Facebook’s real-names policy goes for a toss in Germany as Hamburg regulator orders it to allow pseudonyms or alias

Facebook’s real-names policy which it had been guarding for over a decade now has been thrown out the window in Germany. The real name policy has been a subject of controversy even Facebook founder defended it last month. But now Facebook users in Germany can use pseudonyms/alias on the social networking site instead of their real names.

The Hamburg Data Protection Authority said that the social network could not force users to replace pseudonyms with real names, nor could it ask to see official identification, which has ruled that the site’s “real name” policy violates the right to privacy.

The ruling came after the Facebook account of a woman in Hamburg was blocked when she objected to demands for ID authentication and a requirement to alter her user name.

Reacting on the ruling, a spokesperson said “We’re disappointed Facebook’s authentic name policy is being revisited, since German courts have reviewed it on multiple occasions and regulators have determined it fully complies with applicable European data protection law.”

“The use of authentic names on Facebook protects people’s privacy and safety by ensuring people know who they’re sharing and connecting with.”

Johannes Caspar, the Hamburg Commissioner for data protection and freedom of information, said: “As in many other complaints against Facebook, this case demonstrates that the network wants to enforce the so-called real names policy with no regard to national legislation.”

He also said that it is violation of rights if the requirement is to use a real name, preserved in German law, to use a pseudonym, while requests for digital copies of an official photo ID also is in conflict with the passport and ID card law. Additionally, he said that “the unauthorised modification of the pseudonym … blatantly violated the right to informational self-determination and constitutes a deliberate infringement of the Data Protection Act”.

Facebook has had repeated arguments with the European law regulator, as the company believes that it has to comply only with Irish data protection laws since its headquarters is in Ireland.

“Anyone who stands on our pitch also has to play our game,” said Caspar. “The arbitrary change of the user name blatantly violates” privacy rights.

Caspar and other German regulators have been fighting with Facebook for years over the implementation of European data-protection rules. The U.S. company has argued that the Irish regulator has jurisdiction over its compliance with EU privacy law.

Authorities from Germany, France, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Spain have joined hands to work together to investigate Facebook’s privacy policies. The arbitrary change of the user name openly violates privacy rights.

The company’s real-name policy has for long been the subject of public demonstration on the site. In February, Facebook was charged with discrimination after many of the Native American activists claimed that their names were changed to match European norms or their accounts were suspended.

In June, Facebook’s real-name policy again hit the headlines after a former transgender Facebook employee who played an important role in introducing the company’s custom gender feature, was required to “prove” her name to the company – the same badge name that she had while she was working for Facebook.

“We use names that don’t match our ID on Facebook for safety, or because we’re trans, or because we’re just straight up not known by our legal names.”

“Having chosen its policy, Facebook has to enforce it. And because its policy attempts to hammer the reality of names into a constrained model they end up having to make a trade-off in the edge cases. Some people are not allowed to use their names so that everyone else’s can be enforced.”

With the German regulators allowing Facebook users to use fake name for posting, sharing and registering, it is evident that pretty soon European Union might follow suit and rest of the world will follow suit. It remains to be seen how Facebook honchos deal with the body blow to their real-name policy.

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