Facebook ordered to change naming policy


Facebook has been ordered by a German privacy commissioner to stop insisting users register their real names with the social network.

This condition, in Facebook’s terms of use, violates a guarantee of anonymity in German telemedia law, according to Thilo Weichert, head of the data protection commission in the northern state of Schleswig-Holstein. He served an order on Facebook founder and chairman Mark Zuckerberg, ordering him to comply within two weeks or face a possible fine of up to €20,000.

“It is unacceptable that a US portal like Facebook violates German data protection law unopposed and with no prospect of an end,” said Mr Weichert. He said it was “reasonable” to allow pseudonyms on Facebook to ensure users did not “fear unpleasant consequences”.

The filing, sent to Facebook’s headquarters in Palo Alto, California, is viewed as a test case for other German state data protection offices to establish whether legal responsibility for Facebook’s international operations lies in California or in Dublin, home to its international operations.

Facebook said it would fight the order, which it described as “a waste of German taxpayers’ money”.

It represents another stage in a data protection battle involving European data authorities and the US company.

The data watchdog was highly critical of a recent Facebook audit report by Ireland’s office of the data protection commissioner. “It’s hard to understand. . . how our Irish colleagues could have the impression that most of [its] recommendations had been implemented ‘to full satisfaction’,” the watchdog wrote, saying many of its complaints were “not addressed or not rejected in a convincing way”.

The commissioner declined to comment on the order.