my journal
September 2016

Date: 2014-09-14 00:27
Security: Public
Tags:gender identity, names, steam, usernames, valve
Subject: Steam usernames, take 2

As most readers of my journal know, I am a transgender woman. As part of the process of transitioning, I've been changing the names of the various accounts I use online.

I encountered a roadblock when I wanted to change my Steam username, but couldn't because of Steam's policy that accounts cannot be renamed. (That situation eventually got resolved when you guys spread the word about what was going on, but at the time it was really frustrating.)

Since then I've been keeping track of whether their policy has changed. That appears not to be the case, sadly - one-and-a-half years ago I asked if anything had changed, and the answer was no. And now, it appears as if Steam is at it again, in exactly the same way as it did three-and-a-half years ago with my original request.

A new friend of mine, Katy ([ profile] kateunafraid) is trying to get Steam support to change her username.

Here's how her ticket started (ticket 4642-QTSL-8416, reproduced with permission) )

Oh hey, I recognise this. That's exactly the same stock answer they sent me, with just the name of the menu option to click changed.

Now, like me, Katy has already done all this. Changing the names that are visible to other people isn't the issue here; the issue is changing the username itself.

As I stated in the follow-up post when this was resolved for me:
...a username is not just an arbitrary selection of letters and numbers. That is to say, from a technical perspective it is, but in all other respects it's part of an identity. For a lot of people, that identity overlaps with their real life identity, and if that identity changes, it only makes sense that the username should be able to be changed along with it.
Now, it's true that a lot of sites don't have the ability to change your usernames. Conversely, however, those same sites often do not involve financial transactions, or if they do, they normally allow at least an option to transfer any purchased assets to another account.

Steam doesn't even do that. What Steam expects you to do if you want to change username is to register a new account and re-purchase ALL your games. If you don't do that, you will be forced to either split your games between two different accounts, or to leave Steam entirely.

Um, no. Nobody should ever have to give up hundreds, even thousands of dollars' worth of games because of an identity change. Yet that is exactly what's happening with many people in the same situation. Why is this allowed?

You may remember that in my post one-and-a-half years ago where I asked Steam staff if they had made any policy changes, I outlined a deliberately narrow group to ask about, because I felt that if any policy change had been made, it would apply to the people within these criteria:
...having had a legal name change (with evidence in the form of legally-recognised documentation such as a deed poll or statutory declaration), a username which was clearly based on their old name, and a clean VAC record...
I believe the option to change username should be available, at the very least, to people who meet these criteria. I would not be fundamentally opposed to this username change being subject to an additional charge, but I do believe that if you fit these criteria, imposing an additional charge on top of the charges already incurred by obtaining the legally-recognised evidence doesn't really make sense.

I don't believe that these criteria are unreasonable, and Katy meets all three. That being the case, I believe that it's reasonable to ask Steam to allow Katy to change her Steam username, hence this post.

As with the last time this happened, this is a public post on DW (as are most of my posts). Please feel free to link to it from elsewhere if you agree!

(Subscribers to this journal should watch for another post after this one that I'm going to make access-only; I'm writing an email to Gabe to hopefully get this sorted out for all trans people, and I'd like your thoughts on it!)

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Date: 2013-05-16 21:23
Security: Public
Mood:disappointed disappointed
Tags:names, steam, usernames, valve
Subject: Oh, Valve.

So, you may remember that two years ago, Valve transferred my games from an old Steam account to my current one, in what disappointingly appeared to be a one-off.

Just to make sure, however, four days ago I asked Steam Support for an update on what would happen nowadays for people that were in my position.

These are my three contributions to the Support ticket. )

The main question I asked in this ticket was this (emphasis added):
If someone else were in the same situation as I was two years ago, having had a legal name change (with evidence in the form of legally-recognised documentation such as a deed poll or statutory declaration), a username which was clearly based on their old name, and a clean VAC record, would Valve be willing to change the account name upon the submission of such evidence? (For the purposes of this question, 'change the account name' may also include creation of a new account and all licences registered on the old account transferred to the new one, as that was how my own ticket was resolved.)
Now, I realise that this is a pretty narrow field. This was intentional in order to increase the chances that they might be receptive. I do realise that there are trans* people out there who don't meet these criteria. Policy changes always have to start somewhere, though, and I understand the issues involved. I figured that if any policy change at all had been made, this narrow definition would fit inside it.

Today, they responded. (In fact, it was Walter who responded; the same person who replied in the other ticket to assist me with transferring the games.)

So, what was their answer?
4 Message by Support Tech Walter on Thu, 16th May 2013 8:26 pm

Hello Sophie,

We have not changed any policies regarding account names. As mentioned in your original ticket, this is for security reasons.

While we understand this is a frustration for you, we have this in place by design. There are no plans to change this at this time, however I have passed your comments on to the appropriate people.
Disappointing, to say the least. There is still no reasoning given for not being able to change account names, besides the very vague "this is for security reasons". (To be fair, I didn't actually ask for an explanation in this ticket, but still.)

