I sympathize with Google’s efforts to prevent impersonation on plus. But I didn’t think the real names policy was the right approach, and I don’t think the verification badge approach addresses the right problem either. Taking a concrete example, my real name is David Karger, and I can certainly get that verified. But there’s another David Karger out there (my doppleganger, film critic for Entertainment Weekly). If I get my name verified and then start posting “my draft movie reviews for Entertainment Weekly”, how exactly is name verification going to help people not be deceived?
They problem is that name is a (poor) proxy for identity. If Google wants to prevent me from impersonating that other David Karger, they need to demand something that only that David Karger can offer. And there’s an obvious approach that has been used in the past by Google. In order to prove that I manage a given web site, Google makes me modify a page on the site. This has general use. To prove that I’m the David who posted that EW article, I just need to put a signature on that article, and give google the public key needed to verify that signature.
This only offers “relative” identity, showing that two entities (the plus user and web page owner) are the same. But that’s all you can ever do—the the current “verification” scheme just aims to prove that a given plus user is the same as the holder of a particular name (and that comes with the problems mentioned above). Its main limitation is that it only allows you to associate two digital identities; associating to a real-world identity requires connection mechanisms outside the Internet (for example, I authenticate that I own a given phone number by receiving a call on that number that conveys a secret key I type back into the computer).
Perhaps google could use their weight to give a nice push to a general public key infrastructure. Imagine if every plus user automatically got a public/private key pair they could use to sign other digital artifacts, and google provided web-based software to verify those signatures? Besides providing (positive) identity verification on my Google plus account, this would also start to offer (negative) impersonation protection, as signing my artifacts would provide proof that I made them.