More “real names” danger?

Dating website OkCupid – popular with bi people as well as other groups poorly served by most dating sites like trans and genderqueer people – has caused concern among users with a sudden policy shift on user names.

Until now the site has had unique usernames – so once someone was “Sam” no-one else could be. They even blocked old usernames being recycled, so if the original Sam found love and closed their account no-one else could come along and be the new Sam without having to settle for a username like Sam2 or NewSam.

That can be frustrating for new users trying to pick a name no-one has thought up before, but also gives you a little bit of a hint to the personality of the person behind the profile.

Now however the site is rolling out a new system where existing users will have to give the “name you are called” before they can log in again – and it’s prompting a lot of concern among users.

There’s the question of it making it easier to find someone’s other profiles and so enabling stalking via Facebook, LinkedIn and the like. That in turn raising the prospects both of people being outed and of employers using dating profiles to learn more about staff or job applicants.

Other sites have run into problems with this: Googleplus almost entirely ruined its brand through a bad “real names” policy and Facebook has had problems too.

OkCupid say that they have “heard from many members of our community that they want to maintain the privacy they enjoy with usernames—with this change, we won’t be collecting full names; instead, we encourage our users to go by the name they’d like their dates to call them on OkCupid.

So far so good but will the average user or new member understand that, and will this step be followed by others? “Geniune” identity information is supposed to be so much better for advertising revenue, after all.

We’ll be watching.