When Google+ launched, Google insisted that its members use real names and aggressively closed accounts that it considered were not based on real names.
This reignited a debate that has periodically flared around the internet.
Answering it wisely will be essential if the individual citizen is going to take full advantage of the wonderful opportunities of Cloud Computing.
Outside of formal interactions, such as interaction with governments or banks online, the debate got going years ago when Facebook turned the internet norm of anonymity and nicknames upside down and stated that its members were expected to use real names. However, Facebook has not been too aggressive in enforcing that policy. We all know of examples where real names have not been used on Facebook, the account has not been revoked, all remains calm and generally the world has not come to an end.
Google has already watered down the policy somewhat as blogged by Bradley Horowitzthe VP Product, Google+. Even so, its current stance is still controversial.
So much has been written about this in the last couple of weeks, there is no need to add to the debate. Rather, I will list some articles that have shed particular light already.
“Who is harmed by a “Real Names” policy”, Geek Feminism Wiki, as at 13 August 2011 which lists a staggering number of examples of where such harm is possible, including a long list of marginalised and endangered groups, other people with direct identity concerns, subject-related considerations, employment-related concerns, people whose “real names” are more complicated than you think, people with long-standing pseudonyms, and people whose “real names” are extremely common or extremely rare. (My thanks to Roger Clarke for drawing attention to this wiki).
“Arrogant bullies versus Superheroine” in which Kim Cameron, who completed The Laws of Identity in 2005 and continues to produce his marvellous IdentityBlog, points out the ridiculous situation of where the well known Identity Woman could not participate in Google+, even though that is the only name by which she is known by thousands of people worldwide!
“Here’s Looking at You, and You, and You ...”, IEEE Spectrum, 25 July 2011 which illustrates perfectly the approach being taken far too often: if anybody in authority or control draws the wrong conclusion and strikes you out, it is your problem to fix it and you will get very little help while you try.
“S. Korea plans to scrap online real-name system”, TMCnews, 11 Aug 2011 which completes the full cycle. Having discovered the hard way that holding personal information requires as much structured, focused attention as managing highly toxic chemicals in your business, the authorities in South Korea are reversing a 2007 policy that requires real names to be used when submitting commentary to large websites.
We need to take careful note of these developments as we watch a number of the governments in the English speaking world try to grapple with the issues, including the US with the National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace (NSTIC) and the identity assurance model announced in a statement by the UK Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General (Mr Francis Maude) to the British Parliament on 18 May.
All of these initiatives are aimed at making cloud computing, mobile computing and generally leading our lives simpler and safer.
Making and relying on identity claims is a much more subtle and nuanced game than many imagine.
Evidence of the effort that will go into getting this right is already emerging. Gartner is quoted in ReadWriteCloud as predicting that "At least half of all organizations that host data on behalf of clients will change, or be forced to change, their privacy policies by the end of next year".
Australia has a unique opportunity to build on what we are learning worldwide in the context of developing the Cyber White Paper that was announced on 3 June 2011 by the Secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.
Malcolm Crompton is Managing Director of Information Integrity Solutions (IIS), a globally connected company that works with public sector and private sector organisations to help them build customer trust through respect for the customer and their personal information. Malcolm is a former Australian Privacy Commissioner. He was also foundation President of the International Association of Privacy Professionals, Australia New Zealand, www.iappANZ.org.