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Security Expert Slams Google+ Pseudonym Policy 373

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the anonymous-cowards-unite dept.
An anonymous reader writes "A security expert has panned Google's "real name" policy on Google+, claiming that the hard line will damage privacy. Sophos's Chester Wisniewski says that closing accounts where users have adopted false names erodes privacy on the social network. 'What they seemed to have missed is that the very foundation of privacy is identity. Simply knowing my postal code or birth date is meaningless without a name to associate it with. By requiring people to only use their real names, unless they just happen to be a celebrity, they have eliminated the ability for people to be private in any meaningful way.'"
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Security Expert Slams Google+ Pseudonym Policy

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  • by kenboldt (1071456) on Wednesday July 27, 2011 @08:59AM (#36893700) Homepage

    buy stock in a tin foil company with all the hats that are being made lately.

    • I just think that in the modern social network world surely everyone has access to the kind of things that were reserved for celebrities - stalkers, identity theft, fans, followers, past coming back to haunt you decades later etc.
      Why shouldn't everyone have celebrity status?
      And at what point does someone become a celebrity? How many friends/followers do you need to have? Or is the rule when Google's CEO has heard of you then that's the rule - kind of like "I'll know pornography when i see it"?

  • by circletimessquare (444983) <circletimessquare&gmail,com> on Wednesday July 27, 2011 @08:59AM (#36893708) Homepage Journal

    friendster was poised to be the facebook of its age. it was wildly popular and growing explosively. i forget the year (2004? 2003?)

    then friendster started taking a hard line: no goofy fake name accounts, such accounts were deleted

    so people left in droves for a perky startup called myspace

    i remember this issue clearly covered in the press, but i can't seem to find any references to such stories to show you what doomed friendster and allowed myspace to take over, apologies

    but anyway: learn from history google, or be doomed to repeat it

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by dBLiSS (513375)

      Yes, that's exactly why Facebook never worked...

      • by vlm (69642)

        Yes, that's exactly why Facebook never worked...

        And linkedin.

      • Facebook allows one to make their profile private and not visible to search engines. One has no choice with their Google+ profile.
    • by martyros (588782) on Wednesday July 27, 2011 @09:15AM (#36893954)
      And FB requires you to use your real name as well. Somehow it has failed to keep it from growing pretty big. The thing with nonymity (as opposed to anonymity): the normal social conventions keeping people from acting like total asshats actually work. If there are actual consequences for what you say, people are more likely to act responsibly. Now, there are obviously bad sides of nonymity; those same social conventions can have nasty side effects, and the consequences of saying something can often make someone not say something at all. But you have to choose one or the other -- have the good and bad effects of anonymity (freedom to express yourself because you know there won't be consequences; freedom to act like an asshat because you know there won't be consequences) or have the good and bad effects of nonymity (People are more well-behaved and polite, because they know there will be consequences; people can't share certain things because they know there will be consequences). Some communities choose anonymity; Google chose nonymity. You're free to make your own website if you wish.
      • by dcollins (135727)

        "And FB requires you to use your real name as well."

        Say what? I know numerous people who maintain multiple profiles (one as stage name, one as real name).

        One person I know is even using MY name, swapped first-for-last, causing quite a bit of confusion. So I'm pretty sensitized to this.

        • by w_dragon (1802458)
          Facebook's official policy is no fake names, if it's brought to their attention they'll close the fake account. That said lots of people do it and it seems they're willing to turn a blind eye so long as you don't piss people off too much.
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        The thing with nonymity (as opposed to anonymity): the normal social conventions keeping people from acting like total asshats actually work.

        The problem with nonanonimity (no such word as "nonimity" btw) is that, unlike normal life, the Internet has perfect memory. In normal life, if I fuck up eventually people are likely to forgive and/or forget. If you fuck up on the Internet it gets preserved forever.

        And the second problem is that when people stumble across such a preserved moment, they tend to react to

      • Meanwhile there has been a sharp rise in bullying and harassment via the Internet. Its one reason why people went with pseudonyms to begin with.
    • by cultiv8 (1660093)
      What's the difference if G+ (or Facebook, or Twitter, or ???) knows my real name or not? Advertisers et. al. can still track my every click, ISPs keep the last 6-18 mos. of activity, and even if I go to extremes to mask/hide this, my browser fingerprint [slashdot.org] is unique enough to identify me. Oh and don't forget my always-on, always-with-me GPS enabled cell phone. Anonymity on the web is dead.
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Anonymity on the web is dead.

