German privacy group pushes Facebook to allow the use of pseudonyms

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Facebook’s controversial policy that requires users to list their real name came under fire by a German privacy watchdog group. The group, the Hamburg Data Protection Authority, serves as an overseer of Facebook in Germany. On Tuesday, the organization deemed that Facebook cannot change a user’s chosen name to their real name, nor can the social network request official identification.

The policy was brought to the attention of the watchdog group after a Facebook user complained the site had blocked her account because she use a pseudonym. Facebook also requested a copy of her ID and swapped her username back to her real name. She made the changes in order to avoid being contacted for unsolicited business matters.

A Facebook spokesperson told Reuters, “The use of authentic names on Facebook protects people’s privacy and safety by ensuring people know who they’re sharing and connecting with.” The Hamburg Data Protection Authority believes the opposite, that forcing the use of real names violates the privacy of the user.

Germany is not the first European country to take issue with Facebook policies. A privacy group in Belgium recently took Facebook to court over the site’s location tracking of users. Authorities are working with partners in Spain, the Netherlands, and France to investigate Facebook’s privacy policy.

Ireland has taken a contrarian stance on the issue, deeming the reasoning for the real name policy — including child safety and prevention of online harassment — to be justified. The decision was handed down by an Irish watchdog group in 2011 after performing an audit on the policy.

Facebook maintains its European headquarters in Ireland and has stated that its policies need only abide by Irish law though they apply to users across Europe. The real name policy does not violate any laws in Ireland and Facebook believes it is not in the jurisdiction of any other European authorities.

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