Facebook's 'Real Name' Outrage Hides the Ominous Impact of its Policy

Published: Oct 06, 2014 15:14pm EDT
By Rick Rinker, Political Editor for Konsume Technology

Please Note: This article was updated Oct 06, 2014 @ 03:22pm EDT


The Internet backlash that caught Facebook off-guard is also shedding light on the darker side of the Facebook policy; merging your offline information – Address, DOB, Offline Purchase History, and potentially credit and background checks - with your online profile, interests,  photos, family members and comments.


In early September, Facebook began aggressively enforcing its little known, but decade-old “real name” policy. The policy states that every Facebook user must use their “real name” as it appears on a driver’s license or credit card. While the overwhelming majority of users already adhere to this policy as the best way to connect with friends and family, there are several groups of people that don’t.

Many musicians, DJ’s and LGBT performers, who routinely adopt their stage name as their life identity, were none too happy when the social media giant decided to aggressively enforce this policy. Scores of users found themselves locked out of their Facebook account in late September.

Many of the affected users found their accounts locked by an automated window. This notice demanded they enter their “real name” or they would be locked out of their account… indefinitely. There was no one to contact about this notice and no way around the lock out, it was simply a matter of complying, or losing access to their account and all its content.

After an article in the SF Weekly broke, attention to those affected in both the entertainment and LGBT community exploded across Facebook, Twitter, and the blogosphere.

In days following the SF Weekly Article, the backlash that ensued was as much a shock to the internet as it was the Facebook product team. Facebook slowly began backing away from its stance that the policy would not be modified, reversed or otherwise change its policy enforcement.


“Reversing” the decision

Claiming they were responding to user-reported violations of its policy, Facebook’s Chris Cox apologized to those affected in the LGBT community and indicated it is in the process of building better tools for authenticating drag queens and kings moving forward.

Cox added that the Facebook team was caught off guard and will take steps to provide customer service support to those who find themselves locked out of their accounts for not using a real name.

A source from Facebook told Konsume that the change in policy would apply to all performers and entertainers that are known by their authentic name in their day-to-day life. So while the policy itself doesn’t necessarily change, the enforcement of this policy will have some wiggle room for a very small group of users, and not exclusive to the LGBT community.


Why the “Real Name” policy is important to Facebook

The information collected about users goes far beyond simply serving ads on the Facebook platform. It can, and likely will, be used to build a complex algorithm so that third-party data providers can match information about you, using your real name, with credit and background checks, in order to send marketing solicitations to your home, or to serve custom online advertising based on what you have purchased in a brick-and-mortar retail store.

In 2013, Facebook partnered with Acxiom, one of the largest database marketing services and technology providers in the world, which among other things allows for offline consumer data collection to be sold to private business.

The initial aim of this partnership was to see if Facebook can successfully link what you purchase in a store, with a loyalty reward card for example, back to the ads you are served on your Facebook page. The answer to this question is yes, they can, but this is just the beginning of what is possible.

The implication is that your online-activities, friends, posts, interests, photos, likes, discussions, etc. can be linked to the offline information already collected by credit reporting agencies and big-data marketing firms.

Without the “real name” policy, Facebook would face great difficulty in cultivating this information and linking it to a credit report, or other offline data collection sources, which then pair to your name, social security number, credit history, offline purchase history, DOB, phone number and home address.

This is very much why the “real name” policy requires users to select a “name as it would be listed on your credit card, driver's license or student ID.”

So we have to ask, is Facebook crossing a line? If not, at what point will consumers say “enough is enough?”


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