Culture

by Timothy Geigner


Filed Under:
anonymity, europe, germany, real names, regulations

Companies:
facebook



Everyone's A Bad Guy: German Regulator Orders Facebook To Drop Its Stupid 'Real Name' Policy

from the sigh dept

While it seems that too many people and organizations think that the problem with the internet is too much anonymity, there are those who see the opposite as being the case. Google, for instance, at one point instituted a "real name" policy for its platforms, arguing that areas like the comments section on YouTube, which required a real name login, would be worlds better if only everyone had to put their real names on their comments. It was a dumb idea for several reasons, including the complete unworkability of the policy and the fact that, haha, nothing can clean up YouTube's comments section, you silly fools. For these reasons, Google eventually dropped the policy and restored anonymity on its platforms, and yet somehow the world kept turning.

Facebook too has adopted a real name policy and it's been every bit as effective at tamping down unruly behavior. Which is to say that it hasn't. At all. And, in the meantime, valid reasons for wanting to be anonymous online are thrown by the wayside. As it turns out, one German privacy watchdog group considered this an important enough issue to go on the muscle and declare that Facebook must allow anonymous accounts on its platform. Per Bloomberg:

Facebook Inc. was ordered by a German privacy watchdog to allow users to have accounts under pseudonyms on the social network. Facebook may not unilaterally change such accounts to the real names of users and may not block them, Johannes Caspar, Hamburg’s data regulator, said in an e-mailed statement. The company, whose European headquarters are in Ireland, can’t argue it’s only subject to that country’s law, he said.

“Anyone who stands on our pitch also has to play our game,” said Caspar. “The arbitrary change of the user name blatantly violates” privacy rights.
Let's be clear: anonymous speech is an ideal I think everyone should embrace. That said, this move by the regulator is simply another step in an ongoing trend in which European companies appear to want to wield a heavy regulatory hammer on foreign, and especially American, companies. And that trend isn't a good one for a whole host of reasons. Nationalism when it comes to an internet that by definition ignores borders is going to create havoc in an online world that feeds off of open speech and communication. While privacy rights are a laudible goal, creating a patchwork of regulatory rules for companies whose business is the internet is certainly not. And European targeting of American companies in this respect is only going to create a regulatory proxy war that nobody will benefit from.

The most disappointing part of all of this is that this particular story never would have happened if Facebook, with its American roots, had simply stood up for basic American ideals, of which anonymous speech is counted. You simply can't even graze the history of America without encountering the immense importance of anonymous speech, from the publication of Common Sense to the Supreme Court's recognition of it being a basic American ideal. For Facebook to open the door to regulatory abuse by a foreign nation by not honoring this heritage is extremely disappointing. Facebook's reaction to this news is as maddening as it is nonsensical.
“The use of authentic names on Facebook protects people’s privacy and safety by ensuring people know who they’re sharing and connecting with,” the company said in an e-mailed statement.
Ensuring people's privacy by taking away part of that privacy is an interesting theory in that it's self-contradictory on its face. Like I said, there are no good guys in this story, mostly because Facebook has ensured it won't play that role.


Reader Comments

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  • icon
    jameshogg (profile), 29 Jul 2015 @ 2:16pm

    I find it amusing how groups call for people to have their real names online, and then also want the "right to be forgotten" when embarrassing stuff is said under those real names and can't be removed without broad-sweeping court orders (e.g. Google). You must identify yourself!...unless you don't want to!

    Now we are being told that anonymity is something that tech companies now have to allow on top of every other regulation that was put beforehand, no matter how contradictory.

    If we had been listened to, fools would have known that anonymity is the best defence against your embarrassing stuff online. And unless there's a court order forbidding your name from being mentioned - say in serious sex assault cases - people have the right to talk about your kerfuffles as much as they want and that includes search engines being subject to the right to be forgotten nonsense (Do people wanting false or outdated info that is embarassing to them removed also want false or outdated info that is reputationally convenient removed about them too? Of course they won't).

