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Germany Orders Facebook to Allow Spam Accounts

Not the Onion: “Germany orders changes to Facebook real name policy” (BBC).

A German data protection body has ordered Facebook to end its policy of making members use their real names.

The policy violates German laws that give people the right to use pseudonyms online, said the data protection agency in Schleswig-Holstein.

The agency has issued a decree demanding that Facebook let people use fake names immediately.

Facebook said it would fight the decree “vigorously” and that its naming policy met European data protection rules.

“It is unacceptable that a US portal like Facebook violates German data protection law unopposed and with no prospect of an end,” said Thilo Weichert, head of the regional data protection office in Schleswig Holstein, in a statement.

The ability to use a pseudonym on Facebook was “reasonable” said Mr Weichert and would allow people to use the service “without fear of unpleasant consequences”.

First off, while we allow the use of pseudonyms and even anonymous posting here, there are good arguments for restricting participation on a site to those willing to post under their real names.

Second, Facebook is providing a service and ought to be able to set the rules under which they provide it. If you want to go online anonymously, go to one of the millions of sites that don’t require posting under your real name.

Third, Facebook’s entire business model is dependent on mining information about its users. It’s how they offer an incredibly complicated and popular service for free. Why should some they have to provide accounts to people who won’t cooperate with that business model—and might over time actually undermine the operation of their business—and pay for the privilege?

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He has a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. Brett says:

    It’s not as if you can’t set up a Facebook account under a pseudonym already. I actually have a separate Facebook account under a pseudonym that I use on sites with that irritating Facebook Commenting System.

    This isn’t a surprise coming from Germany, which has some harsh pro-privacy laws. They’ve also gone after Google for their “streetcam” view, among other companies.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  2. Jeremy says:

    I find this ironic, what with so many attempts to force people to use their real names online to avoid cyberbullying and what not.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  3. Tsar Nicholas says:

    Imagine what they’d do to a Greek company. Yikes.

    In any case, you couldn’t script that sort of thing for a parody of government bureaucracy run amok. And there’s an important lesson to be learned from this nonsense, although ironically enough that lesson might be lost on airheaded U.S. leftists.

    If you hand government bureaucrats power and taxpayer dollars with which to wield that power the probability quite literally rises to 100% that said bureaucrats ultimately will engage in serious waste and mission creep, for which the unintended and unwanted consequences greatly will outweigh the putative benefits.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 6

  4. Rafer Janders says:

    Second, Facebook is providing a service and ought to be able to set the rules under which they provide it.

    Sure. But if they want to provide that service in Germany, Germany ought to be able to set the rules under which businesses which want to operate in its country do so. Or should Germany have no ability to protect German consumers in Germany?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  5. Rafer Janders says:

    Why should some they have to provide accounts to people who won’t cooperate with that business model—and might over time actually undermine the operation of their business—and pay for the privilege?

    Because it’s not the German regulatory authorities’ responsbility to tailor their laws and regulations, which are designed to protect German consumers, so as to make the most money for Facebook?

    You might similarly ask why should Germany have to allow a company which won’t cooperate with its privacy laws and regulations —and might over time actually undermine the operation of those laws and regulations —and pay Facebook for the privilege?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  6. Jeremy says:

    @Brett: I HATE sites that do that. HATE HATE HATE. Why does everything have to be hooked into Zuckerberg’s monstrous baby?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  7. James in LA says:

    Face-what, now? Never used it. My friends are mine to chose, thanks. Most of the FB excerpts I have read belong in what used to be called a diary, and no one else had to be bothered by what should simply remain there.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  8. Rafer Janders says:

    Why should some they have to provide accounts to people who won’t cooperate with that business model—and might over time actually undermine the operation of their business—and pay for the privilege?

    Again, Facebook doesn’t HAVE to provide such accounts — so long as it doesn’t want to operate in Germany. But if, to paraphrase something I read today, Facebook doesn’t want its users to go online anonymously, it can go to one of the hundreds of other countries that don’t require the ability of posting under pseudonyms.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  9. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Rafer Janders:

    Sure. But if they want to provide that service in Germany, Germany ought to be able to set the rules under which businesses which want to operate in its country do so.

