I am a 42 year old Korean-American woman. I go by my given name, Shinyung Oh. A few days ago, I attempted to set up a profile on Google+, not because I necessarily need yet another social networking site. Linkedin and Facebook are more than enough to max out my limited capacity for online small talk and ogling. But I applied, mainly because I have my personal blog on blogger and wanted to add some tools offered by Google+ to expand my readership.
When I tried to set up the profile, Google refused to allow me to complete it. The following sentence appeared at the top of the profile I was not allowed to access: "Your profile has been suspended because it violates our name policy." When I clicked on the "name policy" to find out how I could have violated Google+'s policy, it stated:
Google+ makes connecting with people on the web more like connecting with people in the real world. It's recommended that you go by your first and last name because it will help you connect with people you know and help them find you.
This policy applies only to Google+ profiles. Google+ profiles are for individuals.
I had set up the profile using my real name, both my first and last. It is the name I use for my driver's license, my credit cards, my bank account, my legal practice, and my son's preschool paperwork. It is how everyone knows me, and if others call me by any other names, I don't want to know about it.
As Google+ requested, I submitted an appeal. Google+ suggested that I provide "Links to online locations where a significant community knows you by this name." For the appeal, I submitted the link to my gmail account, which was opened with my real name, as well as the link to my profile on blogger, which is owned by Google and which was also opened with my real name.
Two days later, the Google+ Team rejected my appeal, stating in a form email that "[a]fter reviewing your appeal, we have determined that your name does not comply with the Google+ Names Policy."
Assuming that I had not provided enough material, I submitted yet another appeal. This time, I followed Google's advice to provide "Links or scanned copies of print media, news articles, etc. where you are known by this name." This time, I submitted about six different links, including one to an article about me on the Wall Street Journal blog, one of my posts on a site called KoreanAmericanStory.org, my posts on Kimchimamas.typepad.com, my Linkedin Profile, and a couple of others.
Google+ rejected me again the next day with the same form email.
This is the first time in my 42 years that anyone -- or any software -- has refused to believe that my name is legitimate.
I am not a virtual wallflower. Five years ago, I was fortunate enough to be fired just six days after a miscarriage by a law firm renowned for its employment expertise. My farewell email to the firm went viral when Above the Law obtained a copy. As a result, my name and the circumstances surrounding my termination appeared in newspaper articles all over the web, including in the Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, the Today Show, and ABC News. A number of legal publications and blogs also picked up the story, including the ABA Journal and Legal Week, among others. My name is splattered all over the web, like diarrhea on the sides of a porcelain toilet bowl.
A google search of "Shinyung Oh" pulls up several images of me, including one with the following phrase: "Her name is Shinyung Oh. Mess with her at your peril." There is another taken from the Wall Street Journal, with my name "Shinyung Oh" typed below the pixelated image. Among the search results are my LinkedIn profile, my State Bar of California profile, my lawyer profile on Martindale Hubbell, and a number of my blog posts on various blogs. I saw records of my home sale in San Francisco, a few articles I had written for various publications, pdfs of my legal briefs, an article about a pro bono case I handled, and lists of donations I have made in the past.
If those at Google did not believe my name to be legitimate, why couldn't they have simply googled it?
The news of Google+'s rejection of my identity spread quickly on Facebook, where I posted the news. My friends responded with comments like:
"Its their way of saying your name is not whitey enough. Lol.have you considered changing it to Jane."
"That's messed up."
"first the KTVU snafu, and now this. you'd think there'd be enough koreans working at google so this wouldn't happen."
Google has an office in Korea, by the way. (Do the employees there have Google+ accounts, I wonder?)
Google's refusal to believe the legitimacy of my name surprises me. Shinyung Oh doesn't sound like a fake name to me. It's not Ho Lee Fuk or Sum Ting Wong. I heard of a girl in college named Raisin Cain. And an unfortunate Korean kid named Bum Suk. But my parents were more merciful.
The surname "Oh" should not be unfamiliar to most Americans who have watched Sideways or Grey's Anatomy (whose actress Sandra Oh just announced her departure from the show). But even for those who have been blissfully sheltered from American pop culture, a single search for "surname Oh" leads to a Wikipedia page which explains that "O or Oh is a romanization of a number of East Asian surnames" and lists a number of examples such as "David Oh (a Korean American politician)", "Junggeun Oh (a Korean artist)", "Oh Eun-Sun (a Korean mountaineer)", and "Oh Hye-Rin (a member of South Korean girl group, After School)". The search also pulls up links to a site described as "Oh - Last Name Meaning, Surname Origin & Family Name History" and to "Oh Name Meaning and Oh Family History at Ancestry.com." Both of these sites explain that "Oh is a common surname throughout Korea."
As a teenager, I went through a period of being awkward about my name, as I wrote about here a while back. But in college, I got over it. When I became naturalized in the 90s, I took out the space between the two syllables in my first name. I hated having people assume that my first name was Shin and my middle name Yung, and I decided to have more faith in my fellow Americans' ability to pronounce two syllables even without a spatial aid. Sometimes when I meet people, I offer a little assistance with the pronunciation by pointing to the appropriate part of my body and then saying, "and not old." But no one I've ever encountered ever said, "Really? Is that your real name?"
For a global company co-founded by a guy named Sergey, you'd think its employees would be somewhat sensitized to different names. My name may be unusual in America, perhaps, but I am not the only Shinyung Oh (albeit with slightly different spellings), as Google search results of Facebook shows. Most reside in Korea, but Google and its products are global. And any company that sets up roadblocks to its products better have a clear sense of what it's trying to block. And learn how to use the tools at its disposal to avoid spurning the very customers it is trying to attract.
But I can understand that the Google+ Team may have better things to do than google search the names of every person who tries to apply. After all, it has about 359 million active users (according to Wikipedia). Maybe the team is busy trying to come up with grand schemes for stealing Facebook's 1.11 billion users.
I have decided not to continue to appeal to Google. I have no desire to send Google a copy of my driver's license or passport, as it invites me to. After all, I'm not applying for asylum, just access to yet another virtual social space. And I have little faith in Google+ Team's ability to delete my private information, as it assures me it would. Besides, I am no less visible on the web as a result, thanks to Google. My readers will have to find me however they can. Perhaps by using Google's search engine.