Google+ Not Sure How To Handle Traditional Aboriginal Names

Google+ Not Sure How To Handle Traditional Aboriginal Names

One of the more striking local examples of how Google’s real-name only policy with compulsory first names and surnames can seem overly restrictive is when applied to traditional Australian Aboriginal culture, where an individual’s personal name is a single word. Google’s response? It might get fixed eventually but it doesn’t want to talk about it until then.

Google’s officially stated policy on names for use in Google+ is fairly inflexible:

Use your full first and last name in a single language.

As we mentioned yesterday, one example where this doesn’t work is with traditional Aboriginal skin naming systems. I was curious about whether those issues would factor into Google’s long-term planning for the service, so I asked Google Australia. This was the response I got from their spokesperson:

I don’t have a specific comment for your enquiry about traditional indigenous names – but I would say that we’re in field trial mode, and taking on feedback and making changes during this time – for instance, on making one’s gender public or private.

I realise that many Aboriginal Australians who identify through the skin name system might not want to access Google+ (and, as one commenter pointed out yesterday, some who do are happy to have an “alternate/” Western name form as well). However, it still seems somewhat limited to demand that identification be made in a Euro-centric way. Here’s hoping that gets changed as Google+ evolves.


  • Angus, I can hear the Politically Correct wagon making it’s way down the road.
    Perhaps jump on !

    Hmm, let’s see…
    It’s GOOGLEs service, they can do what they like, if you don’t agree with it, don’t use it.

    If you do have one name and wish to use GOOGLEs service, make up a 2nd name so you can use THEIR service.

    How’s that ?

    • Now to be fair the service is in beta right now. Which means not only is this the perfect time to discuss these things, it’s actively encouraged by Google themselves.

      Secondly making up a 2nd name is against the existing TOS which could, and has for some people, result in your entire google account being suspended.

      As for it being Googles service, are we not allowed to discuss things that belong to corporations? Given how many fingers they have in pies I think being aware of how their corporate policy on privacy is evolving is pretty important. My university has just switched to google apps for student email, so I for one am interested even if I don’t use google+.

      • @Craig,
        I never said you are not allowed to discuss the service, I’m just stating that if you don’t agree with it, don’t use it.
        In regards to your Uni switching to google apps, perhaps that’s a question for your University, you most likely signed a waiver when you started there (fine print) re their IT services.

        @Shane O,
        “Who are google to deny them that?”
        It’s their service AND IT’S FREE, they can do what they wish, why is it so difficult for people to accept this ?
        Stop using google and facebook if you disagree, it’s part of the T&C’s.
        We survived perfectly well before them.

        I think people are missing the point here, it’s a free service they are providing, why are they obligated to do what you want ?

        They could turn around and say, “Ok, from now on, only people who use the Chrome browser are allowed to use this service”, what then, oh wait, they’ll probably be sued by Microsoft and Apple. LOL.

        I for one am quite grateful for free services like google apps, twitter and facebook, let’s not forget LIFEHACKER of course 🙂

        • Never said I was a student 🙂 But no, it’s not a solely a question for my uni. It’s also a question of whether or not the students want to associate their uni google profiles with their personal google profiles. Something Google is keen for students to do. That’s a personal decision they need to make, and they should be aware of where Googles policies are heading when they make that decision.

          The point is this, google+ is in beta. They want discussion on the policies. If you don’t like it, now is the time to talk about it. Rather then just adopting a “don’t like it, don’t use it” attitude.

          And given that Google is expanding into all kinds of places, there is nothing wrong with keeping an eye on their policies. Especially if you are already using some of their other products.

    • I think the problem here is Google not allowing certain people to use THEIR OWN NAME. You know, THE NAME THEY’VE BEEN GOING BY THEIR WHOLE LIFE. If they don’t have a last name, do you think they should make one up? Why the hell should they?

      • Because it’s part of the terms and conditions of using the service ?

        If Google are not changing it (at this point in time), and the said person has no surname, and the said person really wants to use google, make one up, ssshhh… our little secret, no need for anyone to know.

        Problem Solved.

    • I just want to say, this was THEIR COUNTRY. Sorry about that possibly pointless response. But I would like to say that I agree with you about it being a free service and it is up to them on whether or not to use it. Also how many people have one word as their name, it wouldn’t be worth google’s time to change the code. But than again it wouldn’t be very hard.

    • Yep, it’s Google’s service, so they should absolutely be able to discriminate on the basis of ethnicity in the provision of goods or services.

      Oh wait, that’s illegal. Gosh, who’d have thought.

    • Yep, I certainly have no intention of using Google+ now, and is why there should be publicity on this issue, so that others know to keep away.

      Oh, and you can’t make up a name. That’s one of the big problems in the fiasco they’ve created – people have had their accounts suspended (losing access to all Google services) for using a pseudonym instead of their real name.

      No one’s being PC here – except perhaps you, if you’re offended by people criticising Google’s service. If you don’t agree with the article, then why comment here, right?

    • Jules, obviously you haven’t been paying attention. Google demands that you use your _legal_ name. Making up a surname that you don’t have is against their rules. If you have only one legal name, their policy effectively excludes you from using their service, which is almost certainly against the law.

  • @Jules,
    Dales Carnegie, the author of “How to Win Friends and influence People” said “The sweetest sound anyone can hear is the sound of their own name”. People are generally very attached to their names and so requesting a service provider to allow people to use their own names is not “politically correct” it is common courtesy and (for Google) would make good business sense.

