Peter Steiner’s iconic “on the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog” cartoon may have been drawn in jest--but his point was deadly serious, as recent events in the Middle East and North Africa have shown. In reality, as the web has developed--with users anywhere able to post a blog, share photos with friends and family or “broadcast” events they witness online--the issue of identity has become increasingly important.
So, we’ve been thinking about the different ways people choose to identify themselves (or not) when they’re using Google--in particular how identification can be helpful or even necessary for certain services, while optional or unnecessary for others. Attribution can be very important, but pseudonyms and anonymity are also an established part of many cultures -- for good reason.
When it comes to Google services, we support three types of use: unidentified, pseudonymous and identified. And each mode has its own particular user benefits.
Unidentified. Sometimes you want to use the web without having your online activity tied to your identity, or even a pseudonym—for example, when you’re researching a medical condition or searching for that perfect gift for a special someone. When you’re not logged into your Google Account (or if you never signed up for one), that’s how you’ll be using our services. While we need to keep information like IP addresses and cookies to provide the service, we don’t link that information to an individual account when you are logged out.
Pseudonymous. Using a pseudonym has been one of the great benefits of the Internet, because it has enabled people to express themselves freely—they may be in physical danger, looking for help, or have a condition they don’t want people to know about. People in these circumstances may need a consistent identity, but one that is not linked to their offline self. You can use pseudonyms to upload videos in YouTube or post to Blogger.
Identified. There are many times you want to share information with people and have them know who you really are. Some products such as Google Checkout rely on this type of identity assurance and require that you identify yourself to use the service. There may be other times when it’s more desirable to be identified than not, for example if you want to be part of a community action project you may ask, “How do I know these other people I see online really are community members?”
Equally as important as giving users the freedom to be who they want to be is ensuring they know exactly what mode they’re in when using Google’s services. So recently we updated the top navigation bar on many of our Google services to make this even clearer. In the upper right hand corner of these Google pages, you will see an indicator of which account, if any, you are signed into.
We’re also looking at other ways to make this more transparent for users. While some of our products will be better suited to just one or two of those modes, depending on what they’re designed to do, we believe all three modes have a home at Google.