        Is it, now? I think it works quite well.

        The way I see it, this isn't about protecting your online identity. Rather the opposite - being able to abandon your online identity if needed, and to maintain a separator between your online identity and your real world person. A stalker cannot easily bother littlmous79, but will have little problems tracking down Anastasia Periwinkle Hott.
        And if littlmous79 sees too much trouble, she can abandon it and migrate to using her seagodess79

        • ^^

          I would also add that a lot of employers are now trying to check out peoples' Facebook profiles, or to Google them, prior to offering a job. If you can't separate yourself from some stupid things you did in high school, it hurts your chances of ever landing a well-paying job in the future. Forcing people to use their real names isn't *really* a problem (I use my real name on Facebook for example), but allowing people you haven't friended to "follow" your posts without your permission *is*. Sooner or later

      • by Opportunist (166417) on Wednesday July 27, 2011 @10:35AM (#36895032)

        In a nutshell, it's kinda hard to dump your real name and start over with a new one if you happened to have attracted a stalker and want to get rid of him.

      • You're sadly mistaken, youngster.

        Many people with more knowledge than you frequently use SSH tunneling through semi-private servers for certain tasks. As for browser fingerprint, those services that are specifically designed for privacy/anonymity (NB) remove those characteristics. You've also forgotten the extensive fan bases of Adblock Plus and NoScript. Advertisers know less about everyone than you think. Of course, there are always people who don't worry about anonymity or aren't familiar enough with the

    • by EvilStein (414640)

      There's a difference between goofy fake name accounts and a nickname, or in the case of a lot of people I know.. "name that identifies me to my friends but I still need to be hidden from the general public."

      Friendster was just getting filled with crap..Ironically, Twitter is full of fake accounts, and they can be some rather popular ones.

    • by RJFerret (1279530)

      Link to common name [google.com] policy.
      Link to pseudonym plans [google.com].

      (Google hasn't required "real" legal names, I guess people assume that because Facebook does? They just have been trying to combat spam accounts and impostors.)

  • Duh (Score:5, Insightful)

    by vadim_t (324782) on Wednesday July 27, 2011 @09:02AM (#36893740) Homepage

    I'm pretty sure that's Google's exact intention. If you force people to use their real name, tracking them over all the web gets much easier.

    • Not if they don't join specially BECAUSE of the real name policy.

      • *specifically

      • by alen (225700)

        just like the best buy devil customers, they don't want you then

      • by vadim_t (324782)

        Well, I'm definitely not joining.

        Then, I'm not on facebook or anything of the sort either.

      • by vlm (69642)

        Not if they don't join specially BECAUSE of the real name policy.

        How hard is it to buy a fake name? 20 million mostly uneducated illegal aliens figured it out without much trouble; Shouldn't be hard at all for me to get a paper documented anonymous G+ account if I really want one.

        Its probably cheaper and easier to get on G+ with a paper documented fake name, than pay for an play WOW or other MMORPGs. Yet its not free, which keeps the lowlifes (astroturfers, trolls, spammers) out. Its a good balance.

        Don't make it sound like we are the resistance in France during WWII

    • by frinkster (149158)

      I'm pretty sure that's Google's exact intention. If you force people to use their real name, tracking them over all the web gets much easier.

      When I was in college, there were four people with the same name as me. I just checked LinkedIn, and there are eleven people with the same name as me in the same city as me. I admit that I live in a big city, but I don't have a common first or last name. The world just has a lot of people on it.

      • by Hittman (81760)
        I've got a pretty unique name too. I was aware of four or five of us on the net, but then went on facebook and found over 20. Maybe we should start a very small, very exclusive club.
      • The only solution is to swap our names for guids. I've named my son: 18wVuacCmFcpwh1b8EE2RFtK4K4vkv4ty3
  • Dumb for G+ (Score:5, Insightful)

    by assertation (1255714) on Wednesday July 27, 2011 @09:03AM (#36893756)

    If large amounts of people abandon Facebook for G+ they will be motivated by having more control over their privacy. Taking that motivation away, before G+ is even out of beta is a fairly stupid thing for Google to do.