    Indeed. Facebook is perfectly free to not do business in Germany.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  10. James Joyner says:

    @Rafer Janders: @OzarkHillbilly: But Facebook doesn’t do business in Germany. It’s an Internet company and Germans have access to the Internet. You’re arguing that any government entity anywhere ought to be able to regulate Facebook’s business model? It’s absurd.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 3

  11. Rafer Janders says:

    @James Joyner:

    It’s an Internet company and Germans have access to the Internet.

    Which means Facebook is doing business in Germany. It accepts ads from German companies, shows those ads to German consumers, sells the personal information of its users to German and other companies,sells sponsored posts to German users, etc. That’s called doing business in Germany.

    You’re arguing that any government entity anywhere ought to be able to regulate Facebook’s business model? It’s absurd.

    You’re arguing that no government entity anywhere ought to be able to regulate Facebook’s business model? It’s absurd.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 2

  12. wr says:

    @Rafer Janders: “You might similarly ask why should Germany have to allow a company which won’t cooperate with its privacy laws and regulations —and might over time actually undermine the operation of those laws and regulations —and pay Facebook for the privilege?”

    Because Freedom. Geeze, don’t you know anything?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  13. wr says:

    @James Joyner: “You’re arguing that any government entity anywhere ought to be able to regulate Facebook’s business model? It’s absurd”

    You’re arguing that if a company is big enough to span national borders, it should be exempt from the laws of the countries in which it operates? And you’re saying that the counter-argument is absurd?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  14. Jeremy says:

    @Rafer Janders: Pretty sure it’s servers are not in Germany, which is where they’re actually doing all their business, since it’s Germans coming onto the Facebook server and doing everything there. So….no.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 5

  15. Jeremy says:

    @wr: If it’s physically in the country, sure. I don’t Facebook is, though–you have Germans coming from German networks to access Facebook servers which I believe are in California. If anything, California should be regulating Germans’ access to those servers.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 3

  16. bk says:

    @Tsar Nicholas:

    ironically enough that lesson might be lost on airheaded U.S. leftists.

    You never fail to disappoint. Let me rephrase that – you never fail to say something utterly irrelevant and stupid.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  17. Ebenezer_Arvigenius says:

    If it’s physically in the country, sure. I don’t Facebook is, though–you have Germans coming from German networks to access Facebook servers which I believe are in California.

    They’re trying to do business in Germany by targeting Germans with a localized page. Regardless where they decide to put their servers, this makes them subject to German law. If they don’t like it they’re free to withdraw and leave the German ad market to the local competition.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  18. Rafer Janders says:

    Let’s remember, after all, what Facebook is — it’s an ad company. The business that Facebook is in is the business of (a) selling advertising, and (b) selling consumer information to advertisers. It seems a little hard to argue that that does not constitute “doing business in Germany” when it is selling German consumer information to German companies, and selling ad space to those same German companies to show to German consumers.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  19. Franklin says:

    @Ebenezer_Arvigenius:

    They’re trying to do business in Germany by targeting Germans with a localized page.

    I think that’s the key here. I actually agree with James’ assertion that you can’t just have all governments in the world simultaneously regulating what one Internet company is doing. It would similar to allowing some Islamic country to ban all blasphemous material from the Internet.

    But when money is starting to flow from a particular country to that Internet company, that’s when that country gets to start regulating.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  20. Franklin says:

    BTW, well I find it within Germany’s rights to regulate, I would personally disagree with this regulation. And I don’t even *like* Facebook or their stupid policies. Never been on the site.

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  21. grumpy realist says:

    @Franklin: Standard EU law has been: if you target your services to a particular country, you are considered as having put yourself under consumer law there. Don’t want to have to deal with local consumer law? Then don’t put anything on your website indicating you are trying to attract members of that country.

    It’s been around for a long time. If Facebook wants to bitch about having put themselves under German consumer law and not knowing about this possibility, they had better sue their lawyers for malpractice first.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  22. grumpy realist says:

    @James Joyner: james, I suggest you look up “internet law” because the rules are complex and varied. Basically, if you target your services to a particular country, you are taken to have indicated sufficient willingness to fall under their jurisdiction (at least when it comes to consumer protection.)

    We have similar messiness here in the US and it usually depends on how snippy the state in question can be. California keeps trying to impose state taxes on companies with California activity and insist they pay taxes on their US-wide income. Companies in return tell California to get lost.

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