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Wednesday 15 August 2018
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ZongoNews Radio

Facebook cannott force Germans to use their real names: court rules

Facebook has to change the default settings for its services in Germany and can no longer force its users to register with their real names, the Berlin Regional Court had decided.
Facebook had been sued by the Federation of German Consumer Organisations (vzbv). In the judgment, which was published on Monday and is not yet legally binding, parts of the terms and conditions of use and data protection have been declared inadmissible.

The judgement of January 16th states that the necessary consent to the use of data is partially ineffective.

Facebook has appealed the verdict. In a statement, the company stated that its products and guidelines had changed considerably since the start of the process in 2015. In addition, further changes to the terms and conditions and privacy policy will be made in 2018 in response to forthcoming legislative changes, the company said.

The consumer protectionists welcomed the verdict.

“Facebook hides data protection unfriendly pre-settings in its privacy centre without providing sufficient information about them to those registering,” said Heiko Dünkel, legal adviser at the vzbv. “That’s not enough for informed consent.”

The district court broadly supported the association’s view that a clause according to which users agree to use only their real names and data on Facebook is inadmissible.

But the consumer protectionists failed in their attempt to try to ban the company from using the statement “Facebook is free of charge”.

Among other things, the vzbv had been bothered by the fact that in the Facebook app for mobile phones, a tracking service is activated in the pre-settings, which collects data on chat partners’ whereabouts. In the privacy settings it was preset that search engines receive a link to the participant’s chronicle. These presets have now been declared illegal by the district court.

The regional court declared a total of five of the presets criticized by the consumer protectionists to be ineffective on Facebook. The court said that the presets were so hidden that there was no guarantee that the user would be aware of them at all.

The judges also declared eight clauses in the terms of use to be invalid. In the small print, Facebook users have so far had to agree that the company is allowed to use the names and profile pictures of users “for commercial, sponsored or related content” and to forward their data to the USA. With such pre-formulated declarations no effective consent to the use of data can be given, the judgement states.

The ruling also told Facebook to lift the prohibition on users registering under a fake name.

“Providers of online services must also allow users to participate anonymously, for example by using a pseudonym,” explained consumer protectionist Dünkel. “This is required by the Telemedia Act.”

In the opinion of the district court, the obligation to provide a clear name was also inadmissible because users were unwittingly allowing the company to use the data.

-DPA