    Given what happened with Buzz I'm starting to think that Google has some decision makers who are either very stupid or very out of touch with how people think. I suggest leaving the office and geek circles to get to know some regular people.

    I'm glad I created my G+ account with a faux name that sounds like a real name if this is the way they are going to be.

    • Anonymity and privacy are two different things. If Google is going for privacy without anonymity, they're going to have to start teaching people the difference.
      • you can't protect privacy without some degree on anonymity on the internet. It does not matter that those words are not synonymous.
        If you want privacy, then you need your anonymity.

        Of course that does not limit to that. I mean Google of course correlate your G+ data with your gmail data and your search data and your *web* data through analytics which is hosted on most sites, as well your documents, youtube, and what not. 20% of us also run their browser which calls home for good measure. And an increasing n

      • Re:Dumb for G+ (Score:4, Interesting)

        by elsurexiste (1758620) on Wednesday July 27, 2011 @09:46AM (#36894328) Journal

        Anonymity and privacy are two different things. If Google is going for privacy without anonymity, they're going to have to start teaching people the difference.

        They are different IRL; not so much on the internetz. Given how easily it is to (a) collect data about someone, (b) store it, (c) preserve it from degrading, and (d) communicate it, anonymity IS privacy, and sometimes even that is not enough. Privacy is always a single [security breach | disgruntled employee | greedy suit] away from disappearing; anonymity requires much more effort to dispel.

  • by Mostly Harmless (48610) <mike_pete@nOsPam.yahoo.com> on Wednesday July 27, 2011 @09:07AM (#36893824) Homepage
    I value the importance of privacy as much as any good Slashdot reader, but we're talking about an opt-in social network. If you want privacy, don't use the service that's already linked to everything else you do publicly on the Internet. Rather, get your privacy at one of the other, "more secure," social networking sites, like Facebook, or MySpace. Better yet, eschew social networking altogether. Or, if you want an anonymous social network that plays by your rules, build one.
    • He actually means "erodes the ability to not be found out after griefing other accounts that belong to people you know"...

  • Someone who calls themselves Joe Jones is undetectable as a pseudonym, while at the same time Daddy Fantastic and Jet Black [ukdps.co.uk] would probably be suspended for using their legal names
  • Oxymoron (Score:4, Insightful)

    by truthsearch (249536) on Wednesday July 27, 2011 @09:09AM (#36893870) Homepage Journal

    The point of social networks is to share. That's naturally counterproductive to privacy. At the very least I must know something about who I'm sharing information with or I wouldn't be there.

    The only real privacy on a social network could be within your circle of "friends", as opposed to having a public profile. But within that circle absolute privacy would be pointless.

    • by Hatta (162192)

      At the very least I must know something about who I'm sharing information with or I wouldn't be there.

      Yes, but that something doesn't need to be your real name. All you really need to know is that you share common interests.

      The only real privacy on a social network could be within your circle of "friends", as opposed to having a public profile.

      Or by having a public profile behind a pseudonym. That way you can even share your most embarrassing moment with the world, and it never gets back to you.

      I don't se

      • I'm very much in favor of privacy and anonymity on the internet. But social networks, by definition, give up information which easily identify who you are. Just your connections can be enough. But more likely you're going to post or connect to certain interests which give up more information.

        My view is simply that if you want true anonymity online, you will never have it using a social network.

    • by Xacid (560407)

      My real friends know who I am regardless of if my name on any of those sites is James Dean or Martha Stewart...

    • As you just pointed out, you do have privacy in the social network - at least, you do want it.
      So no, there's no oxymoron here, and you're contradicting yourself.

      Privacy does not mean "secret to only you", it means you share with whoever you like and only those (and that can also be only you if you wish)

    • by Daetrin (576516)
      Other people have pointed out that what's important is communicating with people who share your interests, not knowing the real identities of the people your communicating with, but here's some facts to go with the theory.

