As of yesterday afternoon you can use almost whatever name you'd like on Google Plus.
Since Google launched the network in 2011 users have been supposed to use their real names — a policy that was controversially grafted onto YouTube in 2012. There are a few restrictions left. Amongst them: you can only change your name a certain number of times, you can’t impersonate someone, and you need a first and last name (bad news, legally mononymous people). Otherwise users have free rein over their names.
There have always been ways to circumvent Google Plus's policy. If you wanted a fake name on Google Plus you could usually just make a Google account with that fake name, because the moderation process doesn’t seem to have been very thorough. For example, because of a Gmail account I once registered I’ve had access to a Google Plus profile with the name Truest Satán since 2011. Though I admit, Truest may not have been active enough to face Google's wrath and/or attention.
It’s great that anyone who wants to anonymously use Google Plus can do so. The policy existed for a half-bizarre reason anyway: “having common names and removing people who spell their names in weird ways, like using upside-down characters, or who are using obviously fake names.” But this is kind of an interesting case of the delineation between social privacy and privacy more broadly. Now anyone who’s careful enough can speak freely and anonymously to their pals on Google Plus, but it can still entail giving a bunch of information to Google and through them to who knows what other groups.
There’s something to be said for small victories when it comes to privacy, but this one feels nearly non-existent. Anyway, please find me at my new Google Plus page, “Butt Fartman.”