German legislators have stoked the fires of Facebook privacy by ordering the social network to allow anonymous accounts and pseudonyms in place of real names of people. This demand originated from Schleswig-Holstein, the northernmost state of Germany. A data protection agency called Unabhaengiges Landeszentrum fuer Datenschutz (ULD) has emphasized the German decree that guarantees the fundamental right to freedom of expression on the Internet for this purpose.
Facebook’s official user name policy specifically states that individuals who create accounts need to provide legitimate first and last names when they sign up. They say this helps prevent online abuse and also works towards maintaining the safety of the community. In Germany however, online laws allow people to use pseudonyms and anonymous accounts.
Thilo Weichert, head of ULD, said in a statement, “The real name obligation does neither prevent abuse of the service for insults or provocations nor does it help prevent identity theft. It is unacceptable that a U.S. portal like Facebook violates German data protection law unopposed and with no prospect of an end. 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 security risks that this law could bring forth
Facebook’s reaction is yet unknown but it is expected that they will oppose this decree. Facebook is in the right here as users should ideally submit their real identities. The user base of Facebook has surpassed 1 billion members and this number is only expected to rise as time goes by. If the German ruling is implemented and allowed to spread to other nations, we could find ourselves in a situation where a huge number of people operate anonymously over Facebook. This will only be detrimental to the privacy and security standards that people expect.
The Internet can be a brutal source of cyberbullying and other forms of harassment. When people are allowed to hide behind the cloud of pseudonyms, their attitude visibly changes and lawmakers are well aware of this. If the world’s largest social network is allowed to operate this way it will negatively affect the general state of the Internet as other parties would also follow suit.
The German demand is understandable since they have a long standing law in place, but such an action would expose many people to scammers and hackers as well. Think of the number of 419 Nigerian scams, phishing links or other security threats that would originate from pseudonym accounts. From a security standpoint, this is absolutely unacceptable and we sincerely hope that Facebook is not strong armed into ceding to these demands.
We would also like to hear your views on this. Do you think this law could affect online safety of Facebook users? Or is the German data protection agency entitled to receive special guidelines from Facebook?