Facebook under real-name fire as Germany insists on pseudonyms

Facebook has been told to end its policy insisting that users give their real names, after a German privacy regulator highlighted that it contravenes local laws about pseudonyms. The social site has vowed to fight the demand "vigorously", though it has not yet been adopted across Germany. So far, the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner (ULD) in the state of Schleswig-Holstein has demanded a change in policy, according to German data protection law, but the expectation is that other states will follow suit.

"It is unacceptable that a U.S. portal like Facebook violates German data protection law unopposed and with no prospect of an end," Thilo Weichert, Privacy Commissioner and Head of ULD Schleswig-Holstein said in a statement. "The aim of the orders of ULD is to finally bring about a legal clarification of who is responsible for Facebook and to what this company is bound to."

Although Facebook allows for multiple names to be attached to each account, it also insists that each registered user must also use their real name. "Facebook is a community where people use their real identities" the site's guidance on the policy states. "We require everyone to provide their real names, so you always know who you're connecting with."

According to Weichert, Schleswig-Holstein is being used as a pilot case in Germany, to gauge Facebook's reaction. "We informed our colleagues and most of the supervising authorities agree with us" he said, pointing out that Facebook has two weeks to object in court.

That looks to be the strategy the social network will be taking. "We believe the orders are without merit, a waste of German taxpayers' money and we will fight it vigorously" a Facebook spokesperson told ITWorld.

The use of real names on public sites has become more controversial in recent years, with the proliferation of social networking. Google+ made an early push to avoid pseudonyms back in 2011, suspending accounts which only gave fake names or nicknames, while YouTube has attempted to coax real names out of its users in the hope that it might make the notoriously combative comments less vitriolic.