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Google Suggests Name Changes to Protect Privacy

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David Silversmith
David Silversmith

Future generations will have to change their names in order to escape the online embarrassments of their youthful mistakes recorded on Facebook and other social media sites according to the head of Google.

Maintaining your privacy on the Internet is getting harder every day.  In fact Google's CEO predicts that name changes will be the only way to hide your history.

The Wall Street Journal's Holman Jenkins writes in his interview with Eric Schmidt that the CEO "predicts, apparently seriously, that every young person one day will be entitled automatically to change his or her name on reaching adulthood in order to disown youthful hijinks stored on their friends' social media sites."  Schmidt almost seemed to suggest that the change might become automatic upon reaching adulthood.

Many people have been quick to question Schmidt's view. "This notion isn't just scary--it seems downright pointless," wrote TechCrunch of the proposition.  Researcher Danah Boyd calls the idea "ludicrous," adding it  "would be so exceedingly ineffective as to be just outright absurd."  The BBC went so far as to run a story on "How to create a new identity online" to highlight the real challenges involved in changing your name online.

The normally media savvy Schmidt has been on a roll this month discussing privacy issues. Earlier this month, at the Techonomy conference, Schmidt had this to say about privacy: "The only way to manage this is true transparency and no anonymity. In a world of asynchronous threats, it is too dangerous for there not to be some way to identify you. We need a (verified) name service for people. Governments will demand it."  Thus predicting that there needs to be a way to verify who is who online.

So in the Schmidt future you would make mistakes as a youth - but then you would change your name to hide your association with those mistakes.  But once you are an adult there would be a government mandated way to track your identity online - so you could not hide.  Schmidt maps out a scary future.

Of course, Schmidt misses the more obvious solutions whereby Google and other Internet companies help people avoid those privacy mistakes simply by choosing not to store all the users' data.  While a more private future, it is not a Google friendly future as it presents many challenges for search and for making money from search.

So should governments mandate people be verifiable or should the governments mandate that Internet companies do more to respect privacy?  Interesting questions for future generations to mull over while they wait in line to have their name changed!

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