Designed to weed out anyone on Facebook that’s using a pseudonym over a real name, the social network rolled out a method of name verification several month ago using third parties. According to TPM, Facebook uses a pop-up window to survey users on the validity of their friend’s names. Hoping that friends will snitch on each other, Facebook is attempting to collect the data to gain a “better understanding of our ecosystem” according to a Facebook representative. However, it’s definitely possible that the data could eventually be used to identify specific accounts that are violating Facebook’s Name policy.
Within the pop-up survey, Facebook states “Please help us understand how people are using Facebook. Your response is anonymous and won’t affect your friend’s account. Is this your friend’s real name?” The window also displays the user’s profile picture, name and current location. The Facebook user can choose between four answers: “Yes, No, I don’t know this person and I don’t want to answer.”
According to Facebook’s official policy on names, users are required to use their real name as it would appear on a credit card or identification card. Nicknames are allowed, assuming the nickname applies to the first or middle name. Under account settings, a Facebook user can also add an alternate name which could be an extended nickname or a maiden name before a woman getting married. Professional additions to names should also be added to the alternate name section rather than changing the main account name.
When asked about the data, a Facebook representative told TPM that the data is completely anonymized. The representative stated “This isn’t so we can go and get that person in trouble. None of our surveys are used for any enforcement action. Basically, what this model does is help better inform us in how to classify different types of accounts. Just because we’re showing a question about a particular user doesn’t mean we suspect them of anything. The user is chosen by a system.”
Regarding the use of fake names, Facebook policy very plainly states “we remove fake accounts from the site as we find them.” Assuming the snitching data isn’t actually being used for enforcement, then Facebook is clearly ignoring the official policy despite finding users with fake names. According to Facebook’s internal estimates, approximately 8.7 percent of the 955 million user accounts are fake. Nearly 46 million are duplicate accounts, 23 million are classified incorrectly and about 14 million have been created by “undesirable” people like spammers.
Last year, Google had to quickly revise the company’s police on fake names in respect to Google+. Rather than asking a user to alter their nickname or pseudonym, Google simply deleted the accounts without notifying the user. Shortly after an uproar from influential Google+ users, Google+ vice president Bradley Horowitz said that the policy would be revised to include a warning process before actually suspending the account. In addition, Google added a section in the Google+ profile for other names. Similar to Facebook’s alternate name section, Google+ users can use this section to display a nickname, maiden name or professional title.