    A little bit of sanity is required here.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    testcore (profile), 29 Jul 2015 @ 2:22pm

    This is why...

    It's totally clear now why we need investor-state resolution.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    John Fenderson (profile), 29 Jul 2015 @ 2:23pm

    Facebook's response

    Facebook's response is so braindead that I have to wonder: are they really that clueless, or are they just trolling?

    From their equally clueful responses to the internet.org stuff, I'll go with a third option: they're hoping that all of us are that clueless.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Klaus, 29 Jul 2015 @ 4:13pm

      Re: Facebook's response

      I'd go with arrogance....

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 29 Jul 2015 @ 5:01pm

      Re: Facebook's response

      "Ensuring people's privacy by taking away part of that privacy is an interesting theory in that it's self-contradictory on its face."

      Along with WAR IS PEACE, FREEDOM IS SLAVERY, and IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH. It seems the people at Facebook have taken a liking to the ideas in 1984.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    cerda (profile), 29 Jul 2015 @ 2:25pm

    syntax

    s/laudible/laudable/.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Jul 2015 @ 2:31pm

    is Mark Zuckerberg really as bloody stupid as this, as arrogant as this, really thinking he can do this sort of thing and because he gets away with it in the US, thinks he can do so elsewhere? wow!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Mason Wheeler (profile), 29 Jul 2015 @ 3:36pm

      Re:

      Remember you're talking about the guy who declared, in so many words, that users don't really care about privacy and privacy means whatever he says it means. So yes, he really is as arrogant as that!

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Klaus, 29 Jul 2015 @ 4:17pm

      Re:

      Short answer, yes.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 29 Jul 2015 @ 6:29pm

      Re:

      "is Mark Zuckerberg really as bloody stupid as this, as arrogant as this, really thinking he can do this sort of thing and because he gets away with it in the US, thinks he can do so elsewhere? wow!"

      Yes!

      And he is very moderate.

      You should meet some of the American international construction engineering zealots who operate in difficult 3 world situations.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      btr1701 (profile), 30 Jul 2015 @ 11:08am

      Re:

      > is Mark Zuckerberg really as bloody stupid as this,
      > thinking he can do this sort of thing and because
      > he gets away with it in the US, thinks he can do so
      > elsewhere?

      Do what sort of thing? Get away with what, exactly?

      You mean own a website/service and provide people with free use of it so long as they abide by the rules he sets up?

      How horrible!

      Look, Facebook isn't a public utility or anything. It's not essential for life-- I get by just fine without using the damn thing and have done for years-- and it's private property. The owners of that property have a right to set rules by which you can use *their* property. If you don't like their rules, piss off and use some other web site or service.

      Is a "real name" policy a good idea from a business standpoint? Maybe, maybe not. But it's *their* business-- they constructed the site, paid for the servers, the bandwidth, the employees to run it, etc.-- so *they* have the right to make the rules for the people who use it. For FREE no less.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        nasch (profile), 30 Jul 2015 @ 3:36pm

        Re: Re:

        The owners of that property have a right to set rules by which you can use *their* property.

        Except in Germany, apparently. Is this supposed to apply worldwide, or just for German users, or just for facebook.de, or what?

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        tqk (profile), 31 Jul 2015 @ 7:14am

        Re: Re:

        But it's *their* business ...

        I agree with everything you wrote here. However, that doesn't mean they don't deserve to be condemned for their stupid policy.

