Facebook told to stop forcing people to use their real names

29 Jul 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Facebook Ordered by Hamburg Regulator to Allow Pseudonyms.

Brussels – Facebook may not prevent its users from using fake names, a German privacy watchdog said on Tuesday, in the latest privacy setback for the US company in Europe.

“The use of authentic names on Facebook protects people’s privacy and safety by ensuring people know who they’re sharing and connecting with,” said a spokesperson for the company. The Hamburg data protection authority, which is responsible for policing Facebook in Germany, said the social network firm could not unilaterally change users’ chosen usernames to their real names, nor could it ask them for official ID.

The company, whose European headquarters are in Ireland, can’t argue it’s only subject to that country’s law, he said. “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. She said her account was blocked for using a fake name, then she was requested to show a copy of her ID and her name was changed unilaterally to her real one after the ID was provided. The German authority is also working with a Belgian privacy watchdog, as well as their Spanish, Dutch and French counterparts to look into the lawfulness of the policy.

The decision reached is that Facebook must not control people’s names on its site, and must allow at least some pseudonyms to be taken by people who want to protect their identity. The watchdog ordered Facebook not to unilaterally change users’ names to real ones as such a practice violates their privacy rights, the authority decided. Tuesday’s order is based on a complaint by a user who’d sought to prevent her private Facebook account from being used by people wishing to contact her about business matters.

Previously, in 2012, the data protection agency of the northernmost German state Schleswig-Holstein ordered Facebook to allow people to use pseudonyms. It argued that the German law guarantees the “fundamental right to freedom of expression on the Internet” among other by allowing users to use imaginary names.

Apparently the woman wanted to use a different name so as to better mask her professional identity in the online medium, as she did not want to be contacted on Facebook for work related issues. In an audit in December 2011 the Irish privacy watchdog concluded that Facebook’s authentic name policy did not contravene Irish law and its reasons for the policy, such as child safety and the prevention of online harassment, were justified. Caspar now argues that a ruling last year by Europe’s top court on Google Inc.’s search engine results changed the situation and allows him to regulate Facebook. Facebook HQ in Europe is situated in Ireland; therefore the company’s stance is to comply solely with Irish laws, which, according to a 2011 audit, it does not violate.

The recent Hamburg order followed a similar incident, which took place in Belgium last month, where the local privacy watchdog filed a suit against Facebook for the way it tracks users’ activity. Verified email addresses: All users on Independent Media news sites are now required to have a verified email address before being allowed to comment on articles.

Facebook’s response to this was disappointment, as they say that their privacy policy had been previously tried by multiple courts in Germany, all subsequently deeming it compliant with the law of the EU. Facebook has repeatedly defended its policy by saying that using real names doesn’t invade people’s privacy, but rather protects them from others. On previous instances that spurred debate, Facebook said that, as its EU headquarters was located in Ireland, than it should only abide to the law present in Ireland.

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