On Tuesday, Facebook lost a battle on its German front. A Hamburg data protection authority has ruled that Facebook cannot unilaterally alter a user’s chosen name or demand official ID, opening the door to pseudonyms. It’s unclear at the moment whether this ruling will affect much of anything, but it pushes the fight a bit closer to premises FB has long held dear.
“Anyone who stands on our pitch also has to play our game,” data regulator Johannes Caspar told Bloomberg. “The arbitrary change of the user name blatantly violates [privacy rights].”
But there’s bigger motives behind the social media giant’s long crackdown on fake names, a campaign that’s caused such user frustration the company pawned blame for a 2014 sweep onto a lone vigilante. Facebook cares because — and they freely admit this — a network teaming with Mike Hunts and I.P. Freelies doesn’t have much brand credibility. The Germans are threatening to devalue the access Facebook can currently grant advertisers. And that’s a serious thing indeed.
Because Facebook is not based in Germany (it’s European headquarters are in Ireland), the ruling may be a moot point. But it is also, to change metaphors, a shot across the bow of a ship powered by ads.