Tag: Google

Tracking

I wrote a post about VPNs a few months back, referring to the recent repeal of Obama-era regulations that would have prevented ISPs from selling customer browsing history.

There's a common refrain I've seen from people who favor the repeal, both in the government and in Internet comments sections: "Google and Facebook track you and sell your data, and the government doesn't stop them from doing it, so it's not fair to stop your ISP from doing it!"

Now, this argument is fundamentally dishonest, for the following reasons, off the top of my head:

  • Your ISP sits between you and every single site you visit. Google and Facebook have extensive tracking operations, but not that extensive.

  • You can use the Internet without using Facebook or Google. It may not be easy, but it's possible. You can't use the Internet without your ISP.

  • Google and Facebook's business model is that they provide a service and, in exchange, you allow them to gather your personal data and resell it to third parties. Your ISP's business model is that it provides service and, in exchange, you pay them eighty fucking dollars a month. Did I say eighty? They just kicked it up to one-thirty, if you want unlimited data.

    When you give your personal data to Facebook or Google to sell to third parties, you get their service in return. When you give your personal data to your ISP to sell to third parties, you get fucking nothing in return, because you're already paying your ISP money in exchange for Internet service. Is your ISP going to lower your bill in exchange for taking your personal information to sell to third parties? LOLno.

  • Google and Facebook have competitors. Those competitors don't have the dominant market position that Google and Facebook do; hell, maybe they're just plain not as good. But they exist. They're options.

    There is no significant broadband competition in the US. If I don't like my ISP, I can't just switch to another one, because there is no other one available at my address. My choices consist of Cox, no Internet, and moving.

    There's no incentive for your ISP to behave ethically. There's no incentive for your ISP to charge you fairly. There's no incentive for your ISP to provide quality service. My ISP is a monopoly. Yours probably is too. Or, at best, it might have one competitor that does all the same shit.

  • Google and Facebook have pages where you can opt out of tracking.

But. Despite the intellectual dishonesty of the "but Google and Facebook track you!" argument, there is a kernel of truth in there: yes, Google and Facebook track you, yes it's difficult to avoid that tracking, and no, there are no regulations in place to protect your data. This is a problem.

So, shortly after writing that post, I removed the Google Analytics code from this site. And now I've also updated the site so that the fonts it uses are hosted here at corporate-sellout.com, not called from Google Fonts (hat tip to the Disable Google Fonts WordPress plugin). I'm still using a Google Captcha on the Contact page for now, but I'm looking at alternatives. Plus, there are YouTube videos embedded on this site...and, well, there's nothing I can really do about preventing Google from tracking you when you load YouTube videos. Sorry about that.

I'm also planning on adding SSL to the site, eventually, but I haven't gotten around to it yet.

This blog's not a business. Occasionally somebody buys something through an Amazon Associates link, or buys my book (thanks!), but I've got a day job; I'm not here to make money. I write stuff here because I like to write stuff. Sometimes people like it, and that's cool, and it's cool to know that people are reading. But that's as far as my interest in analytics goes.

I don't resell data; I don't do SEO or A/B headlines or clickbait or any other kind of crap to try and drive people here -- hell, I hate all that shit. But I like looking at site stats once in awhile to see where people are coming from, where somebody's mentioned me, and to laugh at search terms like "did stan lee bone at jack kirby's wife".

So I'm looking for a new stats package. Server-side; just for me, not Google.

Meanwhile, I am looking for ways to use Google as little as possible, not just on this site but in general. I think I can probably get a few more posts out of that subject.

Where Will the PC Go? -- Part 4: SaaS

So, per the last couple of posts, I find it entirely possible that, as vendors develop tablets that double as PC's, they may replace traditional desktop and laptop computers. For the common end user who just needs a web browser and (maybe) an office suite, I don't think that's going to be a tough sell.

But there are markets that rely heavily on more powerful computing hardware.

One is PC gamers. Others are the various types of media creators: people who create images, music, movies.

