Is that really Larry Page behind that Google+ profile? Or is it Mark Zuckerberg stealthily gathering some intelligence?
A new verification system being rolled out by Google+ is designed to help + users answer questions and avoid falling victim to such nefarious schemes (or at least feel confident when adding people to their various friend Circles, without fear of imposters).
As Google employee Wen-Ai Yu (that's who this entity claims to be, anyway) explains in a blog post, the + team is "focused on verifying public figures, celebrities and people who have been added to a large number of Circles, but we're working on expanding this to more folks."
Not Mark Zuckerberg.
The user-facing part of the system takes the form of "badges" — actually little checkmarks by a person's name on his or her profile page. When users mouse over the checkmark, a small banner scrolls out, bearing the words "verified name".
Yu doesn't explain how the + team actually verifies the user's identity.
The use of real names on social networks — as espoused by Facebook's Zuckerberg and others — has sparked a debate involving, on the one hand, ideas about civility and accountability, and, on the other, the very real need for anonymity on the part of political activists, whistle blowers and others.
Recently, Facebook marketing director and Zuckerberg sibling Randi Zuckerberg talked up the real-name approach during a panel discussion on social media, saying that, among other things, it could alleviate cyber bullying. The Electronic Frontier Foundation offered up a riposte on its Deeplinks blog.
Google+, which requires the use of real-world names, has opened a new chapter in the controversy.
Here's Wen-Ai Yu's video announcing the "badges" program: