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March 5, 2013

‘Father of the Internet’ Says Google Will Encourage, Not Enforce Use of Real Names

'Our Conclusion was that Choice is Important'

The ‘father of the Internet’ says Google should never force its users to disclose their real names for some of it services such as Google+.

Vint Cerf, a vice-president and chief Internet evangelist for Google, told Reuters the firm’s campaign in the past year-and-a-half to implement real-name authentication for Google+ and other services has been a source of serious discussion at Google’s head office in California.

“There was a debate on this subject and it was resolved,” Cerf told Reuters. Compelling users to enter their real names “denies (users) choice. Our conclusion was that choice is important.”

The search engine giant launched a Google+ log-in service for third-party sites last week. And, while the company has been doing its best to persuade users to unite their accounts on YouTube, Gmail and other Google services into one on Google+ under their real names, it will not force the issue.

Cerf said the technology titan’s present name policy — users can employ pseudonyms — gives users a choice in how they will represent themselves.

“Using real names is useful,” Cerf told Reuters. “But I don’t think it should be forced on people, and I don’t think we do.”

“Anonymity and pseudonymity are perfectly reasonable under some situations,” Cerf added, referencing users living in countries controlled by tyrannical governments. “But there are cases where in the transactions both parties really need to know who are we talking to. So what I’m looking for is not that we shut down anonymity, but rather that we offer an option when needed that can strongly authenticate who the parties are.”

Cerf late last year described the Internet as “under threat” from governments which seek to deny its users the freedom to speak their minds and access information at will. It is such regimes, he said, that make it necessary for some Google users to remain anonymous.

In a guest editorial to CNN, Cerf said out of 72 countries studied by the Open Net Initiative, 42 filter and censor content. The study did not include “serial offenders” such as North Korea and Cuba.

The editorial, written just prior to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) Internet treaty talks in Dubai last December. Russia, backed by a number of other countries such as China and Saudia Arabia, was pushing for an updated treaty that would grant governments added authority to hamper the flow of information on the Internet. The proposed modifications would have handed the ITU the muscle to control the flow of information, which would then give the organization the power to censor speech or obstruct the release of public information.

“Some of these governments are trying to use a closed-door meeting of The International Telecommunication Union that opens on Dec. 3 in Dubai to further their repressive agendas,” Cerf said in the editorial. “Accustomed to media control, these governments fear losing it to the open Internet. They worry about the spread of unwanted ideas. They are angry that people might use the Internet to criticize their governments.”

The threat was averted when the U.S., Canada, the U.K., Australia and their allies refused to sign any such document and walked out of the talks.

Not everyone sides with Cerf’s opinion, however, that the only reason for anonymity online is to ensure personal safety.

Jillian York of Internet rights group Electronic Frontier Foundation told Reuters Google is seeing only part of the picture with its current stance.

“Google’s approach to this takes the view that the only thing that people want to stay safe from is government, and that’s not entirely true,” York said. “People are also concerned about staying protected from Google itself.”