I've already mentioned dumb terminals and software as a service (SaaS) as a major current trend, with programs like Google Docs running in a browser and working as an effective substitute for traditional locally-run programs like Microsoft Word.

Of course, a word processor is one thing; an enterprise-quality photo editor is another, and a game requiring split-second timing is something else again.

But developers are working on it.

Photoshop

Last year Adobe released a limited beta of a streaming version of Photoshop for ChromeOS. Photoshop itself doesn't run in the browser; the app is a Remote Desktop shell that interacts with an instance of the Windows version of Photoshop running on a remote server.

So, by definition, this is no replacement for the Windows version of Photoshop -- because it is the Windows version of Photoshop. But it demonstrates a potentially compelling alternative to buying expensive, high-end hardware just to run Photoshop: what if you could buy cheap hardware, and pay a subscription fee to run Photoshop on someone else's expensive hardware?

Reactions to the ChromeOS version of Photoshop seemed generally positive; I would expect it to have some latency issues, but I also bet it runs faster on a remote server than it did on the Core 2 I had to use at GoDaddy. (Hey, when I said the Core 2 Duo was the last chip most users ever needed, I said I wasn't including Photoshop.)

Adobe has already moved Photoshop's licensing to a subscription model instead of a purchase model. (A lot of people are very angry about this, but I haven't heard anything to suggest it's led to a drop in "sales"; that's the thing about monopolies.) It's not hard to envision a transition to a subscription model where you run the program remotely instead of locally. Hell, they could even charge more money to give you access to faster servers.

A/V Club

Other media development suites could, potentially, move to streaming services, but there are caveats. Uploading raw, uncompressed digital audio and video files takes a lot more time than uncompressed images. And what about storing your source files? My grandmother puts together home movies on her iMac, and she's got terabytes of data going back some 15 years. That's the kind of storage requirement an amateur filmmaker can rack up; now think of how much somebody who does it for a living might wind up with. If you're renting storage space on an external server, on a month-to-month basis, that could get pretty costly.

But it's technically feasible, at least, that audio and video editing could be performed on a remote server.

Recording audio is another story. Anything more complex than a simple, single-track voice recording is still going to require specialized mixing hardware. And transferring your recording to a remote server in real-time, without lossy compression? You'd better be sitting on fiber.

So I think we can put "recording studios" -- even the home-office variety, like mine -- into the category of Stuff That's Not Going Anywhere for Awhile.

Games

Moving games to a streaming system is a challenge -- but I'm not sure it's as big a challenge as recording studios. It's more or less the same requirement as Photoshop: take simple inputs from a human interface device, send them to a server, have the server run them and respond accordingly, stream the video output back to the client. The trick is managing to do that in real-time with minimal loss of audio and video quality. That's the challenge -- but engineers are working on it.

The OnLive streaming service was a failure, but Sony bought it out; it sees value there. nVidia's got its own streaming solution too, in GRID. One of these things is not like the other -- Sony sells consoles at a loss and would stand to benefit from selling cheaper hardware, while nVidia makes a ton of money selling expensive graphics cards to enthusiasts and surely doesn't want to cannibalize its own market -- but obviously there's more than one type of gamer, and the people who shell out over $300 for a graphics card are in the minority.

Now, as minorities go, high-end PC gamers are still a pretty sizable minority; it's still a multibillion-dollar industry. But it's a fraction of the console gaming business, and it's expected to be surpassed by mobile gaming by the end of this year. Like the PC industry as a whole, it's still big and it's still growing, but it's growing a lot slower than other sectors and could be facing a long-term threat from new platforms.

Switching to a streaming platform could have a lot of appeal to game publishers; it combines the simplicity of developing for consoles with the superior hardware capabilities of the PC. Think about the possibility of developing for the latest and greatest hardware, but only for a single specific hardware build.

It would also, at long last, produce a form of DRM that could actually work.

While the industry has tried many, many copy protection schemes over the years, all of them are, sooner or later (and usually sooner), crackable. And there's a simple, logical reason for this: no matter what you do to encrypt the data of your program, you have to give the computer the means to decrypt it, or it won't work. No matter where or how you hide the key, if you give it to your users sooner or later they're going to find it.

