German regulators have called on Facebook to stop requiring the use of real names on the social network.
The Unabhaengiges Landeszentrum fuer Datenschutz (ULD) data protection agency said that German law protects "the fundamental right to freedom of expression on the Internet." German citizens should be able to use Facebook "largely unnoticed and without fear of unpleasant consequences," the ULD said.
"It is unacceptable that a US portal like Facebook violates German data protection law unopposed and with no prospect of an end," Thilo Weichert, Privacy Commissioner and head of ULD, 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."
The ULD pointed to recent changes to Facebook's terms, which replaced the "Who can send you Facebook messages?" section of its privacy controls with "new filters for managing incoming messages." The move means "our initiative is more urgent than ever," Weichert said.
"It is the role of individual services to determine their own policies about anonymity within the governing law – for Facebook Ireland European data protection and Irish law," a Facebook spokesman said in a statemnet. "We believe the orders are without merit, a waste of German taxpayers' money and we will fight it vigorously."
According to Facebook's name policy, "Facebook is a community where people use their real identities. We require everyone to provide their real names, so you always know who you're connecting with." As a result, users are not permitted to craft MySpace-esque names with symbols, numbers, unusual capitalization, repeating characters, or punctuation.
Using real names means people know who they're connecting with, which "helps keep our community safe," Facebook said.
In February, Facebook started testing a verification process for people with a large number of subscribers. It allowed those who submitted a government-issued ID to display an alternate name, like a nickname, maiden name, or pen name. "This update makes it even easier for subscribers to find and keep up with journalists, celebrities and other public figures they want to connect to," Facebook said at the time.
There is now the option to display an alternate name, like a maiden name, via Account Settings, though there is the possibility that it could be rejected by Facebook.
The rules, of course, don't stop people from using fake names or creating bogus profiles. In August, Facebook said that 8.7 per cent of its then 950 million monthly active users (MAUs) were, in fact, duplicate, misclassified, or "undesirable" accounts. That works out to about 83 million accounts that are either trying to spam you, in violation of Facebook's rules, or are just confused.