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February 15, 2013

Facebook Wins Legal Battle in Germany Over Use of Pseudonym, Jurisdiction

By Ed Silverstein, TMCnet Contributor

Facebook (News - Alert) has won a legal battle in Germany that relates to jurisdictional issues and whether users can register with a pseudonym. The case will likely be appealed, but it is being carefully watched because it could impact other social media sites and businesses.

The ruling relates to Facebook wanting new users to register with their legal name. That is different from Twitter (News - Alert) and YouTube which do let users register with a pseudonym.

A data protection body (affiliated with the Independent Center for Privacy Protection) (ULD) in the German state of Schleswig-Holstein at first disagreed with Facebook. It said the policy violates Germany’s privacy laws and European free speech policy.

But an administrative court recently ruled the Germany privacy rules do not apply to Facebook, because its headquarters for Europe are located in Ireland, and other laws would apply.

“The regulator wrongfully based its order on German data protection law,” the judges said in a ruling translated by Bloomberg News. “Irish data protection law exclusively applies.” Facebook handles the relevant data in Ireland.

The data protection body will appeal the ruling, claiming its view is backed by German law. Thilo Weichert, head of the regional data protection office in Schleswig Holstein, argues that companies should not search for “low level of data protection jurisdiction. This was not the intention of the European Union regulation.”

Facebook requires its users to specify when they register their real user information, such as first name, last name, e-mail address, gender and birth date, the judges said in a statement. If new users have to show their real names, Facebook contends it protects other users on the site by making them responsible for any comments, The Next Web said.

Also, the other question of what laws from which judicial jurisdiction apply here could impact businesses with multiple locations in Europe. 

Edited by Amanda Ciccatelli
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