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article imageGerman privacy agency orders changes to Facebook real name policy

By Leigh Goessl     Dec 18, 2012 in Internet
German lawmakers are once again coming at Facebook over privacy issues. This time the country's data protection officers say Facebook's requirement of its members to use their real names violates German laws.
German privacy agents say that Facebook's long-standing real name policy violates German laws that allow people the right to use online pseudonyms, reports BBC News.
According to a statement dated Dec. 17, 2012, and issued by the Unabhaengiges Landeszentrum fuer Datenschutz (ULD, Office of the Data Protection Commissioner) in Schleswig-Holstein, Germany has instructed both Facebook Inc./USA and Facebook Ltd./Ireland to allow pseudonyms on accounts.
To date, the social network giant has refused to waver in its insistence its membership use their real names.
As a result, the ULD has issued a decree that people can use fake names immediately or the social network will face fines. Facebook says it will fight this decree, indicating the company has met European data protection laws. It is anticipated other German states will soon follow Schleswig-Holstein's decree, reported Speigel Online.
“It is unacceptable that a U.S. portal like Facebook violates German data protection law unopposed and with no prospect of an end. The aim of the orders of ULD is to finally bring about a legal clarification of who is responsible for Facebook and to what this company is bound to. Actually, this should be in the interest of the company, too," said Thilo Weichert, Privacy Commissioner and Head of ULD in the statement.
"In so far, we hope for a fact-based debate not aimed at delaying action. In view of the fact that Facebook currently is taking the opportunity from all its members to decide themselves about their own discoverability under their name, our initiative is more urgent than ever,” Weichert said.
Spiegel reported the German Telemedia Act of 2007 [PDF] allows fake and/or nicknames names to be used online, thus ULD says Facebook should comply with this law.
Facebook says the ULD's ruling is a "waste of taxpayer money", reported several media outlets.
"In our view, the decree is completely unfounded and a waste of German taxpayer money," a Facebook spokesperson said in an emailed statement to IT World. "We will fight it vigorously."
German privacy regulators say, "The permission to use pseudonyms on Facebook is reasonable. The real name obligation does neither prevent abuse of the service for insults or provocations nor does it help prevent identity theft. Against this other precautions are necessary."
Facebook has often come under fire for privacy related issues, both in Europe and in the U.S. While the company has weathered many of the firestorms it faced in the U.S. over the past several years, privacy regulators in Germany are not giving up. Over the summer, Digital Journal reported German officials had reopened a privacy investigation against Facebook over its facial recognition technology.
Additionally, the company is currently coming under fire for its new privacy policy regarding Instagram, a company recently acquired by the social network giant. Earlier today, Digital Journal reported an announcement was made that outlined significant changes to terms of service, which is leading to outrage.
What do you think? Are German authorities acting unreasonable, or should Facebook drop the "real name" policy it has been operating under and leave names up to user discretion?
More about Germany, Office of the Data Protection Commissioner, ULD, Privacy, Facebook
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