Facebook's Real Name Policy Set to Return
Facebook will indeed be reintroducing its previously shelved real name policy, despite the negative feelings of many users.
The policy, which forces people to use their actual name, was recently ditched due to criticism. Facebook apologized over the issue, but have now apparently reversed their decision and decided to go ahead with implementing the idea.
The rule, designed to stop businesses promoting their products and events via personal profiles, comes as a result of a spike in this sort of activity since Facebook decided to make company posts less visible.
The Help Section now advises that names should refrain from using the following:
· Symbols, numbers, unusual capitalization, repeating characters or punctuation
· Characters from multiple languages
· Titles of any kind (ex: professional, religious)
· Words, phrases or nicknames in place of a middle name
· Offensive or suggestive words of any kind
Other things to keep in mind:
· The name you use should be your authentic identity; as your friends call you in real life
· Nicknames can be used as a first or middle name if they're a variation of your authentic name
· You can also list an additional name on your account (ex: maiden name, nickname)
· Pretending to be anything or anyone isn't allowed
The guidelines, at a glance, certainly appear fair and harmless. Daniels can use names like Dan or Danny instead, as well as professional names, and this has been adapted and included after the first wave of criticism. However, there are problems with the system.
Specific "common names" are currently being rejected by the social network, which seems to be flagging up certain names for no apparent reason. Nikki, for example, a fairly standard shortened version of Nicola, is inexplicably prohibited.
When this sort of thing crops up, Facebook asks users to prove their identity by providing appropriate ID, which they define as follows:
· Birth certificate
· Driver's license
· Marriage certificate
· Official name change paperwork
· Personal or vehicle insurance card
· Green card or immigration papers
· Voter ID card
For users uncomfortable with providing their driving license or birth certificate for Facebook, there are several other options:
· Bank statement
· Bus card
· Credit card
· Library card
· Medical record
· Magazine subscription stub
· School record
· Utility Bill
· Yearbook photo
However, this list involves many other documents that users may well want to remain private, particularly online. Facebook's response - that people should black out sensitive data - seems absurd, as this kind of information is more than likely the very information required to prove identity!
In addition, those who elect to go by nicknames are very unlikely to have them on official documents, making this a largely ineffective method of verifying identity. Proving that a nickname exists, and people actually call you that, is actually extremely difficult.
Aside from just shortening a name for ease of use or aesthetic reasons, many people have practical motives for wanting an alternative name on Facebook. Cyberbullying means that a growing number of users wish to protect their real identity, while others have professional reasons. For example, many teachers replace their surname with a middle name on Facebook, which makes it harder for their students to track them down and easier for them to maintain a healthy work-life balance.
So this new move illustrates that Facebook ranks advertising potential above user preference, which was reflected in a recent study by Carnegie Melon University.
The survey showed that users are sharing far too much information and that, since 2009 when Facebook's privacy settings changed, people started providing more and more significant personal data, under the guise of being told it would improve their social experience on the platform. When the timeline was introduced in 2011, it allowed Facebook to obtain data from before users even signed up to the service.
Many experts claim that, if users were aware about the ways in which Facebook was using their data, or the amount of data being passed on, they would choose to share far less information. A significant portion of this data is made accessible to third party advertisers but, worryingly, nobody is certain how much is withheld.
Facebook does allow users to decline using the Digital Advertising Alliance opt out, although recent reports claim that deleting cookies can undo this. Also, this only works for one device at a time, meaning that, if desktop, laptop, tablet and mobile are all used to access Facebook, users have to opt out on each individual platform.
It's impossible to know who can find or see data. For example, in the USA, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Amendment Act allows the government to request data within their jurisdiction, and this includes worldwide Facebook data. Discussing who can access data, Campbell Williams says:
"FISAA essentially authorises the mass-surveillance of foreigners outside US territory whose data is within the range of US jurisdiction, including data accessible in US clouds. The question that needs to be addressed is whether EU-based businesses and citizens should be prepared to gamble the integrity, security and privacy of their data against the loyalties of managers of US-based companies."
The Consumerist's Chris Morran has also criticised Facebook, claiming that their targeted advertising is not aimed at improving the user experience of the network. Instead, he believes it simply allows them to charge a premium to advertisers wanting to reach a very specific audience, at the detriment of its wide user base.
Facebook's decision has been met with disapproval by users and criticism by industry professionals, so it will be fascinating to see how they respond. Are they still maintaining their mission to make the world "more open and connected", or do its staunchest detractors have a valid point about monetisation and data collection?
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