After years of receiving complaints that its policies put users at risk, Google said today that it has eliminated the requirement that people use their real names on Google+. The real-name policy, which debuted with the launch of Google+ three years ago, was designed to create a network that looked like Facebook. "But it also excluded a number of people who wanted to be part of it without using their real names," the company said today in an unsigned post on Google+. The policy generated criticism from privacy advocates and journalists who argued that it threatened to expose people who had valid reasons for wanting to use pseudonyms.

The company noted that it has gradually relaxed restrictions on the policy, allowing YouTube users and brand pages to pick any names they want. But that only made the real-name requirement more confusing for Google+ users.  "We know that our names policy has been unclear, and this has led to some unnecessarily difficult experiences for some of our users," the company said. "For this we apologize, and we hope that today's change is a step toward making Google+ the welcoming and inclusive place that we want it to be." The future of Google+ has been uncertain since Vic Gundotra abruptly stepped down and Sergey Brin openly lamented getting involved with it in the first place. Today's move is a nice nod to inclusion — but it may have come too late.