I'm really disappointed by Valve right now. :(

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Date: 2012-10-10 17:45
Security: Public
Tags:names, youtube
Subject: YouTube and full names

...fantastic. YouTube are pushing for people to use their full name on YouTube, which shows up in place of their username. I just got a prompt suggesting I do that.

I've posted about this matter in the past, though this is slightly different, because at the moment (and hopefully this'll be the case always), YouTube aren't forcing people to use their real name. You can decide whether to use your full name on YouTube, or to continue using your username. (Though it should be said that YouTube ask you to justify continuing to use your username if you want to go that way, which really rubs me the wrong way.)

It is nice that they offer a choice, somewhat. But when I said that they're pushing it, I mean that the UI is such that you're fairly likely to go through with it if you don't read carefully. And as I say, the fact that you have to justify your reasons for continuing to use your username is just... eugh. It gives you a choice of 6 buttons IIRC, and one of them is a button saying "I'm not sure, I'll decide later", but that sounds like they still expect a justification later.

There's also a slight annoyance because it makes it harder to tell who's who for me, but that's basically protesting change because it's change, and I'm sure I can get used to it. I'm much more concerned about what I've written above.

What are your thoughts?

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Date: 2011-07-24 20:32
Security: Public
Tags:google+, names, pseudonymity, rants
Subject: Google+

I have a few posts that I need to make. But I'll start by talking about Google+.

Let me first just state for the record that I do not use Google+ nor am I ever likely to do so. I do not have a profile and I'm not going to sign up for it to look around.

With that said, I've been hearing a lot about it lately. People are calling it Google's answer to Facebook, although to be honest I'm not entirely sure why it exists. It's only going to fragment the social networking scene more and make each of them less useful than they'd otherwise be. And I see no reason to believe that Google are going to treat your data with any more respect than Facebook do. On the contrary, in fact - Facebook doesn't know what you search for, what you click on in search result pages, or what your email inbox contains. Google very possibly knows all three, among other things, and with the addition of social networking, where they know who your friends are, it becomes quite clear that the massive amount of data they hold about you is, quite frankly, terrifying.

Let me clarify that, because on the surface it sounds like knowing who your friends are isn't such a big thing. The thing is, you can get a *lot* of information about a person not from them themselves, but by the information their friends give about themselves. Interests, hobbies, sites you're interested in, the social circles/cliques you're in... even if you give no information about any of these on your profile page, there's a good chance that your friends will, and when aggregated, this information can actually pretty effectively show not only what you're interested in (for example), but *how* interested you are in it, simply by seeing how many times it crops up.

Obviously, it's not foolproof. A friend of mine, who reads this journal, finds that automated services which find out information using this sort of method always tends to think he's interested in Doctor Who - which he isn't, but a lot of his friends are. That said, it's still a pretty darn good way of finding out this information; the same person, when shown results from tools that I made (which also had Doctor Who as one of its items listed) said that the rest of the results were very accurate.

Okay, enough about blog sociology for now. Let's talk about Google+'s display names policy. The Google+ User Content and Conduct Policy has this to say on the subject:

13. Display Name

To help fight spam and prevent fake profiles, use the name your friends, family or co-workers usually call you. For example, if your full legal name is Charles Jones Jr. but you normally use Chuck Jones or Junior Jones, either of those would be acceptable.
Great! So it sounds like Google is being inclusive and letting people use the names they're generally known by, right?

Wrong. There have been a lot of cases where people are getting their profiles suspended from Google+ because "After reviewing your profile, we determined that the name you provided violates our Community Standards." This even though the name they provided is in fact the name that their friends, family and co-workers usually call them, just because the name doesn't look like a 'real name'. This also happened to a friend of mine, Skud, and she's written a blog post detailing all this, along with screenshots. (People may be amused to note that she's even a former Google employee.)

So if you use your real name, you should be safe, right? After all, how can they say that it isn't your real name?

Turns out they can. Ka-Ping (or just Ping) has had his account suspended, even though that is his real first name. So has So had Limor 'Ladyada' Fried, although the account is back now. So did CHAN, Tai Man. [edited: Actually, reading that thread, I think they would fall into the category above rather than this one, as it sounds like they were using the name they were commonly known by and not their Pinyin name. But still.] In fact, from what I hear, a lot of people are having their accounts suspended. Remember, Google's policy is to use the name you're best known by.

And, of course, there's the fact that many people deliberately don't use their real names on the Internet. I've talked about this particular issue before, and it can be for many different reasons, safety being one of them (and one of the most important, in my view). You all know my views on that, so I won't go into it any more. (If you don't know my views, check out the linked post.)

In short, Google+ is a mess, it'll fragment the social networking scene, it gives Google a huge amount of information about yourself, and Google aren't implementing their policies as stated on a hugely important matter.

And that's why I'm never going to be using it.

