Germany Has Ordered Facebook to Allow Fake Names

Illustration for article titled Germany Has Ordered Facebook to Allow Fake Names

The issue of using fake names on Facebook has been long-raging. But for Germany, the case seems pretty clear: a national privacy watchdog has told Facebook that it may not prevent the use of fake names.

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Reuters reports that the Hamburg-based data protection authority, which polices Facebook in Germany, “could not unilaterally change users’ chosen usernames to their real names, nor could it ask them for official ID.” The demand was spurred by a complaint from a woman, who reported that Facebook blocked her account, demanded ID, then changed her username to her real one. The woman argued that she didn’t want to use her real name for business reasons, and the watchodog claims that being forced to violates her privacy rights.

Facebook is said to be “disappointed” with the order, though it’s not clear exactly how it will affect the social network’s policy. Last month, Zuckerberg made his first public announcement about the issue during an AMA on Facebook:

Real name does not mean your legal name. Your real name is whatever you go by and what your friends call you. If your friends all call you by a nickname and you want to use that name on Facebook, you should be able to do that. In this way, we should be able to support everyone using their own real names, including everyone in the transgender community. We are working on better and more ways for people to show us what their real name is so we can both keep this policy which protects so many people in our community while also serving the transgender community.

For what it’s worth, courts can’t seems to decide on whether or not the mandatory use of real names is legal or not. But for a lot of people though, legal or otherwise, it doesn’t seem right or fair. What will happen because of Germany’s declaration remains to be seen.

[Reuters via Verge]

DISCUSSION

This isn’t banking or some matter related to government, a private company should not be able to make you use your real name on what is effectively a communications toy, namely Facebook.

It’s an amusing passtime, not a vital authoritative tool that bares official capacity in any sense, although the company would love it to be so.

Allowing social networks to enforce real name use will only benefit them, not the users, as they will have authority in controlling, monitoring and collecting highly personalized data on who does what (to shove more personalized ads, although there are other less benign uses for the data), a power and modus operandi very similar to that of that afforded by government.

Although most civilized countries have a proper judicial and legislative branches to limit said governmental functions, companies like Facebook do not afford any separation of powers in any meaningful sense. They’re in a constant conflict of interest with their users; how should they be trusted to work for the customer’s benefit when the customers are the very thing they mine for data? It’s paradoxical and hypocritical.

I’m sure that down the road Facebook would love to position itself as an official “public service” with ties to the back-end of government.

Alas, becoming a necessary cog to countries worldwide guarantees any company’s longevity and negotiation power vis-a-vis competitors and legislation that could limit potential expansions in its legal rights and functional capabilities.

I believe that they, Facebook, are doing all that they can to lay down the road to eventually reach that point, one small “feature” at a time.

This should not be allowed, especially at the expense of personal privacy. People must have a choice.