Explainer: Why Google’s Anti-Pseudonym

What is it: The industry catfight over the use of pseudonyms came to light in the privacy community, but crossed over into the advertising industry. Advertisers and publishers have wondered aloud about the potential positives and dangers of a real-name-based advertising ecosystem, wedded with search. Google chairman Eric Schmidt created a stir when he stated to National Public Radio reporter Andy Carvin that he viewed Google+ as essentially an identity service with links around your friends.The controversy was further fueled when Google confirmed to a Wired.com reporter that it was planning to study the use of Google’s +1 clicks, which are pulled from Google+ profiles, as a signal that  would influence “the ranking and appearance of websites in search results.”

How it Works: Google’s potential implementation of +1 results as a part of general search isn’t all that new. Google announced earlier in August that +1 results would be a part of social search — so if a user searched on Google while logged in to Google, public posts from friends in their circles relating to relevant keywords would appear alongside search results. Integrating Google+ results into searches that aren’t social would mean that the popularity of keywords among Google+ users would be factored into search results.
Who is Using it: Google+, which currently boasts more than 25 million users, requires the use of real names, except for well-known celebrities and public figures. Some tech figures have had their accounts deleted as their names didn’t match the company’s strict policy. Facebook and Twitter permit the use of pseudonyms.
Why it Matters: On the consumer privacy side, verbal sparring over pseudonyms versus real names has to do with the ability of Google+ users to keep their posts, “likes” and identities hidden behind a pseudonym, and not displayed in search results or used in targeted advertising. Some have said that Google’s possible factoring in of +1 shares into search results will mean that publishers will be forced to provide a +1 button or suffer in search results. Google’s ability, via its ecosystem, to serve advertising and aggregate data on millions of verified consumers is dependent on its use of real names, some have argued. Advertisers crave deep insights from real people, but there is also a large potential for backlash in a system that might use its social search influence to impact organic search and that has already generated privacy controversy.
Assessment: Google+ could become a viable, global identity service. That means Google’s wealth of data insights might rival some of the largest third-party data vendors if Google can get social right this time. The potential for failure is as large as its potential to change the way ads are delivered and targeted.

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