EFF, Facebook argue over 'real name policies'

Summary:Facebook wants "anonymity to go away" and the EFF wants a case for pseudonyms. Can either be right, or is each proposal as flawed as the other?

Randi Zuckerberg, Facebook's marketing director and sister of founder Mark Zuckerberg, is advocating real names to be used in the online world as a fix to the ongoing cyberbullying problem.

Yet, the privacy group and online human rights watchdog, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), wants users to be able to use pseudonyms instead of their real names.

(Image via Flickr)

Zuckerberg wants "anonymity to go away". Not only would it force many to behave better, she argues, it is too easy for many to hide behind the apparent anonymity of the web.

The EFF, on the other hand, want users to be able to freely use their online handles, and other names they choose to use online -- regardless of whether it bears the same name as their birth certificate.

Naturally, as a privacy group, the argument that governments and law enforcement will find it more difficult to collate private and personal information on users rings true.

Having said that, the EFF draw upon evidence from the Egyptian uprising and those more vulnerable to online assaults and harassment -- not limited to activists during the revolutions in the Arab Spring and those within the LGBT communities, which are often targeted by abusers.

Facebook, and recently seen in the ongoing name debacle over Google's names policy in its new social network, Google+, requires all users to display their real name.

But Google has taken this approach for some time, echoed by the then CEO Eric Schmidt, calling online anonymity "dangerous".

It shouldn't come as too much of a surprise that the two leading social networks in the world today, Facebook and Google+, both want real names to be used on their sites, as all content on the site they are not only liable for, but equally responsible for to a greater or lesser extent.

Zuckerberg seemed to ignore the fact that cyberbullying continues on the site she works for, regardless of whether real names are used, and Google+ and any other social network will be the same.

Considering so much money is made from the personal details of ordinary users who take advantage of the free services from online advertisers, no wonder both Google and Facebook take this approach.

But arguably, the very notion of choosing one's own identity is laden with subjectivity. While I am known by the name I display here and many of my online handles reflect this, a birth name does not constitute one's identity.

If Facebook, and Google for that matter, want to promote a real name policy and enforce it as such -- though complain about issues of anonymity and criminality, perhaps it would be wise to focus on tackling the illegalities rather than the inconsequential nature of one's identity.

Topics: Social Enterprise

About

Zack Whittaker writes for ZDNet, CNET, and CBS News. He is based in New York City.

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