  • This is very western centric. Aboriginal folks (of most nations), muslims, stage performers and so on, often have alternative names to the ones they might have on their legal documentation, and prefer to use that. Yusef Islam likely still has Cat (or whatever his parents called him, probably not cat lol) Stevens on his birth certificate, but for all who know him, he’s Yusef. Mudrooroo Nyungah (Sometimes Mudrooroo Narogin) is likely still Colin Johnson on his birth certificate. Who are google to deny them that? Your name is your public identifier, your IRL handle. Thats what people know you as. Its not up for google, or facebook , to decide that for you.

  • And what about transgendered persons? Many who have transitioned have no names to reflect their new genders as opposed to their biological sex. Is it really up to google to deny them that based on a policy.

    Hopefully Google will be able to think this through rationally and fairly. Its not about political correctness, and nobody is saying google should be forced. But corporations are not and should never be held to be beyond criticism (would Nike have fixed their terrible old sweatshop policies if people had been silent?) Its simply about telling google that their policy could hurt their customers. Its a simple and reasonable request.

  • Why does Google put an apostrophe in the term “+1’s”? The apostrophe implies a contraction (e.g. “+1’s a cool dude”) or ownership (e.g. “+1’s real name policy sucks”).

    If it is intended to represent a collection of +1s then that is how it should be written – “+1s”. No apostrophe.


      Google likens “+1’s” to “minding your p’s and q’s”. Both of these are wrong. The latter should be either “Ps and Qs”, “‘P’s and ‘Q’s”, or “”P”s and “Q”s”. Claiming that an apostrophe can be used “to add clarity and make sure people read words as intended” is a bullshit excuse.

      Google is actively contributing to the decline of grammatical correctness already rife in today’s society. Considering how potentially wide-spread Google+ could be, just think about how many people will become accustomed using and abusing apostrophes in this way.

      Not good enough, Google.

  • Several organisations have recognised the right of indigenous people to choose their own names. For instance, here’s what The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples has to say:

    “Indigenous people have the right to … designate and retain their own names for communities, places and persons.”

    (For the curious, the full text in English is at

  • Re-read David Gerard’s comment. That’s the law in Europe and – probably – in Australia.

    I’ll spell that out: Google are comitting a criminal offence in offering the Google+ service in a discriminatory way in the European Union.

    This isn’t about insignificant individuals suing a giant corporation: it’s about a criminal offence, and that is a matter pursued by the state.

    I’ll expand on that:

    If you are offering any service to the general public, in any member state of the European Union, that state has enacted statutes that make it a crime – not just a matter of civil law or a contractual matter – to discriminate on ethnic or religious grounds.

    Claiming Google’s an American company, and claiming that signing up is a contract under American law (which may or may not permit racial discrimination in providing services to the public), is a claim that fails in European law if the service is offered to a European resident in Europe: and an EU member state can and will enforce penalties against Google’s subsidiary companies in Europe.

    Oh, and saying “Sorry, we’ll let you use that name, now that you – specifically *you* – complained and took it to court” won’t wash. Cases are usually initiated by individuals, but the law looks at discrimination against groups, and there’s no “get out of jail free card” for making arbitrary exceptions for individual members of the discriminated group.

    Any questions?

    It remains to be seen who will start the first case rolling. Given’s admission in this blog post, we’d better hope that the tiny handful of Australian Aboriginal people living and working in Europe are all using Westernised names.

    Me, I think the first case will come from an ethnic Javan with a mononym, or a member of a Buddhist or Christian religious order. But any Hong Kong Chinese working in Europe would certainly have a claim.

    Place your bets…

    Meanwhile, I am obliged to point out that I am in no way qualified to offer legal advice, neither within any European jurusdiction nor anywhere else, and that these comments and observations are a matter of personal opinion. Feel fre to use them as a matter of discussion, but be aware that they do not constitute Legal Advice.

    …And I would urge all and any employees of Google who are travelling or working in Europe – or Australia, from what I read here – to seek properly-qualified Legal Advice. Some of you are going to need it.

  • jules, you are an ignorant troll. do you think google gains nothing from the free service they’re offering? it is in their best interest to maintain the general good feelings people have toward their company. this involves not excluding entire groups of the population.

  • I tried to use my Chinese name. I am US-born but I prefer to have a choice on which name I display as public. I also often use both my Chinese name and my English names in social media and networking. So yes, this is discriminatory and actually de-humanizing to have to choose one or the other, when my identity is clearly both-and.

  • Don’t like it don’t use it simple, If you want to use it how about putting a full stop or something in the surname area.
    Im sick of the politically correct whiners making a mountain out of a molehill. I seriously hope Google don’t bend to the minority stick beaters out there and if they do make a change then its not because of the political brow beaters who think they have a minority’s best interests at heart. I have a few aboriginal friends and mentioned it to them and they couldn’t care less. I seriously have to laugh at the people who say this is de-humanizing, please get a life.

    • I find it interesting that you describe it as whining. I don’t think it’s whining at all, it was more of, “Hey let’s think about this”. No one has complained, no one has sued Google, no one has made a major peep about this. Why are YOU getting your feathers all ruffled? No one’s making a mountain out of a molehill except you and Jules.

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