Facebook‘s policy of forcing users to use their real names on the social network has been under fire for some time now from privacy advocates and those in the LGBT community who feel discriminated against. But now a privacy watchdog in Germany has said that is unacceptable in the country, and ordered Facebook to begin allowing users under pseudonyms. The Hamburg data protection authority ruled that the network’s real name policy is in violation of Germany’s privacy laws.
In addition, the German regulator stated it cannot force people to change their usernames without their permission, nor require that users submit photo identification to confirm their names. The Hamburg agency cited complaints from a woman who had her Facebook account locked after trying to use an alias on the site. The social network then asked that she submit a copy of her ID, followed by changing her username without permission.
Facebook tried to argue that because its European operations are headquartered in Ireland, it should only have to follow that country’s privacy laws. The data protection authority rejected the argument, noting that the company has economic activity in Germany, including a branch in the city of Hamburg, thus “if you like our game, you must play by our rules,” commissioner Johannes Caspar said.
Facebook’s name policy has long been under scrutiny in Europe, having to defend itself in several countries over the last few years. The company said they were “disappointed Facebook’s authentic name policy is being revisited, since German courts have reviewed it on multiple occasions and regulators have determined it fully complies with applicable European data protection law.” It added that their goal with real names is to protect privacy and safety by making it so that users know who they’re sharing and communicating with.