But that's only true if the software is running on their computer. If the binary data is never copied to their hard drive, never stored in their memory, if the program is actually stored and run on a remote server somewhere and all the client has access to is a program that takes inputs and streams audio and video? Well, then there's no way they can copy the game, unless they actually break into your servers.

(Which, given Sony's history with Internet security, might not actually be so hard.)

I am not saying this is a good thing; in fact, I consider it something of a nightmare scenario.

Consider every problem you've ever had with an online or digitally-distributed game. Now think of what it would look like if every game had those issues.

Not just latency, lag, server outages, and losing your progress every time your Internet connection goes out. Consider that if a game is no longer profitable, they'll pull the plug. If a developer loses a license, the game(s) associated with it will go away. (Was GoldenEye ever released on Virtual Console? I don't think it was.) If a game gets updated and you liked the old version better, too bad. And remember when Nintendo ended its partnership with GameSpy and killed all the online multiplayer features of every Wii and DS game ever made? Imagine an entire generation's worth of games not working at all anymore, online or otherwise. Even though you paid for them.

Now, there's recent evidence that a strategy like this would fail. The Xbox One is still reeling from customer backlash against early plans to restrict used-game sales and require an always-on Internet connection even for single-player games, even though those plans were never even implemented.

On the other hand, there's evidence that even a wildly unpopular strategy could still succeed. Have you ever heard anyone who doesn't work for EA praise the Origin distribution service (or whatever the fuck they're calling it now)? I know I haven't, but people still use it. Because if you want to play Mass Effect 3 or Dragon Age: Inquisition, your only choices are consoles, Origin, and piracy.

And then there are examples that could go either way: Ubisoft continued to use DRM that required an always-on Internet connection for about two years, from 2010 to 2012, before finally giving in to market backlash.

It's hard to say how existing high-end PC gamers would react if the major publishers tried to force a transition toward streaming games -- or whether high-end PC gamers will continue to be a big enough market for the major publishers to care what they think. But for the foreseeable future, I think PC gaming will continue on much the same as it has for the past 15 years. There could be major changes on the horizon, but I sure don't see them happening in the next 10 years.

Then again, five years ago I was saying there was no way that streaming video would outpace Blu-Ray because there was just no way to stream 1080p video over a home Internet connection. So keep that in mind before trusting any predictions I make.

Where Will the PC Go? -- Part 2: Possible Solutions

In my previous post, I established that, despite strides made in screen keyboards and text-to-speech programs, a hardware keyboard is still the best way to write text documents.

In this one, I'll look at how phones and tablets work as replacements for PC's.

Problem 3: Phones Are Still Phones

Of course, you can connect a phone to a computer monitor, and to a keyboard. Or to a game controller.

Awhile back I hooked my phone up to my TV, and paired it to my DualShock 4, and fired up Sonic 4.

The game ran fine -- I didn't like it very much but it ran fine.

And then my mom called me.

The game stopped, and my TV screen filled up with a message that I was getting a phone call. So I walked across the room, picked up my phone, disconnected it from my TV, and answered it.

This is not optimal behavior for a computer.

Now, there are possible ways to fix this.

Headsets and speakerphone are two ways to answer the phone without having it in your hand, but neither one is optimal. Speakerphone is often hard to hear and can have that awful echo. And as for headsets, well, do I carry one in my pocket? Do I keep one in every room where I might dock my phone and use it as a computer?

A better solution would be to "connect" your phone to a monitor and speakers wirelessly, maybe using a device like a Chromecast. That way you could keep it next to you, or in your pocket, while still editing documents, or playing Sonic 4, or whatever. And if it rang, you could answer it, and not lose whatever was on your screen -- say I get a call where I want to take notes with my keyboard (as frequently happens); there could be a way to do that.

But the easier solution is probably to have the device that's connected to your keyboard and monitor(s) not be your phone. Especially if people continue to buy other devices, such as laptops or tablets.

