Facebook's real name policy, which prevents people from using the service with pseudonyms, has pissed off a lot of people – especially as of late. Facebook's policy has drawn the ire of the transgender community, domestic violence victim, privacy advocates, and Native American groups. But in the States, the policy hasn't gained any regulatory attention.
Not the case overseas, where German regulators have struck the policy down.
The Hamburg data protection authority has ruled that Facebook cannot force users to use their real names, and they also cannot require users to produce an official ID in order to access their accounts.
A woman had complained to the Hamburg watchdog after Facebook blocked her account for using a pseudonym, requested a copy of her ID and unilaterally changed her username into her real name.
The Hamburg Data Protection Authority said the woman did not want to use her real name to avoid being contacted through it for business matters.
Forcing users to stick to their real names violated their privacy rights, it said.
Facebook's response is that the policy actually protects user safety and privacy – plus German regulations shouldn't affect it as its European headquarters is located in Ireland. This is an argument we've heard from Facebook on many occasions.
Not only that, but Facebook says that in the past, German courts have sided with it on this matter.
And Facebook's not wrong there. Years ago, Facebook won a battle over its real name policy. In December of 2012, German data protection office Unabhaengiges Landeszentrum fuer Datenschutz (ULD) issued a ruling against Facebook’s real names policy, claiming that it infringed upon citizen’s rights to free speech and anonymity online. Facebook appealing the ruling, and a few months later an administrative court approved Facebook’s request to suspend the ruling. The reason? Facebook was only beholden to Irish data protection laws, since their European offices are located there.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg recently spoke out about the policy.
"It helps keep people safe," he said in a Q&A session. "We know that people are much less likely to try to act abusively towards other members of our community when they’re using their real names. There are plenty of cases — for example, a woman leaving an abusive relationship and trying to avoid her violent ex-husband — where preventing the ex-husband from creating profiles with fake names and harassing her is important. As long as he’s using his real name, she can easily block him."
"Second, real names help make the service easier to use. People use Facebook to look up friends and people they meet all the time. This is easy because you can just type their name into search and find them. This becomes much harder if people don’t use their real names."