Tuesday, December 18, 2012

German privacy regulators tell Facebook to allow pseudonyms. Really?

According to Techcrunch, German privacy regulators have ordered Facebook to cease enforcing its "Real Names" policy in that country, saying it is in violation of German law (See Facebook Users Must Be Allowed To Use Pseudonyms, Says German Privacy Regulator; Real-Name Policy ‘Erodes Online Freedoms’ | TechCrunch).

I am not in a position to comment on whether or how this is consistent with German law, but my initial reaction is "Really? Regulators are getting into the product design business?" This is getting a little ridiculous. The real names policy is an inherent feature of Facebook. If you want to use Facebook, that's what the service includes. If you don't want to use your real name, don't use Facebook. As long as the user is informed at the beginning that real names are required, and as long as there is no "bait and switch", knowledge and consent are satisfied. Nobody is being forced to use Facebook.

People are autonomous, sentient beings who should be able to make choices -- good and bad -- about the products they use. If all products and services online had to be designed based on the lowest common denominator of paranoia and sensitivity, there would be no Facebook or Twitter. Imagine what would have happened to Twitter if it had been forced to implement "protect my tweets" by default. It would be a group messaging service, not the incredible force for good we've seen it become. (The fact that pseudonyms are permitted on Twitter is a choice the company made, not one that should be forced on the company and its users.)

Privacy should be about informed choices about how personal information is collected, used and disclosed. It should not be about taking away those choices.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hello David,

Interesting news. Likewise, I'm hardly an expert on German or EU privacy law, but what about under Canadian law.

One might argue that under the aegis of "Limiting Collection", a user's real name isn't actually necessary...so why collect it?