Rushdie Runs Afoul of Web’s Real-Name Police

The New York Times


Company executives are aware of the difficulties of policing a site with 800 million active users. Plenty of people get away with using fanciful names. And enforcing the real-name policy can present real-life complications. Wael Ghonim, the celebrated Egyptian blogger, used a fake name to set up a popular anti-Mubarak Facebook page. That led Facebook to briefly shut its Arabic version in the middle of the Tahrir Square demonstrations, until a woman in the United States agreed to take it over.

Twitter, on the other hand, has vigorously defended the use of pseudonyms, bucking demands most recently from British government officials who pressed for a real-names policy in the aftermath of the civil unrest across Britain. “Other services may be declaring you have to use your real name because they think they can monetize that better,” said Twitter’s chief executive, Dick Costolo. “We are more interested in serving our users first.”

At the same time, Twitter is vying with Google and Facebook to be something of a passport authority on the Web. Facebook has the widest reach, offering easy access to sites that deliver things like instant messaging and news. Spotify and MOG, two music sites, require new users to log in with their Facebook identities. This allows those sites to show users what their Facebook friends are listening to.

For consumers, this approach can be a mixed blessing. It means not having to keep track of different passwords for different sites. It also means sharing data about what they are doing online with these emerging “identity intermediaries,” as Chris Hoofnagle, a law professor at the University of California, Berkeley, calls them. “It’s convenient,” Mr. Hoofnagle said. “But do you want Facebook and Google to know where you’re going?”