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Date: 2011-03-15 16:52
Security: Public
Tags:big posts, facebook, names
Subject: On 'real' names, and why it's not a good idea to be forced to use them.

As many of you know, I'm 28. I grew up during the development of the Internet, and by the time the Internet hit for home users around about 1995, I was 13.

One if the things I was told emphatically not to do back then was to give out any personal details on the Net. No real name, no address, nothing. I didn't quite stick to that - I did use my name sometimes - but I did learn the importance of why it's not a good idea to use offline identities all the time. And in the early days of the era of home users using the Internet, doubtless many people learned the same thing.

Fast forward to today. Facebook is easily the largest social network, and it requires you to use your full name; if you don't, you're violating their Terms of Service and they reserve the right to make your acccount go poof.

"But Sophie," you say, "Just don't use Facebook if you don't like their policies!"

Great idea... except for two things:

a) More sites are now using Facebook's Comments Box 'social plugin' to enable commenting on their site.
b) There are some people (for example, Scoble of who think that people should be forced to use their 'real' names, or else they don't regard their comments/opinions as valid.

It should be noted here that when people like the above refer to 'real' names, they invariably mean 'offline' names, but word it that way because they feel that any other names are not 'real' and are thus 'fake'. The only real name you have is the one that legally applies to you, apparently.

(Okay, so I guess they have a point in that names are how we identify people, and if we didn't have names we'd all be numbers instead. But although I'm sure some people probably would prefer being known as such if it stopped people using their 'real' name, those same people will probably find it infinitely preferable if other people used whatever name that they *wanted* other people to use. Names have meanings, whether they're given by the origin language itself or simply by emotional attachment.)

What I'm trying to say is that not every deviation from a 'real' name is done to make us anonymous. In fact, it's quite the opposite - people can still be identified by whatever name they choose in a particular environment; that's what names are for, and that goes against the very definition of 'anonymous'.(*) Instead, most individual people I know (that is to say, even individual members of a plural system can do this) who are using a different name are doing it in order to separate various identities. Note that this isn't always the same as trying to *hide* the other identities. For example, in some religions, people can have completely different names from how people might know them outside of their religion, but they don't go out of their way to hide their legal name from people.(**)

Then comes the question - if you're not trying to hide your other identities, why not just use the other identity's name in the first place? Hopefully that question has been answered for you by way of the example I gave, but in case it hasn't - it very much depends on context. If someone has a different name on the Internet than they do in real life(***), then they're probably going to want to use that name, because it's part of their identity, and it's only polite to use whatever name they're going by in that context, not least because it may cause offense (or even danger) otherwise.

Of course, there are people who don't mind, or whose choice of name is restricted by availability - which is a particularly common problem with usernames on the Internet. Some of those people might like their username better; some may prefer another name. In both cases you should refer to them with whatever name they *want* to be called. (And if you don't know, you should ask.)

Hopefully I've made my point clear; when it comes to names, there is no single 'real name' for a lot of people. And this is why I don't like the Facebook Comments Box, since it would force you to use a real name even on sites which otherwise have nothing to do with Facebook. Like, say, TechCrunch. (See also this response to the rollout.)

One more thing. The 'danger' I referred to above may have got some of you thinking that's a bit overdramatic and not common at all, certainly not in an environment like I'm journalling this entry from.

But the truth is, as much as it might sound overdramatic, it's really not. People are in danger all the time from people who think that if they know someone's 'real' identity, that they're allowed to enter that side of their life. This is particularly true when the person whose 'real' identity was revealed is a member of an unprivileged group, because often the prevailing attitude is that unprivileged groups are inferior or subordinate to privileged ones. (If you're not aware what I mean by "unprivileged groups", you may want to take a look at [ profile] brown_betty's post A primer on privilege: what it is and what it isn't, as it gives a good introduction to it.)

I actually use Facebook occasionally. However, Facebook is not the Web, and it shouldn't try to become so. I hope this entry has made clear why I believe that.

(a big thanks to [personal profile] marahmarie for her posts prompting me to write this epic entry. It's not often I agree with her, but on this point I do.)

[edit: [personal profile] vampwillow points out in the comments that Etsy has recently exposed people's legal names to the world without telling anyone, and people can now connect your purchases to your legal name simply by searching on your legal name, something which was previously impossible. If you use Etsy, you may want to follow the instructions in the linked article to prevent this.]

(*) According to, the three definitions of 'anonymous' are:
  1. Having an unknown or unacknowledged name: an anonymous author.
  2. Having an unknown or withheld authorship or agency: an anonymous letter; an anonymous phone call.
  3. Having no distinctive character or recognition factor: "a very great, almost anonymous center of people who just want peace" (Alan Paton).
(**) I am aware that a religious name might not actually be chosen by the person who receives it, so the implications probably are going to be a bit different. I would definitely appreciate input on this from people who might have more insight into this than I do!

(***) Discussion on exactly how "real" 'real life' is is outside of the scope of this journal post, but may prove to be an interesting exercise for the reader.

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