Problem 4: Phone Interfaces Don't Make Good Desktop Interfaces

Windows 8. Do I even need to elaborate?

Microsoft tried to design an interface that would work on phones and on desktops. It was a huge failure.

This was entirely foreseeable. A 4" touchscreen is completely different from a pair of 1080p monitors with a keyboard and mouse attached to them. An interface designed for the former is a lousy fit for the latter, and vice-versa.

So, with Windows 10, Microsoft tried something else, and something altogether more sensible: the OS was designed with a phone/tablet interface and a desktop computer interface, with the ability to switch between the two. If you connect your phone to a dock that's hooked up to a monitor, a keyboard, and a mouse, then the interface changes to desktop mode.

Which is a good idea (and one that Canonical has been moving toward for years), but Windows Phone hasn't exactly set the world on fire (and Ubuntu Phone isn't a thing that anybody seems to want). Windows tablets, on the other hand, including Lenovo's Yoga series and MS's own Surface line, have fared much better.

Google's moving toward this sort of convergence too; it hasn't gotten as far as MS or Canonical yet, but there have been hints of future compatibility between Android and ChromeOS.

Ah yes, ChromeOS -- and the return to dumb terminals running server-side programs.

I think that's going to be key to bringing a few of the major special-case users on board with the transition to lower-powered systems: gamers and media designers.

We'll get to them soon. But in the next post, I'll be looking at the market that's really going to continue driving PC sales: business.

Monoculture

Well, I was all set to write a post filled with righteous indignation at Apple's nannying and censoring ways when I read that Saga #12 was banned from being sold through the iOS version of the Comixology app.

But then when I sat down to write it I found that Comixology is now claiming Apple never actually refused it, Comixology chose not to submit it on the assumption that Apple would reject it.

That makes for a bit of a different post.

But a lot of the major points remain.

First of all, the disproportionate market share enjoyed by both Apple and Comixology in the comics market is cause for concern. Monoculture is a bad thing, and when there's only one distribution point for a product -- or two, or three --, that puts the producer and the consumer at the middleman's advantage. And it can amount to censorship. Or price-fixing, or any number of other ills.

Additionally, even if this is Comixology's fuckup, it's the result of Apple's notoriously vague content restrictions. Even if Comixology played it too cautious on this one, there's still the story of what allegedly happened to French publisher Izneo just two weeks ago:

Two weeks ago -- on the eve of the long Easter week-end, the site IDBOOX notes -- the Izneo folks got an order from Apple to remove the "pornographic" content from their app. With no clue as to what Apple would judge to be pornographic, the Izneo folks immediately took down 2,800 of the 4,000 comics in their app, cautiously removing anything that could hint of adult content, including Blake and Mortimer and XIII, both of which are published in print in the U.S. without any fuss. Then they reviewed those comics and put about half of them back, but that still leaves 1,500 titles that aren’t in the app any more. Izneo took quite a financial hit on this; turns out comics featuring "Les jolies filles un peu sexy" are their top sellers. (This story, it should be said, came from an anonymous source.)

And even though that story seems to be apocryphal, stories of Apple's arbitrary app rejection and inconsistent treatment of adult content are legion. The first time I ever browsed the iTunes store, the title of Bitches Brew was censored. In the years since, many developers and publishers have expressed frustration that Apple rejected their submissions and didn't tell them why. And then of course there's Jobs's famous Orwellian "freedom from porn" stance.

Ultimately, I'm an Android user because I don't want a single company to be in charge of content distribution. It's not that I trust Google -- I really don't. I have plenty of complaints about Google; they're invasive, monopolistic, and generally evil and scary. But the bottom line, for me, is that they make it much easier to run whatever software you want on their devices -- and as far as I'm concerned, the choice between Android and iOS doesn't take any choosing at all.

Linux is Ready for Your Dad

Well, maybe not your dad. But mine, at least.

My dad's in town -- I'm getting married, you see -- and asked me if I could get him a computer to use while he's here.

All I had lying around was an ancient Dell Dimension 8230. I suck Win7/32 on it.

