German Court Rules Facebook's 'Real Name' Policy Is Illegal

German Court Rules Facebook's 'Real Name' Policy Is Illegal
Rhett Pardon

BERLIN — In a ruling of particular interest to those working in the adult entertainment biz, a German court has ruled that Facebook’s "real name" policy is illegal and that users must be allowed to sign up for the service under pseudonyms.

The opinion comes from the Berlin Regional Court and disseminated by the Federation of German Consumer Organizations, which filed the suit against Facebook.

The Berlin court found that Facebook’s real name policy was “a covert way” of obtaining users’ consent to share their names, which are one of many pieces of information the court said Facebook did not properly obtain users’ permission for.

The court also said that Facebook didn’t provide a clear-cut choice to users for other default settings, such as to share their location in chats. It also ruled against clauses that allowed the social media giant to use information such as profile pictures for “commercial, sponsored or related content.”

Facebook told Reuters it will appeal the ruling, but also that it will make changes to comply with European Union privacy laws coming into effect in June.

Regulations involving social media tend to be tougher in Europe than what Facebook faces in the U.S.; however, Europe’s fight for consumers could ultimately strengthen privacy for users on a global basis.

Lauren MacEwen, 7Veils Social Media’s CEO and top strategist, told XBIZ that the Facebook naming policy has been discriminatory for a long time, particularly to those who have stage names — like adult performers and other celebrities.

“Porn stars use stage names for a variety of different reasons, one of which is to protect their privacy,” MacEwen said. “Facebook requiring people to use the names on their legal documents, instead of the name they are publicly known for, not only can be career damaging but is a safety issue.

“The German ruling that the Facebook naming policy is illegal is a big win for consumer privacy,” MacEwen said. “The naming policy is tied with a larger issue revolving around consent for data usage. The court found that Facebook’s consent for data were invalid and requiring real names is a ‘covert way’ of getting user consent to share their names.

With the upcoming U.K. privacy regulations as part of the Digital Economy Act, “Facebook will likely be facing more issues like this and may have to radically change some of their policies surrounding data collection,” she said.

“As Alastair Graham from AgeChecked.com said, ‘Most customers are not aware of how Facebook uses their data. Facebook can’t just assume that the customer wants to opt in in every case.’”

Ela Darling, VR content manager for CAM4VR, told XBIZ that adult entertainers simply don’t want to be steered to use real names on social media platforms like Facebook because calamity can set in.

“For adult performers and sex workers in general, any bit of private information is a gateway to danger for us when it falls into the hands of people who wish us harm or who don't understand/respect our personal boundaries,” Darling said. “By forcing us to use our legal names, Facebook would open us up to harassment or worse from stalkers and rabid fans.

“There's a lot in a name, especially if your name is unconventional. People might use it to find our home addresses or our families," she said. "I've had this happen myself: someone managed to sleuth out a family member's work phone number and harassed them in their workplace as a result."

Darling noted that as a community porn had to fight against this invasion of privacy when a certain website cross-referenced legal names and stage names “and site members used this as a jumping off point to personally dox any performer they particularly loved or hated.”

“We’re living in an age where you can weaponize personal information against people, and a site like Facebook that has become such a utility in people's lives has a responsibility to recognize that,” Darling said.

Industry attorney Marc Randazza called the German district court's ruling a "good" decision.

"Europe protects privacy," he told XBIZ. "The U.S. does not."

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