This article was published on February 15, 2013

Facebook wins court battle to keep its real name policy against German privacy watchdog

Facebook wins court battle to keep its real name policy against German privacy watchdog

Facebook has come out on top in a recent court battle in Germany, after it was challenged by a privacy watchdog for forcing new users to register with their real name.

Covered by the Associated Press, the problem is that users cannot choose to use a handle or pseudonym to register with the social network – as you can with Twitter and YouTube, for example.

A data protection body located in Schleswig-Holstein, the northernmost state in Germany, has argued that such a policy breaches German privacy laws, as well as European policy that it supposed to protect users’ freedom of speech on the Internet.

An administrative court ruled yesterday however that the German privacy rules do not apply to Facebook, because its headquarters for Europe are based in Ireland where the rules are far less stringent.

The data protection body in Schleswig-Holstein said today it would be appealing the decision, presumably on the grounds that the policy should be considered against EU law specifically – a union which Ireland is most definitely a part of.

The agency first ordered Facebook to end its real name policy last December, arguing that it violated German laws that give people the right to use pseudonyms online. In a statement reported by the BBC, Thilo Weichert, head of the regional data protection office in Schleswig Holstein said: “It is unacceptable that a US portal like Facebook violates German data protection law unopposed and with no prospect of an end.”

Facebook immediately responded in a comment given to ITWorld, saying it would fight the order and that it was “without merit” and a “waste of German tapayers’ money.”

Facebook has argued that by requiring new users to display their real name, it actually protects other users on the social network. That does make sense in some circumstances, as certain users are less likely to bully or harass other people if it’s clear who they really are.

The flipside to that argument though is that it’s very easy for Facebook users to deceive one another, even with the supposed ‘real name’ policy in effect. As the American documentary film Catfish portrayed in 2010, there are plenty of people who have created entirely false identities through the social network, including profile information, photographs and even their relationship with users.

Germany has pretty strict privacy rules compared to other countries, which have affected not just Facebook in the past but other technology companies, such as Google, regarding the way in which they use private data.

Image Credit: Manjunath Kiran/AFP/Getty Images

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