        I don't want them to get dragged through the courts and forced to change. I do want them to feel the sting of our resentment for their arrogant ignorance of long standing US cultural practice. Anonymity is important from a freedom & liberty point of view. Their unilateral condemnation of it is "un-American", and they should feel shame for spitting on that principle, and encouraging their users to accept this cultural imperialism as the new normal.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Guardian, 29 Jul 2015 @ 3:14pm

    us hackers could have had a lot a fun wiht "real name" policies

    1) i just pretend to be you....haha oh noooz
    2) then i pretend to be anyone you now....ohhh nooooz
    3) oh never mind the fun we could have had damn you germany

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Jul 2015 @ 3:59pm

    While I wholeheartedly support the intent, mandating software features is a questionable slope.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    mrtraver (profile), 29 Jul 2015 @ 4:53pm

    I maintain a Facebook account without my real name just for games and to occasionally leave brutally honest comments of which my employer would not approve. I certainly don't "know" all 800 friends on that account; I wouldn't know a single one on the street. I'll play games with them online, but I don't want to share with them the same things that I share with my family or even high school acquaintances.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Wyrm (profile), 29 Jul 2015 @ 6:12pm

    Nothing to hide...

    The old argument of "having nothing to hide" has often been heard. Curiously, some of the same people who say this are also prone to ask judges to censor something about them.

    It's the same as "free speech" debates: many are totally in favor of free speech... as long as you don't say anything they don't like.

    Privacy and free speech are issues that have this in common that some of their "loudest" defenders are the ones most quick to deny them to others. They have to understand that if they want privacy and free speech, they have to allow it for everyone. It simply doesn't work "just for them".

    Then again, they might simply be used to being "more equal than others".

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Unanimous Cow Herd, 29 Jul 2015 @ 6:55pm

    A contract.

    EULA, ToS, etc. are a contract. I feel that in one way, this is great for privacy and security, but it is bad for free commerce. I don't mean that in the so called "conservative" way but in the way that if a company cannot define the terms of their business (AND disclose those terms in a clearly understandable way), what is the point into going into business in the first place? If I want to create a gigantic social media platform that is free to the users, why can't I put in the contract that I can make a buck off crap they post? My service. My rules. Don't like it? Take the shit you posted that doesn't belong to me (ToS) and get the F@#K out!
    Sincerely,
    Not M. Zukkerberhg

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      G Thompson (profile), 29 Jul 2015 @ 9:48pm

      Re: A contract.

      A contract is also bound by laws and regulations of where the contract was entered into as well.

      Free Commerce is fine and good, but a contract is absolutely voidable if it goes against legislation, is of unconscionable conduct, or has de minimus consideration on one side (to name a few ways that contracts have to be compliant)

      As for your hypothetical "ToS".. your ownership is either full (with all liability that comes with that knowingly and not) or nil. You cannot have it both ways,

      I'm not saying facebook is in the right here, far from it. To them the real reason they want so called 'real names' is for pure marketing reasons.. how else can you market and sell marketing data unless you know exactly who person (in reality) is. Datamining lists companies will not buy anon names

      Free commerce is a humpty dumpty expression, always has been. It's not a Free for all Fuck the consumer and capitalism is the only way. Though the US (or it's corporate sector) seems to want that at all costs.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Jul 2015 @ 7:13pm

    "The most disappointing part of all of this is that this particular story never would have happened if Facebook, with its American roots, had simply stood up for basic American ideals, of which anonymous speech is counted."

    I think the free market should decide this. If some platforms only want non-anonymous speech I have no problems with them providing that. Users can migrate to platforms that allow anonymous speech. The market will decide which platforms survive based on what the market wants.

    What's wrong with a community of users that want all of their speech to be non-anonymous getting what they want? Just like there is nothing wrong with Techdirt deciding that anonymous speech is acceptable. Perhaps a group of friends want a platform where they can chat with other friends of known identity without being interrupted by uninvited or anonymous people. They should be able to have that option. Really, I don't think any of it is a government function and who is Techdirt to tell platform owners how Techdirt thinks platform owners should run their platforms. Different platforms can meet the needs of different niches and communities. The free market would decide which niches are worth meeting.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 30 Jul 2015 @ 1:32am

      Re:

      you are talking about a Laissez-faire capitalism,
      in that imaginary case facebook should not get millions from the diferent governments to manipulate the sheeple...
      the moment you receive gifts and entitlements from the government you become un-free
      that is if you are a citizen or if you are facebook

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 30 Jul 2015 @ 3:09am

      Re:

      "...who is Techdirt to tell platform owners how Techdirt thinks platform owners should run their platforms."