And then found out that the audio didn't work. For Dad that was a deal-breaker.

I opened up the box (and was surprised not to get a cloud of dust to the face -- I don't remember blowing it out, but I must have, and fairly recently) and determined that the sound card is a Creative SB Live, model number CT4780. And that there's no Windows Vista/7 support for it.

I found a third party driver at kxproject.com, but it hadn't been updated since 2009 -- and didn't work either.

So at this point I asked my dad if he wanted me to install Windows XP on his computer, and probably wait the better part of 2 days for all the patches to download and install, or if he'd rather I put Linux on it. He said to give Linux a shot. (He'd used it for a little while at home when his Win7 installation was giving him trouble and a friend installed it for him.)

I settled on Xubuntu for a machine of that vintage. The install was quick, it had a checkbox for non-free software (including Flash and MP3 support), and it seems to support all the hardware out of the box -- including the sound card. And it runs faster than Win7 did.

Now, my dad's not a gamer. He doesn't even use Office. All he needs is a browser and Flash.

Which is of course true of an increasing number of users -- hell, Google's selling a $1300 laptop that just runs a browser. So it's not like this is a major bombshell or anything -- but it's still an interesting shift, no?

Ze Germans

Not sure if I'll stick with OpenSUSE for the long haul or not.

I quite like YAST but it doesn't have the level of package support that any given apt-based distro does.

And it's slow. I heard OpenSUSE was faster than other KDE-based desktops, but that hasn't been my experience, even switching from HDD to SSD. Firefox routinely pegs the CPU. So does Xorg (which I think is down to my keeping LibreOffice open most of the time). RSSOwl -- which does not have an OpenSUSE package and was a straight-up bitch to set up -- is frequently slow and unresponsive (good ol' Java).

So why RSSOwl, anyway? Well, I like to keep my RSS feeds synced across my desktop, my laptop, my phone -- wherever. At the moment I'm using Google Reader for that.

I used to use Akregator, but it doesn't sync with Google Reader.

I tried Liferea, but...well, it's coded by a guy like me. A power-user who wanted specific network functionality and isn't very good at UI design. It's missing such basic functionality as being able to rename a feed (a necessity when it chokes on as simple a thing as an apostrophe -- my feed list contains "Kurt Busiek's Formspring answers" followed by "Neil Gaiman's Journal"), and its syncing with Google Reader is spotty as well.

Also its name resembles "diarrhea".

So I tried RSSOwl.

Under Ubuntu, it was simple enough to set up RSSOwl -- had to add an external repo, but that was it.

There's no repo for OpenSUSE. There's a binary download, but here's the rub: it doesn't work out of the box. It requires xulrunner 1.x -- 2.x does not work. And OpenSUSE 12.2 doesn't have a package for xulrunner 1.x.

It took me ages to find, but I found a good RPM package of xulrunner 1.9. It's for Scientific Linux, but it installed fine under OpenSUSE, and worked once I symlinked libhunspell-1.3.so.0 to libhunspell-1.2.so.0 . It throws the occasional warning when I run updates, but I've been able to navigate those just fine.

And that's another thing about OpenSUSE: YAST's options, when it runs across a version conflict on a dependency, are pretty opaque and incomprehensible (and it frequently lists the same option multiple times), but at least it gives you options. Ubuntu's package management, in my experience, just throws an error and quits when it runs across that kind of conflict. So score one for OpenSUSE there. Sort of.

Still and all, for all I like about its configuration center/package management system, I'm having a hard time seeing OpenSUSE as Worth It. Maybe when I've got some time to do yet another damn reinstall, I'll give Mint a shot, or something.


Playing: Got in some good Arkham City and Mass Effect 2 time today -- after my job interview. Working my way down that list...

Nymwars

Yesterday Google started encouraging YouTube commenters to use their Google+ accounts. Google claims that this will make YouTube commenters use their real names and, therefore, not act like such assholes all the time.

I think it's more to do with Google desperately trying to get people to use Google+ after everybody tried it for a month and then went back to Facebook. But the notion of "realname enforcement" as a deterrent to trolls is a pipe dream and it's been pretty roundly torn apart already. So, I present to you this post, a reworked version of something I wrote last October.

