October 21, 2011

Mr. Spock Explains the Google+ Anonymity Controversy and the "Nymwars"

Mr. Spock, may I speak to you for a moment?

Of course, Captain.

Spock, what do you know about someone named "Google" in the 21st century?

Google. Yes. An interesting story. As it happens, I am considered to be the Federation's foremost authority on the subject.

Why doesn't that surprise me, Spock? Well, at least it explains this odd directive I've received from Starfleet Command. They want you to contact researchers on Rigel IV working on a retrospective history of something called, uh, the "Nymwars" -- am I pronouncing that correctly?

Yes, Captain. That is correct. A fascinating period of Earth history.

I must be missing something here, Spock. Wasn't Google a scientist involved in early Earth computer technology?

Not exactly, Captain. Google was a large firm begun in the very late 20th century, that became the primary basis of global and galactic grid knowledge expansion from that time onward well into the early 22nd century.

This is like that InterOprahNet -- whatever it was called -- way back then? Vint Zuckergore developed that, right Spock?

Not exactly, Captain, but you have the, uh, basic idea. The important point is that technologies from that era, especially from Google, still play an integral role throughout the Quadrant, except in the Klingon and Romulan Empires, of course.

Is that why my command console occasionally says "I'm Feeling Lucky" on the display?

That is correct, Captain.

If the Klingons and Romulans didn't use Google-based technology, what did they use, Spock?

I do not have comprehensive data concerning that, Captain. But I believe that they obtained inferior technology from one of Google's competitors at the time, a system that I believe was known as "Klang."


I am not completely certain about that, Captain.

Well, what does this all have to do with the Federation's sudden interest in ancient "Nymwars" or whatever they're called?

Nymwars refers to controversies over personal identity, anonymity, and pseudo-anonymity among users of the early computer social networking communications systems, in particular a service called "Google+" that was launched by Google in 2011, old-style dating. Some persons became concerned that if they were forced to identify themselves with their actual, real names, it would tend to restrain communications in some cases, and possibly subject some participants to punitive actions from their employers, insurance underwriting organizations, and so on.

That sounds crazy, Spock. Why were they so concerned about being identified? After all, every infant born in Federation territory has its DNA recorded, irises and retinas scanned, and at least two dozen other biometric parameters stored for their entire lives. We've done away with antique notions like poverty, privacy, and elections. That's what makes the Federation great.

I understand all that, Captain. But remember your human emotions. Back then everyone was not routinely medicated with psychotropic drugs as they are today.

Routinely medicated? What are you talking about, Spock?

Never mind that, Captain. May I continue about the Nymwars?


At the time, the groups pushing for some form of anonymity on Google+ broke down roughly into two categories. One contingent claimed that users were creating identities that looked real but actually were not, and demanded total anonymity, claiming that Google had been arbitrarily deleting identities they did not believe to be real, and had been rather publicly uncommunicative about related policies in this regard.

You mean as tight-lipped as an Aldebaran shellmouth?

I am glad you said it Captain, not I. But the characterization really would not have been particularly fair even then. Google+ was an extremely new and rapidly evolving service. And these were viewed as -- and were -- very complex issues, which were further complicated by domestic governments' nascent efforts to enforce government-verifiable identity requirements on various aspects of computer and communications network usage. There was even disagreement about such basic concepts as whether or not the use of "real" identities suppressed open discussion, led to an increase in polite discussion, or some combination of both.

You said there were two contingents, Spock. What about the other one?

The other group felt that having their actual names on file privately for Google+, so long as they were able to use pseudonyms in their public communications, would provide a useful compromise position that would help limit abusive behavior, but would also allow persons to keep their various Google+ public communications "compartmented" from the rest of their lives if they wished to do so, allowing them to communicate openly on possibly sensitive or unpopular subjects that they otherwise might feel uncomfortable discussing.

Who was right?

Neither side was completely without merit. Personally, I view the latter group -- who supported the compromise position of public pseudonyms in concert with real names held privately -- to have had the more logical viewpoint, Captain.

Who won, Spock? What did Google end up doing about names in Google+?

That is definitely the most fascinating part of the story, Captain. In late 2011, even after Google had announced specifically that they would be supporting some form of pseudonyms for Google+, the "complete anonymity" contingent remained emotionally adamant. The other group continued to push for compromise. Finally, by very early 2012, Google decided to ...

One moment, Spock. Yes, Mr. Chekov. Yes. I'll be right up to the bridge. Mr. Spock, we'll have to continue this later. Please be sure to contact Starfleet about that research.

Of course, Captain. And Captain ... are you feeling lucky?

I'm always feeling lucky, Mr. Spock.

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Posted by Lauren at October 21, 2011 06:35 PM | Permalink
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