I had the unusual experience this past August of having been told by Google that I wasn’t a real person. Although I have held a Google account for quite some time – using it mostly to collaborate with clients via GoogleDocs, or to upload YouTube videos – I never ran into any issues with the service until last month, when I made the mistake of joining Google+.
I know what you are thinking – yes, there are non-Google employees with Google+ accounts. I was surprised too. The reason I joined was at the behest of a publication I have worked with for years, as they were interested in gauging its effect on their website from an SEO perspective. I dutifully created an account and went on with my work, not expecting to hear much from it until I actually invested some time in further developing my profile.
How wrong I was. A mere two days later, I received an email from Google telling me that there was a ‘problem’ with my Google+ profile. Intrigued, I read on to discover that Google was essentially accusing me of not actually being a person. Here’s the exact quote, from the message I was sent:
“Our system has determined that the name you provided on your Google+ profile Benjamin Hunting may not actually be a name.”
The email went on to posit that perhaps “the name I provided” was actually a business that I represented. Google did graciously include the following phrase, on the off chance that I was a real human being:
“Or it may be that this is actually your name and our system made a mistake.”
It may be, indeed. The Google email offered me several different ways to convince their system of my humanity – essentially, I had to provide them with pieces of photo identification, or proof of my online existence elsewhere – and ended with the threat that should I not comply with their policy within four days, I would have my Google profile suspended. This would mean GoogleDocs, YouTube, Google+, the entire works.
This is the first time I had ever had my identity questioned on the Internet on the basis of my name alone. It was irritating to me that a company would make such an arbitrary judgment about my personhood – or at least, present it in such an arbitrary form. Even more annoying to me was the way the entire process was handled by Google. In order to prevent my account from being closed, I had to go through an ‘appeals’ process. That’s right – Google had already decided that I wasn’t real, and it was up to me to ‘appeal’ to their system to prove that they were wrong.
Obviously, within a couple days Google weighed the evidence I had provided them with and sent me a congratulatory message:
“You’re right: your name does comply with the Google+ Names Policy.”
Having had my existence validated by Google, I could continue to ply the Web without the nagging fear that I had unwittingly been replaced by a replicant. A poor show of ‘customer service’ from Google, and an excellent example of how the issue of establishing an online identity has yet to be properly handled by major Internet players.