      Wikipedia's List of social networking website [wikipedia.org]

      How many of those sites require or even encourage the public use of real names? I don't know exactly myself, but i do know that it is _far_ from 100%. In fact i'm guessing that social networking sites that require real identities are actual
  • by Pope (17780) on Wednesday July 27, 2011 @09:10AM (#36893874)

    The choice to join is still yours. If you don't like it, don't join it, pure and simple.

    • by mijelh (1111411)
      A Japanese guy once told me that in Japan, when they go to a restaurant and the food is not cooked the way they like, they just smile, say everything was fine, pay the bill and never come back. Pure and simple, but maybe if they asked for the food to be cooked the way they like, the cook could have done it and it would be better for both.
  • Sorry, I really don't want to talk or even interact with anyone not accountable for their actions. (And yes, my account name has a real name behind it so I am accountable, too.) Generally, it's no big deal. However, it's a problem just often enough that I want to be able to report "jerkish" behavior when necessary. And I want someone to do something about it. (I am not allowed to shoot these people.) Sites that do not respond these reports lose my business. Just my 2 cents. Literally.
    • by Xacid (560407)

      I could see this making more sense back in the early facebook days when you were required to have a *.edu and your name could be reasonably verified. With G+ I could make a gmail account "Joe.Blow@gmail.com" and become Mr. Joe Blow. There's no accountability there to begin with.

    • by vlm (69642)

      Sorry, I really don't want to talk or even interact with anyone not accountable for their actions. (And yes, my account name has a real name behind it so I am accountable, too.) Generally, it's no big deal. However, it's a problem just often enough that I want to be able to report "jerkish" behavior when necessary. And I want someone to do something about it. (I am not allowed to shoot these people.) Sites that do not respond these reports lose my business. Just my 2 cents. Literally.

      Just as a helpful warning to you, I tried our strategy when debating an anonymous coward on G+ and they got all creepy, just short of where I felt the need to report them for making personal threats. As a group I've seen they get really freaky when people suggest they aren't worth paying attention to them... like they're going to find a way to force people to pay attention to them, even if its in a very bad way, if you know what I mean. Think of recent atrocities in the news, kind of getting attention. J

    • Sorry, I really don't want to talk or even interact with anyone not accountable for their actions. (And yes, my account name has a real name behind it so I am accountable, too.) Generally, it's no big deal. However, it's a problem just often enough that I want to be able to report "jerkish" behavior when necessary. And I want someone to do something about it. (I am not allowed to shoot these people.) Sites that do not respond these reports lose my business. Just my 2 cents. Literally.

      You needn't apologize for your opinion, you're as entitled to it to the next guy. But I don't think it's absolutely necessary to have an account associated with an actual identity to be able to report "jerkish" behavior. Suppose "Jerkface87" and "John Smith" were both being jerks. Presumably you could accuse either one.

      But couldn't "Jerkface87" just re-register under a different name? Sure. But couldn't John Smith do so to? In fact, couldn't John Smith just come back as another "John Smith"? Or would one ba

    • The thing is that a persistent pseudonym accomplishes the same thing. You don't know my name, but this account has been posting on slashdot for over a decade. You can judge whether things I have to say are worth listening to, or whether I'm an astroturfer by the history of things I've had to say. My name is not critical to that decision, nor in fact is my name even unique.

      I like the idea of being able to shed a pseudonym over time. People change. I recall hearing politicians lambasted over things they

  • They lost me (Score:4, Insightful)

    by necro81 (917438) on Wednesday July 27, 2011 @09:13AM (#36893924) Journal
    When I got to this line of the summary:

    erodes privacy on the social network

    Isn't a social network non-private by definition? There are plenty of ways to meet and communicate with people that are somewhat private and anonymous, but a social network (on the internet or in meatspace) is not one of them.

  • by vlm (69642) on Wednesday July 27, 2011 @09:15AM (#36893960)

    ability for people to be private in any meaningful way.

    Code words for spamming, trolling, and PR astroturfing.

    I am thrilled G+ doesn't allow psuedonyms. Makes it a much higher class establishment. Rob Malda and I are in each others circles, what could be better?

    If G+ was the only social network / web bloggy thing on the internet, if 1% of the population violently disliked a policy of theirs, I guess that would be bad. But they aren't.