      It's called having an opinion, Techdirt isn't trying to force anyone to do anything. Techdirt is an opinion site. If you don't like reading opinions, then don't.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      John Fenderson (profile), 31 Jul 2015 @ 9:03am

      Re:

      "Just like there is nothing wrong with Techdirt deciding that anonymous speech is acceptable."

      You apparently don't actually think there's nothing wrong with this, since your comment is all about condemning Techdirt for expressing that opinion.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      tqk (profile), 31 Jul 2015 @ 12:46pm

      Re:

      Just like there is nothing wrong with Techdirt deciding that anonymous speech is acceptable.

      TD didn't decide that. It was decided long ago by many others, for many well justified and perfectly valid reasons. TD is just staying the course and agreeing with that, to their credit. Eliminating anonymous speech is shallow thinking and dangerous revisionism which ignores that history. When a couple of corps decide anonymity is inconvenient for them, we need to read them the riot act and point out everything is not all about them or their convenience.

      Remember what happens when you fail to learn the lessons of history. Do you really want to go there again? I don't. We fought too hard and too many people paid too much to get where we are, and we're still having to fight to stay at least where we are, much less backsliding. We still have a long way to go before we all end up as free as I'd like us all to be. Forgetting basic truths because they're inconvenient to a few corps isn't helping us get to that goal.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Jul 2015 @ 9:16pm

    I'm just glad I have the right to not be used by Facebook. I exercise that right every day of my life by not signing up. It feels good :)

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Jul 2015 @ 1:19am

    Well I guess this comes from translation, but it's a gross overstatement of what has happened so far.
    Let's be clear: there is no regulatory rule in effect that says Facebook must accept pseudonyms as names. All there is, is a guy with a title and very little power asking Facebook to do something. Mind you this is the same guy that tried to Stop GoogleStreetView in Hamburg and demanded Facebook deletes all it's facial recognition data. To what effect everyone can see for themselves.
    So far all he did was ask them in the name of an user to accept her pseudonym and reinstate her profil because thats his interpretation of the law. But in 2013 a german court declined a similar request already. So there is very little chance this will have any effect besides the publicity, which I highly suspect is the whole point.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Me, 30 Jul 2015 @ 12:30pm

      Re: Anonymous Coward

      [quote]Mind you this is the same guy that tried to Stop GoogleStreetView in Hamburg and demanded Facebook deletes all it's facial recognition data. To what effect everyone can see for themselves.[/quote]
      Yes. Facebook disabled facial recognition by default for its European users and supposedly deleted all their biometric data in 2013. Regarding Streetview, I'll let yout find out for yourself.

      Since privacy advocates are losing more often than not, shouldn't we be on the same side here? If the little guy with the hammer is a government official - so what?

      I suppose all this wouldn't be necessary if the internet was a little walled garden for (American) geeks. But it's not, we're all in it together.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Jul 2015 @ 7:17am

    Blizzard handles it best, by far.

    Not to mention they completely win in the end.

    Your battle.net account is supposed to use a real name. If you use a fake name, they don't scoop you out and ban you.

    However, if you want any sort of tech support from them, you have to show a drivers license or some form of state ID.

    This is where they make sure you have a real name attached to your account, and that you meet the guidelines for playing the game.

    So, say someone had been underage, and needs to get a hold of support to do something (like get their account unbanned, or need support for password problems, or like in the instance of my retarded daughter, had to move her toons to a new battle.net account because she became of age.) they either get your 'correct information' (yes, I know, you can fake ID's, but you get the point) or you say screw that account, wait for a sale (where you can buy all the Warcraft games for $20), and start a new account.

    Either way, the players and Blizzard wins.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 31 Jul 2015 @ 8:08am

    The evil Europeans hate them because they are American and not because they murder babies...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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