Should users of social networks have to use their real names?
When users sign up to use Facebook, they agree to use their real names. However, German privacy law says they should be allowed to use pseudonyms if they want. So unless Facebook permits such a change, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg may be fined €20,000, according to Thilo Weichert, data protection commissioner of the German state of Schleswig-Holstein.
Facebook sees the use of real names as an effective way to deter the creation of fake accounts and spam. Other websites that use a Facebook plug-in for their comments section have noticed that users tend to post more civil remarks when using their real name.
Privacy advocates worry about the fact that the plug-in tells Facebook which websites a user is visiting. There is also a much more serious downside. The government and police in Syria have aggressively tracked down critics of the regime on Facebook and jailed or killed them.
Germany's experience with dictatorship in the past has made it especially sensitive to matters of privacy. In 2011, Schleswig-Holstein ordered all websites in the state to remove the Facebook plug-in, while the data protection authority in Hamburg declared Facebook's facial recognition feature to be in violation of German privacy laws.
Facebook says that everything it does conforms to European law, which is less strict than German privacy law in these matters. It also appears unlikely that a fine of €20,000 will matter to a global corporation that has an annual revenue of $3.7 billion. Some users, however, are already using pseudonyms in the belief that Facebook will find it hard to check up on all one billion of its users.
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