people who're using pseudonyms (or names that someone at Google thinks is a pseudonym), according to Violet Blue at ZDMag. In the post Ms. Blue shares various stories relating to account suspensions. I started following links and in fact there seem to be two different sub-issues here.

The first is a naming violation. If Google finds you've violated their vague naming standards, they'll suspend your Google Profile. Other Google services remain functional and you can appeal by scanning a photo ID or providing links that establish the name you're using as something that people normally call you. (Google's policies never say you have to use your legal name as far as I know. They say to use the name that your friends call you.)

The more frightening situation is Google accounts being suspended for a violation of Google's Terms of Service. If this happens to you, you apparently lose access to all Google services: Gmail, Google Docs, your Calendar. All of it goes 'poof' as far as you're concerned.

Here's one story linked to from Ms. Blue's article, and ex-Googler Kirrily "Skud" Robert, who was suspended for a name violation, suggests that he's heard of several of these cases:

What I have heard is that many people are losing access to all Google services for some form of ill-defined “violation of our Terms of Service”. This is getting conflated with the names issue, and it’s not surprising. Google’s communication is weak, and they don’t tell you exactly what TOS you broke, so it’s easy to think it must be the name-related thing you’re hearing about happening to other people.

Now I'm the first person in any room to shout "Don't believe everything you read on the Internet" and I don't personally know anyone who has lost access to everything from a Google+ TOS violation, but I'm still feeling a little bit concerned. I use Gmail as my primary email account, and if I lost access to that I'd be fairly screwed.

I'm already seeing people say they're going to stay away from Google+ until this situation sorts itself out, following a "better safe than sorry" rule. Meanwhile, Google is totally mum on the situation.

Google shot itself in the foot via (perceived) privacy issues when it launched Buzz. It looked like it had learned its lesson when Google+ launched, but if it continues to let these naming and Terms of Service violation horror stories propagate without responding, we can expect Google+ to quickly grind to a halt. It doesn't even matter if the stories are true or not; users are believing them and Google is doing nothing to clarify or debunk them. The damage is the same whether they're or not they're true.

Have you run into either of these issues on Google+? If so, I'd love to hear your story.

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