    Lets visit a paradise of psudonyms, how about my local, not dead yet, newspaper web site. The comments sections are nothing but a dead wasteland of political extremist astroturfers screaming the same corporate / party talking points at each other over and over, spammers trying to sell shoes (wtf?) and pills, and 4chan/goonsquad style shock trollers. Everyone else has been successfully repelled away. Seriously. No normal human beings use it because its a toxic waste dump.

    Which brings up the obvious question that always has to be asked... who benefits? Say G+ allows 4chan /. zerohedge style psudeonyms. Who benefits? Mostly I suppose any competitor, since the users of G+ will be strongly repelled. Also PR astroturfing firms will benefit. Who else makes more money? Hmm.

    Lets say G+ allows the rabble in, and the rabble repels everyone as they always do. Then whats the point? Who will ye annointed ones, ye whistle-blowers and ye wikileakers tell their important secrets to? The spammer selling dick pills? The political party talking point autopost-bot? No one's perl script will care what they post.

    One thing I've noticed in debates on G+ about anonymity is the straw dog always trotted out that unless G+ allows fake names, we'll never have whistleblowers and anonymous leaks. All of which happened before G+ was invented, so presumably could continue to happen after. Furthermore, all the people trotting out that straw dog have NEVER added anything positive to the ecosystem in general or that argument in specific other than "nah nah naah naa na, you don't know who I am, ha ha ha". Anyone trotting out that straw dog better be carrying a wikileaks-grade release, or their just annoying poseurs at best.

    • by sadr (88903) <skg@sadr.com> on Wednesday July 27, 2011 @10:04AM (#36894574)

      I'm firmly atheist. I don't choose to participate in skepticism advocacy, but if I choose to, I might well prefer a pseudonym. (There are several fundamentalists in my management chain at work.)

      I know of several people who are involved in the burner and pagan communities, who keep all of their non-mundane activities under pseudonyms. I don't currently know anyone involved in the SCA, but in the past I understood that many people didn't mix their role and real life.

      I've been told that the BDSM community uses nicknames almost exclusively.

      Many actors, musicians, authors, etc. work under pseudonyms, and would probably prefer not to mix their personal and public identities.

      People being stalked (in real life or online) might have something to say, but not want to post under their real name.

      Activists in the middle east and china certain prefer not to be forced to post under their real name.

      Pretty much any individual or community that is subject to personal, social, legal, or political harassment may have motivation to operate in a public space, but use pseudonyms.

      How about having a couple of flags, for "anonymous accounts" and "pseudonymous" accounts (the latter being "google knows my name and has verified it as much as anything else, but it isn't posted associated with this account). And indicate anony/psuedo accounts at the top of the profile screen. Add a security setting to block them entirely.

  • by petes_PoV (912422) on Wednesday July 27, 2011 @09:16AM (#36893976)

    I "suffer" from quite a common first/last name combination. People who google my name get several thousands of hits - only a few of which trace back to me. (And you'd be hard-pressed to know which few, unless you knew a lot about me, personally). In fact on FB by using my real name I just merge into the crowd of others with that name, or variants of it.

    So it seems to me that in order to preserve anonymity on G+, all people have to do is make sure that their real name is a very popular one. It might make it a pain for your friends to find you - although if they really ARE friends, you'll have shown them where you're hiding - but it has a lot of advantages, too.

    • I'm in a similar situation. My real name is that of a country singer. Thus very little online is attributable to me. Even if you narrow down searches, it's still hard not to have the singer overwhelm the results.

      It may be security through obscurity, but it is one level of protection.

  • by Chrisq (894406) on Wednesday July 27, 2011 @09:17AM (#36893988)
    But if you know my real name you will have ultimate power over me.
    -- Rumple********
  • Enforcement? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Mr. Vage (1084371) on Wednesday July 27, 2011 @09:18AM (#36894002)

    I have still yet to see them use the real name policy on anyone in my circles. Who checks the names? Do they need to be reported? I'm looking at one of my circles right now, and I see names like Sordid Euphemism, Mr Dragon, reddit brony, Fluttershy, the autowitch, Rainbow Danish, etc. Not to mention my own obviously fake name. As far as I can tell this policy isn't being strictly enforced, if at all. That doesn't change the fact that it is a stupid policy, but they don't seem to be removing fake accounts left and right.