John Gabriel's Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory posits that ordinary people, given anonymity and an audience, turn into total fuckwads. I agree with this assessment wholeheartedly.

Which is why the suggestion that removing people's anonymity so they've got to stand by their words is so appealing: at least some people would be a little less obnoxious on the Internet if they had their real name attached to everything they said, right?

Which would probably be true if it could actually be implemented, but it can't. This argument essentially mirrors the DRM argument: intelligent, tech-savvy people understand that it doesn't fucking work, but idiots continue to support it because it sounds like something that should work. So we wind up with something that does fuck-all to stop people who are misbehaving, while managing to create an obnoxious inconvenience for people who have done nothing wrong.

To wit: All "realname enforcement" means is that a troll has to use a plausible-sounding name like "John Smith". Meanwhile, people who have actual unusual names get hassled and held up, as noted in the Washington Post article Offbeat Name? Then Facebook's No Friend. (Some people really are named "Batman" or "Yoda"!)

All that aside, there are legitimate reasons to use a pseudonym on the Internet. Fortune gets it; danah boyd (no relation) really gets it.

Another site has popped up called "My Name Is Me" where people vocalize their support for pseudonyms. What's most striking is the list of people who are affected by "real names" policies, including abuse survivors, activists, LGBT people, women, and young people.

Over and over again, people keep pointing to Facebook as an example where "real names" policies work. This makes me laugh hysterically. One of the things that became patently clear to me in my fieldwork is that countless teens who signed up to Facebook late into the game chose to use pseudonyms or nicknames. What's even more noticeable in my data is that an extremely high percentage of people of color used pseudonyms as compared to the white teens that I interviewed. Of course, this would make sense...

The people who most heavily rely on pseudonyms in online spaces are those who are most marginalized by systems of power. "Real names" policies aren't empowering; they're an authoritarian assertion of power over vulnerable people.

I use my real name online -- but I'm a straight, middle-class white boy between the ages of 18 and 35. Worst thing that's going to happen to me is somebody asks me about my political opinions in a job interview, or posts satellite pictures of addresses you can find if you run a whois on my website.

Charlie Stross has a wonderful analysis of everything that's wrong with realname enforcement under the title Why I'm not on Google Plus; notably, it quotes Patrick McKenzie's Falsehoods Programmers Believe About Names. I'm going to follow Charlie's lead and quote Patrick's list of falsehoods in its entirety:

  1. People have exactly one canonical full name.
  2. People have exactly one full name which they go by.
  3. People have, at this point in time, exactly one canonical full name.
  4. People have, at this point in time, one full name which they go by.
  5. People have exactly N names, for any value of N.
  6. People’s names fit within a certain defined amount of space.
  7. People’s names do not change.
  8. People’s names change, but only at a certain enumerated set of events.
  9. People’s names are written in ASCII.
  10. People’s names are written in any single character set.
  11. People’s names are all mapped in Unicode code points.
  12. People’s names are case sensitive.
  13. People’s names are case insensitive.
  14. People’s names sometimes have prefixes or suffixes, but you can safely ignore those.
  15. People’s names do not contain numbers.
  16. People’s names are not written in ALL CAPS.
  17. People’s names are not written in all lower case letters.
  18. People’s names have an order to them. Picking any ordering scheme will automatically result in consistent ordering among all systems, as long as both use the same ordering scheme for the same name.
  19. People’s first names and last names are, by necessity, different.
  20. People have last names, family names, or anything else which is shared by folks recognized as their relatives.
  21. People’s names are globally unique.
  22. People’s names are almost globally unique.
  23. Alright alright but surely people’s names are diverse enough such that no million people share the same name.
  24. My system will never have to deal with names from China.
  25. Or Japan.
  26. Or Korea.
  27. Or Ireland, the United Kingdom, the United States, Spain, Mexico, Brazil, Peru, Russia, Sweden, Botswana, South Africa, Trinidad, Haiti, France, or the Klingon Empire, all of which have "weird" naming schemes in common use.
  28. That Klingon Empire thing was a joke, right?
  29. Confound your cultural relativism! People in my society, at least, agree on one commonly accepted standard for names.
  30. There exists an algorithm which transforms names and can be reversed losslessly. (Yes, yes, you can do it if your algorithm returns the input. You get a gold star.)
  31. I can safely assume that this dictionary of bad words contains no people’s names in it.
  32. People’s names are assigned at birth.
  33. OK, maybe not at birth, but at least pretty close to birth.
  34. Alright, alright, within a year or so of birth.
  35. Five years?
  36. You’re kidding me, right?
  37. Two different systems containing data about the same person will use the same name for that person.
  38. Two different data entry operators, given a person’s name, will by necessity enter bitwise equivalent strings on any single system, if the system is well-designed.
  39. People whose names break my system are weird outliers. They should have had solid, acceptable names, like 田中太郎.
  40. People have names.

