Germany Rules Facebook’s “Real Name Policy” and Use of Personal Data Illegal

Rafia Shaikh
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A German court has ruled that Facebook can't force users to reveal their real names and the social networking giant's real name policy is illegal. The court said that users should be allowed to sign up for the platform with whatever pseudonyms they prefer. The ruling adds that the company's use of personal data is against the country's consumer laws. The company routinely collects and uses personal data without offering enough information to its users to get meaningly consent, the regional court said.

The ruling comes from a Berlin regional court that was made last month but announced today by the Federation of German Consumer Organizations (VZBV), which had filed the lawsuit against Facebook. The watchdog said that Facebook's real name policy was a covert way of getting users consent to share their names.

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"Facebook hides default settings that are not privacy friendly in its privacy centre and does not provide sufficient information about it when users register," Heiko Duenkel of VZBV, said (via Reuters).

"This does not meet the requirement for informed consent."

"In the Facebook app for smartphones, for example, a location service was pre-activated that reveals a user’s location to people they are chatting to," VZBV said in its own statement. "In the privacy settings, ticks were already placed in boxes that allowed search engines to link to the user’s timeline. This meant that anyone could quickly and easily find personal Facebook profiles."

Facebook shouldn't transmit data to the US - court

Apart from declaring real name policy as illegal, the court has also ruled eight clauses of its Terms of Service as invalid. These include user consent that enables the social media network to transmit data to the United States and use of personal data for commercial purposes. Facebook has said that it will appeal the decision.

"We are working hard to ensure that our guidelines are clear and easy to understand, and that the services offered by Facebook are in full accordance with the law," the company said.

While the company promised to meet the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and released some tutorials that it said will help users learn more about privacy settings, it is yet to satisfy most of the European watchdogs when it comes to informed consent and privacy settings that are often selected for the user.

With the company's decision to appeal the ruling, these decisions aren't final. However, it is likely that Facebook will be pushed to introduce more user-friendly changes - both in settings and its terms of service - that will hopefully help Facebook users across the world get some real control over their data.

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