Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Oh, Protect Me From The Germans

A basic tenet of Facebook is that, unlike a lot of places on the Internet, you're asked to use your real name. (Keyword, asked. Search for, say, 'Selena Gomez' sometime, or whatever other celebrity, and you will quickly find just how many people disregard such silly notions as real names.) It's the logical endpoint of a trendline in the overall life of the Internet where we began as being afraid of giving out any personal information, because who knows who might use it for who knows what. While certainly not an unfounded concern, a few brave souls began putting their real names out there, and when they didn't immediately get abducted and held for ransom in Somalia, others took the plunge, and then more and more and more. While anonymity is still highly valued, as is the control of one's identity- as Facebook is finding out in response to their announced changes to Instagram's terms of use- it's more on a site-by-site basis these days, and there is now a certain amount of pressure to come out from behind the veil and stand by your words. (As Anderson Cooper has become fond of demonstrating on his Twitter feed, to much entertainment.)

The German state of Schleswig-Holstein is now challenging Facebook's real-name requirement under a German law protecting a person's right to use an online pseudonym. That law, of course, applies all over the country, so while Schleswig-Holstein is the only state making a run at Facebook now, it probably won't be long before the other German states do likewise. Their commissioner has given Facebook two weeks to comply or face a fine. The fine will be of negligible monetary value considering how much Facebook is worth, but the symbolic value will be far greater.

You remember that Selena Gomez comment I just made? So does the challenging party, the Unabhaengiges Landeszentrum fuer Datenschutz (ULD), a data-protection agency; they cite that Facebook's edits are not adequate to prevent abuse or keep people safe. Facebook, for their part, is pushing back, saying that they already comply with European and, a bit surprisingly, Irish law. Needless to say, the ULD isn't buying the notion of an American entity using Irish law to justify practices in Germany.

That's not the end of Facebook's German problems, as a consumer group, Verbraucherzentrale Bundesverband (VZBV), is suing them over the way their various apps share data. They've already beaten Facebook in court earlier this year, and has taken them to court multiple times over user's address books and the Friend Finder app.

Thus going to show no matter how small you make the world, there are still always going to be some cultural boundaries, and some things people don't want shared.

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