Facebook has landed itself in trouble again over it’s controversial data policy, which actively seeks to destroy the anonymity of its users.
Germany’s Hamburg Commissioner for Data Protection, Johannes Caspar, has found that Facebook’s ‘real names’ policy is in violation of German data protection law and must cease immediately.
Caspar has informed Facebook that it must allow users to use pseudonyms on its free content ad network; an order that was not surprising, considering that Germany allows writers and other artists to use pseudonyms on their identity cards.
The Commissioner also prohibited Facebook from requiring certain users to verify their identity with official identification documents, like their identity card or passport. Moreover, he asserted that the “unauthorized changing of the pseudonym [back] to the real name of the account holder blatantly violates the right to informational self-determination and constitutes a deliberate infringement of the Data Protection Act.”
These statements were motivated by a woman’s complaints to the Hamburg watchdog, after Facebook blocked her account and changed her username to her real name.
Facebook had argued, as it has in all of its other cases in the European Union (EU), that it was only governed by the laws of Ireland, where it is headquartered. The company therefore justified its actions by asserting that the Irish Data Protection Commissioner had approved its “real names” policy in December 2011.
In a statement Facebook attempted to defend their position:
“The use of authentic names on Facebook protects people’s privacy and safety by ensuring people know who they’re sharing and connecting with.”
Caspar, however, noted that this was no excuse because a similar tactic from Google had failed before the European Court of Justice just last year. Unfortunately, this dispute will do little to reassure data protection officials in Germany that Ireland’s data protection rules are capable of policing the many international internet giants that base their European operations in Dublin.
These issues have caused difficult negotiations on the proposed EU Data Protection Regulation, which aims to clarify jurisdictional issues. Meanwhile, Facebook faces investigations over its user tracking policy in other EU countries.
“In this case, Facebook can not retreat to the position that the Irish Data Protection Act is relevant,” he said, adding: “Facebook is an economic activity with its branch in Hamburg in Germany. Therefore the following applies: If you play on our pitch, you play by our rules.”
Watch as Zuckerberg gets nervous when pressed about privacy issues: