German court rules Facebook’s real name policy Is illegal


FILE – In this Thursday, Jan. 4, 2018, file photo, a man demonstrates how he enters his Facebook page as he works on his computer at a restaurant in Brasilia, Brazil. Facebook users will soon see more local news and more posts from friends and family as the company tries to give users more “meaningful social interactions,” as CEO Mark Zuckerberg said recently. (AP Photo/Eraldo Peres, File)

 (Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

Back in 2015, the Federation of German Consumer Organisations (VZBV) kicked off a lawsuit against Facebook due to the default settings and terms of service it presented to anyone creating an account. VZBV claimed they were in breach of consumer law. This week, a German court decided that Facebook’s use of personal data is indeed illegal.

As The Verge reports, the verdict was made in a Berlin regional court which found parts of the social network’s consent for data usage were invalid. Informed consent for personal data collection and use are not adequate to comply with the law. This includes the use of real names, which VZBV said the court viewed as “a covert way” of obtaining users’ consent to share their names.

As you’d expect, Facebook isn’t ready to change its real name policy and is going to appeal the decision. At the same time, the social network will be making changes to comply with European Union privacy laws being introduced in June. Facebook wants to comply with the law, but for the moment intends to push to keep its core policies including real name use.

With regards to default settings, the court was not happy with how some of them were presented without a user having a clear choice. For example, by default a user’s location is shared during chats. Facebook was also told use of personal information including profile pictures was not allowed for “commercial, sponsored, or related content.”

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We have to remember that, while Facebook aims to be your number one destination for interacting with friends and family, it’s also a business relying very heavily on advertising for revenue. It needs our data, and the more it can collect, the more money can be made from advertising. The data collection won’t end, but it may be scaled back in certain locations around the world.

Facebook is becoming accustomed to battling against consumer groups and government departments focused on keeping personal data secure. Late last year France threatened to fine WhatsApp over Facebook data sharing, and just last month the Facebook Messenger Kids app was deemed “irresponsible” because it was found to “undermine children’s healthy development.” It’s unlikely such action will stop, unless of course Facebook changes the way it collects data, presents options, and of course, demands real name use. There’s also still the Russia-Linked ads revelations hanging over the company.

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