Adventures in Identity: Still struggling with Google+

On Wednesday I decided to see if I could finally sort out my Google+ profile, which was suspended around two and a half years ago. I didn’t really get anywhere, but I did discover some new and different frustrations.

First, the back story…

Google+ screenshot 1: see text for a description

As the first screenshot (above) says, “Your profile [that is, my profile] was suspected because it violates our names policy.” That’s because back in 2011, Google required that names consist of at least two words. To get something that looked close to my single-word name (a “mononym”), I’d entered it as “Stilgherrian .” But the full stop (“period” for American readers) isn’t allowed, and the profile was suspended.

I was so frustrated by that, and even more so by Google’s arrogant-seeming error messages, that I wrote an infamous expletive-filled blog post — which got more than 100,000 unique viewers on the first day. Even now, two and a half years later, it sometimes gets a couple hundred readers a month.

Since then, Google had supposedly started allowing people to display their “nicknames” (that is, pseudonyms”), at least in some contexts, so I figured that I’d give it another go. It wouldn’t worry me too much if I was “Stilgherrian Stilgherrian” under the hood, as long as my name was displayed properly.

So I clicked on “Take action”…

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Adventures in Identity: ASIC Connect

Stylised screenshot of ASIC ConnectMy legal name, a single word or “mononym” that’s a given name, with no surname, isn’t handled well by poorly-designed bureaucratic information systems — that is, the usual kind. Today I launch Adventures in Identity, a blog series where I politely request every guilty organisation to fix the problem — and post their responses.

First up, our corporate regulator, the Australian Securities and Investment Commission (ASIC), and in particular their ASIC Connect online service.

This was drawn to my attention because the registration for one of my business names, Skank Media, is due for renewal — and ASIC Connect is the easiest way to do it.

Part of the ASIC Connect account creation screen: click to embiggenThe first problem I encountered is that ASIC Connect’s account creation form has both “Given name” and “Family name” as required fields, so immediately I must enter something other than my legal name to create an account — although to ASIC’s credit, the rest of the process was painless.

ASIC had previously sent me a letter with an “ASIC key” that linked this new account to my existing ASIC business name record.

I have another business name, Prussia.Net, so I decided to link that in too. But ASIC Connect wouldn’t let me. My name didn’t match the name of the registrant of Prussia.Net. Really?

Sure enough, while Skank Media is now registered to “Stilgherrian Stilgherrian”, and it was previously registered to “Mr Stilgherrian”, Prussia.Net is registered to “_____ Stilgherrian”. Five underscores! What an excellent work-around.

Then when I tried to link both business names to my Australian Business Number (ABN), the basic business identifier for entities other than registered companies — I’m a sole trader — that’s now listed as “Stilgherrian Stilgherrian”. It was once correct, though, as an historical ABN search shows a single-name version from 4 October 2000 to 27 February 2010. See the attached PDF.

One of key problems with this mess — apart from the untidy data that makes it look like something shonky is going on — is that these are all legal records. “To the best of my knowledge, the information supplied in this transaction is complete and accurate (it is an offence to provide false or misleading information to ASIC),” we are warned. But I can’t do that.

As I write this, it’s still before 0900 AEST, so my tweets directed to @ASIC_Connect have yet to receive a reply. They may well have a straightforward way to sort this out. Stay tuned.

I should also point out that in ASIC’s defence, they’ve recently merged data from state-based business name registries, cross-matching it with the Australian Business Register — and the latter was notoriously inaccurate.

[Update 1415 AEST: I just got a call from the ASIC staffer who was monitoring their Twitter account earlier today. This isn’t the first time they’ve encountered a mononym, but so far they’ve just carried across records from the state databases so left the work-arounds in place. In my case, they have to cleanse the data so all my records match — and they’ll need to decide on a policy so that similar cases are handled uniformly in the future. So I sent them some photo ID, and they’ll take it from here, and let me know what they decide. Pleased.]

[Update 1620 AEST: The ASIC staffer just called again. They have a system. The back-end database can handle mononyms, it’s just that the web front end has the more stringent input validation. So they’ve settled on putting “Stilgherrian” in the given name field, and a single underscore “_” in the family name field, so I can still enter something and get a match. They’ve manually updated all my records, and now I should be able to merge them. Now that’s service.]

Note: I’ve previously called ASIC incompetent and reckless, calling for a head on a spike, but that was a completely unrelated matter. Obviously.