  • ... surely all of this is pretty much irrelevant. Google has said they're working on it (http://www.cmswire.com/cms/enterprise-20/google-for-business-is-on-the-way-012111.php) so then, unless there really is a Mr. Coca Cola, or Senor Adi Das, things should happen just as they do on Facebook. Of course, making that work in the Circles paradigm might be rather fun.
  • What about allowing people to have a display name (that by default is the same as the real name), and the option of exposing the real name to selected circles?

    • by vlm (69642)

      What about allowing people to have a display name (that by default is the same as the real name), and the option of exposing the real name to selected circles?

      Give us the ability to filter comment posts out if the real name is hidden, and I think market balance would be achieved.

      I'm not talking about filtering posts, if gringer is in my circles, as he probably would be, I wanna see gringer's public posts, what I'm talking about is post comments, where gringer posts "What about allowing people to have ... " and instantly he gets 500 anonymous comments trying to sell pills, "my political party is better than the other party", troll troll troll.

      • by gringer (252588)

        instantly he gets 500 anonymous comments trying to sell pills, "my political party is better than the other party", troll troll troll.

        That reminds me, can I interest you in some tasty fudge [gringer.org]? I've heard that it works quite well as a pain reliever [anesthesia-analgesia.org] for newborn babies, and also for pain relief in sexually active adult males [nih.gov].

  • Most people who care so much about privacy, are a small minority. Most people don't seem to care about privacy. They don't seem to realize that it is as through there are microphones at every coffee machine and at every water cooler and at every bus stop, and every thing they ever utter is recorded, indexed, archived forever. But they form the overwhelming majority of the population. They pump so much of cash into to market, if you don't take advantage of them, someone else will. So Google is also playing t
  • by Co0Ps (1539395) on Wednesday July 27, 2011 @09:49AM (#36894382)

    By requiring people to only use their real names, unless they just happen to be a celebrity, they have eliminated the ability for people to be private in any meaningful way.

    What a nice twisting of words. How is "having to use your real name" different from being indexed in a phone listing or birthday directory? I think this author needs to look up the definition of "being private". Being private does not mean that people are unaware that you exist or that they are unable to attribute your opinions or other personal data. Rather, it means that you have control over who can access what of your personal data, and I found that easier to do in G+ than FB which is one of the reasons I rather use G+.

    Also FB is known for paying people to badmouth Google. Just saying...

  • I would like to have a different name for each circle. For my music friends I am Guitar Smasher and for my business colleagues my real name, etc. That with be a real win over Facebook.

  • Big, big problem. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by RanceJustice (2028040)

    I'm really disappointed with all of the "If you don't like it, go find your own social network!" apologist drivel. That's one step away from "Fuck you, if you don't like what America does, why don't you leave you damn liberal!". Hyper-capitalist worship of business has generated this culture where any sort of despicable behavior by a business, especially large corporation is beyond reproach. "You" peon consumer, can either choose not to buy it, or you can shut up. You don't have the right to criticize a

  • by adenied (120700) on Wednesday July 27, 2011 @10:26AM (#36894874)

    I have a friend whose account was disabled Friday because Google claimed that his name wasn't real. Granted, he does have something of an odd name, but it's his completely legitimate legally given name. He had to resort to creating a Livejournal entry and asking friends to comment on it saying they've known him for a long time and he's always used that name. Supposedly Google will take this testimony into account in these cases.

    The kicker? He works for Google. I'm not sure if the account has been re-enabled at this point or not.

    Our new overlords. Some asshole programmer in a cube in Mountain View making arbitrary decisions about what names are "real".

  • by m.dillon (147925) on Wednesday July 27, 2011 @01:47PM (#36898626) Homepage

    I'm not surprised that Google wants people to use actual account names. It still doesn't have to be your real name, you can always create another google account after all! So the title is misleading. What Google is doing is not allowing people to trivially create dozens or hundreds of pseudonyms from one convenient account

    The pseudonym mechanic completely destroyed Yahoo's message boards. And I mean completely. The abuse is so high that the value of the boards is gone. They're worthless now. Google is taking that lesson to heart, hopefully.

    -Matt

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