Facebook’s Real Name Policy: Bye-Bye, Max Mustermann?
Facebook requires all members to use their real names and email addresses when joining the social network. Not only does the policy seem to be difficult to enforce (as the prevalence of accounts with people’s pets or fake names suggests), but it may also interfere with European (and, in particular, German) data protection laws. A German Data Protection Commissioner recently took action and ordered that Facebook permit pseudonymous accounts as its current anti-pseudonymous policy violates § 13 VI of the German Telemedia Act. This provision requires telemedia providers to allow for an anonymous or pseudonymous use of services insofar as this is reasonable and technically feasible. Irrespective of whether the pseudonymous use of Facebook is reasonable, the case can be narrowed down to one single question: Does German data protection law apply to Facebook? In that respect, this paper analyses the current Facebook dispute, in particular in relation to who controls the processing of personal data of Facebook users in Germany. It also briefly discusses whether a real name policy really presents a fix for anti-normative and anti-social behaviour on the Internet.