Facebook's Real Name Policy: Bye-Bye, Max Mustermann?

Author:Sandra Schmitz
Position:Ass. iur. LL.M, Ph.D. candidate at the Interdisciplinary Centre for Security, Reliability and Trust (SnT), University of Luxembourg.
Sandra Schmitz
Abstract: Facebook requires all members to
use their real names and email addresses when join-
ing the social network. Not only does the policy seem
to be difficult to enforce (as the prevalence of ac-
counts with people’s pets or fake names suggests),
but it may also interfere with European (and, in par-
ticular, German) data protection laws. A German Data
Protection Commissioner recently took action and
ordered that Facebook permit pseudonymous ac-
counts as its current anti-pseudonymous policy vio-
lates § 13 VI of the German Telemedia Act. This pro-
vision requires telemedia providers to allow for an
anonymous or pseudonymous use of services inso-
far as this is reasonable and technically feasible. Irre-
spective of whether the pseudonymous use of Face-
book 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 dis-
cusses whether a real name policy really presents a
fix for anti-normative and anti-social behaviour on
the Internet.
Facebook’s Real Name Policy
Bye-Bye, Max Mustermann?
by Sandra Schmitz, Ass. iur. LL.M, Ph.D. candidate at the Interdisciplinary Centre for Security, Reliability and
Trust (SnT), University of Luxembourg.
© 2013 Sandra Schmitz
Everybody may disseminate this ar ticle by electroni c means and make it available for downlo ad under the terms and
conditions of the Digita l Peer Publishing Licence (DPPL). A copy of the license text may be obtaine d at http://nbn-resolving.
de/urn:nbn:de:0009-dppl-v3-en8 .
Recommended citation: S andra Schmitz, Facebook ’s Real Name Policy: Bye-Bye, Ma x Mustermann?, 4 (2013) JIPITEC 3, 190
Keywords: Facebook, Real Names, Data Protection, Personal Data, Germany
A. Introduction
1 One of the appealing integral characteristics of the
Internet is anonymity, meaning the ability to con-
ceal one’s identity while communicating.1 The real
context, if we speak of anonymity, this also encom-
passes the use of pseudonyms. On the Internet, users
often use screen names, i.e. pseudonyms, when they
post messages, chat or are otherwise communicat-
ing. The advantage of using a pseudonym instead of
remaining completely anonymous is that while con-
cealing one’s real identity, it is possible for third par-
ties to recognise that different messages are written
by the same author. Pseudonyms allow the alloca-
 
is not known to the public. Even where real identity
becomes important for the recipients of the commu-
nication – for example, on online auction sites like
eBay – the real identities of users are not revealed
to the general public. Only where a contract of sale
is established will the anonymity of seller and buyer
be lifted to allow the performance of the sales con-
tract. Of course, there are also online transactions
as banking transactions, for example. However, re-
cently Internet service providers like Google (in re-
lation to their Google+ service) and Facebook have
forbidden the use of pseudonyms, demanding from
members that their online identity be the same as
 
More than the world’s larg-
est social network, Facebook in particular is a huge
data-mining machine capturing and processing ev-
ery click and interaction on its platform. Obviously,

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