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social networking and information privacy

Facebook And Fake Names

by The Drifter on September 3, 2011

Reading time: 3 – 5 minutes

What What Happens If You Use A Fake Name On Google+ Or Facebook?

People love Facebook.  Social networking is just a part of what humans do, so the fact that people use online social networks like Facebook and Google+  is no surprise.  They are powerful tools for social change, business opportunities and developing strong relationships with friends and family.

But, people are nervous about providing their personal information to social networking sites, and with good reason.  Social networking sites sell your information to the highest bidder.  They make billions of dollars from the information that we give them for free.  That information allows repressive governments to easily target undesirables, it could damage a career, or just plain cause embarrassment.

How People Protect Personal Information On Social Networking Sites

To harness the power of social networking while protecting personal information, some people use fake information in their profiles.  There are lots of reasons people provide fake info.  Everything from using a fake birthday or city, to using a fake profile picture or name are used by people who fear stalkers, by Egyptian revolutionaries, and by average people to protect their privacy.  Only the most dedicated snoops can glean good information from a false trail.

But Facebook’s terms of use states that:

“Facebook users provide their real names and information, and we need your help to keep it that way. Here are some commitments you make to us relating to registering and maintaining the security of your account:

1. You will not provide any false personal information on Facebook…

2. You will not create more than one personal profile.

7. You will keep your contact information accurate and up-to-date.”

Google+ also states:

“To help fight spam and prevent fake profiles, use the name your friends, family or co-workers usually call you.”

Risks Of Using Fake Information In Social Networking Profiles

What happens to people who violate these terms of use and include fake info in their profiles?    Failure to follow these terms of use simply means that the offending account could be shut down if discovered.    Facebook doesn’t sue people for providing fake information and the cops won’t arrest people for using a drawing of a dog as their profile picture.

The likelihood that a social networking site will discover fake information is currently low.  Many people use stage names, pen names, pseudonyms and nicknames every day.  It is perfectly legal to use those alternate identities in many ways.  Those names do not have to be the same as the one on a birth certificate and they can often be far more unique than what is found on a birth certificate.  This makes it difficult for sites to tell what information is “real” or “fake,” as Google+ recently found out.

Don’t pretend you are someone else, don’t use another person’s real information and don’t commit fraud. And don’t let Facebook Rob Your House. That should be easy enough for you to avoid.

Are There Alternatives?

There are few alternatives to the information diarrhea on Facebook and Google+. Diaspora* is a potentially promising alternative but it is a long way from providing the value that Facebook does. Until Diaspora or some other alternative becomes viable, be careful the information you use to create your social networking profiles.


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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: The Drifter is a California attorney. He holds a degree in Accounting from the University of Utah and a law degree from California Western School of Law. He practices civil litigation, domestic and foreign business entity formation and transactions, criminal defense and privacy law. He is a strong advocate of personal and financial freedom and civil liberties. This is merely one article of 129 by .
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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Paul September 7, 2011 at 12:50 pm

The only social networking I use is couchsurfing.org. You don’t have to use your real name and you have the option of not having your profile show up if someone does a name or keyword search.

2 Nikki September 16, 2011 at 11:51 am

Will using a fake name on FB become a felony? See this WSJ article

3 Bill Rounds J.D. September 16, 2011 at 8:46 pm

Hi Nikki,

Unfortunately, I think that the Kerr article did not adequately analyze the law that he alludes to. See this rebuttal article addressing the claims.

4 Buddy Morrison September 19, 2011 at 8:48 am


Thank you for posting my rebuttal article.

Buddy Morrison

5 Bill Rounds J.D. September 21, 2011 at 11:33 am

Buddy, Glad to do it! I thought it was a great legal analysis of the real risk.

6 John Doe October 9, 2011 at 7:09 pm

You left out some obvious alternatives. Fake names are no problem on Twitter and pseudonyms are encouraged on Anybeat.

7 Jay Marx April 19, 2012 at 7:42 am

My interest in Facebook and ‘rule violation’ would be zero, but for the recent Facebook takeover of many comment boards and Opinion/Letters input in Newspapers. Papers claim this was in response to declining resoursces available to police/administer the boards, and that removing anonymity cured an increasing lack of civility, epithets,threats,etc. by misusers under its shield . That remains unproven, but what has certainly been lost is opportunity for free and intelligent comment and debate on issues, now that opinions, valuable or not, have threads enabling identity theft or reprisal by “offended” readers. Facebook is happily receiving a new trove of formerly private information to aggregate / monetize, and little imagination is needed to project follow-on use by government. A trial name “mis-spelling” sign-up soon delivered a request for phone number and further information, “for my protection”, I expect, because cross-linking efforts had failed! Can a government intolerant of opposition only revel at a system that demands public surrender of privacy as a price for participation in comment, opinion, and open debate?

8 Strathy (fake name) May 11, 2012 at 7:23 am

The much greater problem is with Google. Check out this story: http://mashable.com/2011/12/12/google-shuts-down-youth-account/

Google can arbitrarily shut down your gmail … google docs … and every other Google product if they feel you’ve violated their TOS on G+. The G+ TOS specifically says that you must use your real name. If they catch you … you could lose everything you have with them. There is a very scary principle here – one that could cost you everything if you get caught using a fake name on G+. Very scary.

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