Google has an interesting post on its Public Policy blog, talking about how users can identify (or not identify) themselves, when using Google services. The company says it's looking at ways to make such information more transparent.
According to Google there are three types of product use, and they each "have a home" at Google, but for different purposes:
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?”
Identification is becoming an increasingly important topic on the web. In one regard, there's the whole topic of having a web ID to use to log-in to multiple services, such as those being discussed as part of the White House's "National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace" (NSTIC) plan.
Another sub-category of the identity debate is that of anonymous blog comments. Facebook product design manager Julie Zhuo contributed an op-ed piece to the New York Times recently, calling for content providers to stop allowing for anonymous comments on their content, in an effort to maintain accountability for what is said. We discussed that here.
It's good that Google is recognizing that different types of identification make sense for different scenarios, and it will be interesting to see the steps the company takes with regards to "transparency".