Now, it's true that Internet Fuckwads use pseudonyms to behave in a way that they probably wouldn't if they were forced to use their real names.

However, any potential benefit of such realname enforcement is negated by the fact that -- and those of you familiar with my opinions on swear filters and DRM may notice a trend here -- realname enforcement doesn't fucking work.

Stross also links a Gary Walker piece, A Firsthand Examination of the Google+ Profile Reporting Process, which pretty much takes a wrecking ball to any notion that Google+'s realname enforcement is, well, even slightly competent.

To wit:

He set up a second Gary Walker account, and used the same avatar -- which isn't personally identifying, just a Lolcat.

Then he reported the second account as an impersonator. To file such a report, he had to prove his original account was the "real" Gary Walker. To do this, he Photoshopped a crooked scan of his picture onto the McLovin ID from Superbad, and replaced "McLovin" with his own name, in a different font from the rest of the ID.

Google accepted this as a valid ID, and temporarily blocked the second Gary Walker account.

To prove his identity, Gary responded from the second account, taking the same fake ID and Shopping a picture of Jared fucking Loughner on it.

The account was reinstated.

In short, in a revelation that should surprise absolutely fucking nobody, realname enforcement doesn't stop anybody from using pseudonyms -- it just forces them to use pseudonyms that sound, plausibly, like real names.

Meanwhile, both honest people who want to use pseudonyms and people with unusual real names are penalized.

So yeah, I think the comparison to DRM and swear filters is apt: legitimate users get fucked, abusive ones don't even have to break stride.


That was where my original post ended. The rest of the thread is well worth reading; a number of the guys on the board note that as far as they're concerned, their handles are their real names at this point. Forumgoer Kayin, creator of cult gaming hit I Wanna Be the Guy, is best known on the Internet as Kayin; nobody knows who the fuck Michael O'Reilly is. (And, as I note, even O'Reilly tends to fuck with "realname" parsers, due to the apostrophe.) I've met some of these guys and still didn't address them by their real names; Kazz will always be Kazz. Sei won't even tell us his real name.

(Hell, I've been mostly-using my real name online since 1990, but there are still some people out there who think "X" is actually my middle initial. I used to know a guy who always addressed me, in person, as Thad "X" Boyd. As in "Hi, Thad 'X' Boyd. How are things, Thad 'X' Boyd?")

Google+ did add support for pseudonyms a few months after the criticism started, so that, say, Madonna can sign up as Madonna, but it still requires that the pseudonyms be "established" -- as vaguely defined by some guy in an office somewhere. Kazz and Sei, presumably, don't qualify. I guess Kayin might, but I doubt it, and to my knowledge he hasn't tested it -- last I heard he'd deleted his Google+ account.

Anyway. If all that's not enough to convince you that realname enforcement doesn't work, consider this: do you generally think of Facebook as a place where people are polite and don't say offensive or insulting things?

And consider this: I post under my real name, and have been for over twenty years -- and it hasn't stopped me from posting things with titles like Nintendo President Still a Fucking Idiot, Experts Say.