Facebook's policy of requiring users to register with their real names has come under scrutiny in the U.S., where digital rights advocates say that people often have good reasons for wanting to use pseudonyms online.
The social networking giant's stance against pseudonyms also has led to some bizarre situations, such as when the company briefly insisted that the author Salman Rushdie should use the name "Ahmed Rushdie" instead.
Facebook apparently removed the author's account because it didn't believe the page was really his. To restore it, he had to send a photo of passport, but that listed his first name as "Ahmed."
“They have reactivated my FB page as 'Ahmed Rushdie,' in spite of the world knowing me as Salman. Morons," the author tweeted at the time.
But despite the criticism, and the glitches, no one has seriously suggested that Facebook is violating any sort of U.S. law by telling users to sign up with their real names.
In Europe, however, where privacy laws are far more expansive than in the U.S., the situation is different. Today, regulators in Germany said that Facebook's policy violates that country's data protection law.
The order was issued by Thilo Weichert, who heads privacy for the German state Schleswig-Holstein. The order says that Facebook's real-name policy does not prevent identity theft or "abuse of the service for insults or provocations," according to an English translation. "To ensure the data subjects' rights and data protection law in general, the real name obligation must be immediately abandoned by Facebook."
Facebook, which has always maintained that its real-name policy will increase security on the service, says that it disagrees with Weichert's interpretation of the law. "We believe the orders are without merit, a waste of German taxpayers' money and we will fight it vigorously, ” a company spokesman says.