Facebook has been dogged by the issue of fake names on its site for some time: Should they be allowed?, Will they help users?, Will they hurt users? In Germany, the issues is an open-and-shut case, as a national privacy watchdog in that country has told Facebook they could not legally prevent the use of fake names.
According to Reuters, the Data Protection Authority has told Facebook that the Social Media service “could not unilaterally change users’ chosen usernames to their real names, nor could it ask them for official ID.” The official stance comes after a German women has her account blocked, and that Facebook demanded her ID and then changed her username to her legal name.
The women argued she was using a fake name for business reasons, and the DPA sided with her, saying being forced to use her legal name violates privacy rights.
Facebook has said it is ‘disappointed’ with the decision, and although they will abide by the rules, it is still unclear how this might affect the social media giant’s policies.
Zuckerberg made his first public announcement in June about the issue during an AMA on Facebook:
Real name does not mean your legal name. Your real name is whatever you go by and what your friends call you. If your friends all call you by a nickname and you want to use that name on Facebook, you should be able to do that. In this way, we should be able to support everyone using their own real names, including everyone in the transgender community. We are working on better and more ways for people to show us what their real name is so we can both keep this policy which protects so many people in our community while also serving the transgender community.
Many courts have avoided making a decision about the legality of being forced to use a legal name online, and for some people, it isn’t fair. Only time will tell how Germany’s decision will play out over the entire global site.