Rydges’ daft website contact form

Rydges contact form: click to embiggenThis week’s award for daft user interaction design goes to Rydges, the chain of hotels and resorts, for their incredibly silly website contact form.

Web contact forms can sometimes be useful, I suppose, if a business receives a lot of standard enquiries, because they can capture the structured data and put it straight into the customer relationship management (CRM) system. But most of these forms just dump the form data into an unstructured email, and dump that into some poor soul’s inbox. Why not just publish an email address? Are your spam filters that shoddy?

But when contact forms have badly-worded multiple-choice options, ill-thought-out data validation code, or unworkably small data fields, they make things difficult for everyone — and this one’s got the lot.

According to Rydges, you must have a title, but it can only be “Mr”, “Mrs”, “Ms” or “Miss”, not “Dr” or “Rev” or anything else. Your name must consist of two words. Your phone number cannot start with the “+” that comes before the country code, odd for an international business, nor may it contain spaces. And the “Type of enquiry” drop-down has only two choices, “Business” or “General”.

Is a question about the hotel restaurant’s opening hours, for example, “Business” or “General”, I wonder?

But the pièce de résistance is that the body text is limited to just 200 characters. That’s about 30-odd words of standard English text. Good luck with that.

Australian Electoral Commission’s ignorant error

Screenshot of Australian Electoral Commission voter registration form: click to embiggenI’d congratulate the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) on their new online voter registration tool, but they’ve made the usual arsehat mistake of assuming everyone’s name consists of at least two words.

This error is doubly stupid, because it means they didn’t test their data entry validation code by running it against the existing database of voters. Oops.

As I wrote in 2011, there’s more than 13,000 Australians with a single-word name, and I know for a fact that at least one of them is already on the electoral roll.

Anyway, apart from looking at the full screenshot, you can read Josh Taylor’s story about this thing, or try the tool for yourself.

Weekly Wrap 145: Crimefighting and a currawong

Skulking currawong: click to embiggenThe week of Monday 11 to Sunday 17 March 2013 was nearly a week ago, so I’ll just list the media things and show you a photograph of a currawong.

Articles

  • Reserve Bank hacking raises questions — and false alarm, Crikey, 12 March 2013. Note that further information has emerged since this story was written, though I have yet to write a follow-up.
  • Backwards attitude to online identity erodes our power, ZDNet Australia, 15 March 2013. I argue that most internet companies have got it backwards. In the physical world, anonymity is the norm. We only identify ourselves by our so-called “real name” in certain circumstances. Yet many internet companies, notable Google and Facebook, are insisting on real names as the norm.

Media Appearances

Corporate Largesse

  • On Tuesday morning, Trend Micro held a media briefing at the O Bar, formerly the Summit Restaurant, at the top of Australia Square. Refreshments were served, and the view was magnificent. We then went to Steerson’s Steakhouse for lunch, where I had a grain-fed rib-eye steak and a couple glasses of Wirra Wirra Church Block 2010 Cabernet Shiraz Merlot. Yes, of course they paid.
  • On Wednesday morning, I attended the Australian launch of LG’s Optimus G smartphone at Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Art. Refreshements were served, and I was given an evaluation unit of the phone itself, plus a Telstra Next G SIM card with a 20GB per month data pack — then I forgot the SIM unlock PIN, and now I’m waiting on a PUK code to unlock the damn thing.

[Photo: Skulking currawong, photographed on 11 March 2013 at Bunjaree Cottages.]

Talking about names on ABC Radio’s “Life Matters”

I had the very great pleasure last week of joining ABC Radio National’s Life Matters for a talkback about names, nicknames and pseudonyms — live via Skype from my hotel room in San Francisco.

“What’s in a name?” We have heard these famous words of Shakespeare’s many times, but have you ever considered just how much of our identities are wrapped up in our names?

It’s often the first thing we’re asked. It’s how we identify ourselves to others. But do you like the name you’ve been given? Are your parents to blame, do you think?

You have the ability to change it — would you? Have you? Have you taken your partner’s surname? Is your name hard to pronounce? Do you constantly correct people on how to say or spell it?

Maybe you have a nickname which has basically become your ‘real’ name? How did you get it? Do you use it to go online to chat or date anonymously? Or on social media?

I smile at the title of the session, because that was also used as the headline for my story for ABC’s The Drum last year.

Here’s the full hour of the program, embedded from the ABC website.

Play

Obviously the audio is ©2012 Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

[Photo: Live from San Francisco: me at my desk at the Omni San Francisco Hotel connecting to ABC Radio National in Australia via Skype.]