Breaking the TOS before you even start

Today I actually for just ONE single minute paused to seriously contemplate the consequences of lying on a Web 2.0 registration form.

The site that caused this momentary lapse in common sense was Facebook:

Facebook DOB error

It turns out that I don’t want to supply my correct date of birth to Facebook. I would have been more than happy to assert that I was over 13 — but a complete DOB is just too much information. And yet — if I lie, I’m violating the terms of service:

Facebook: “…you agree to (a) provide accurate, current and complete information about you as may be prompted by any registration forms on the Site (“Registration Data”); (b) maintain the security of your password and identification; (c) maintain and promptly update the Registration Data, and any other information you provide to Company, to keep it accurate, current and complete;”

I started wondering – does this mean I can’t register a pseudonym on Facebook? Am I only legally able to register my “real” name? And if this is the case, what about all the other sites that I have pseudonymous names registered at?

Who knows, IASNAL (I am *so* not a lawyer) but if you were to ask me, it seems like the majority of accounts I have registered at the following sites are already in violation of the TOS:

Flickr: “…provide true, accurate, current and complete information about yourself as prompted by the Service’s registration form”

Multiply: “…provide certain limited information about you as prompted to do so by the Service (such information to be current, complete and accurate)”

Slashdot: “personally provide true, accurate, current and complete information on the SourceForge Site’s registration form (collectively, the “Registration Data”) and (2) maintain and promptly update the Registration Data as necessary to keep it true, accurate, current and complete. If, after investigation, SourceForge has reasonable grounds to suspect that any user’s information is untrue, inaccurate, not current or incomplete, SourceForge may suspend or terminate that user’s account and prohibit any and all current or future use of the SourceForge Sites (or any portion thereof) by that user other than as expressly provided herein.”

Google Mail: “5.1 In order to access certain Services, you may be required to provide information about yourself (such as identification or contact details) as part of the registration process for the Service, or as part of your continued use of the Services. You agree that any registration information you give to Google will always be accurate, correct and up to date.”

One site where I chose not to lie (and see no point in a pseudonymous account), is LinkedIn. I gave correct naming information to LinkedIn, but was not required to enter a date of birth, and so had no reason to pause during registration. I find it interesting that sites like Slashdot and sites like Facebook or LinkedIn have similar terms of use, even when usage is obviously quite different.

What do you all think? Do these TOS’s technically ban pseudonyms but not enforce? Does it matter? Oh, and if I ever remember to get around to finishing that Facebook registration, I hope to be at least a hundred and two years old, don’t be shocked…

6 thoughts on “Breaking the TOS before you even start

  1. What anonymity do we really have on the net? Unless you’re using something to specifically disguise your identity, it’s more illusory than real.

    That said, I do read the TOS of a site when I sign up, and it do not use the site if I do not intend to abide by the TOS. Slashdot does not have my real name, because it’s optional. SourceForge does, though that’s in part because I’m a developer on an open source project for which I had to sign legal documents concerning intellectual property (as did a representative of my employer).

    IAANAL, but legally (at least in the US) one is allowed to use any name one wishes, as long as it is not for fraudulent purposes. In that sense, a pseudonym would be complete and accurate. On the other hand, it may be a fraudulent purpose to use the web site without identifying the “real” you, as the site seems to expect.

    TOS violations are common, and rarely meet with any kind of enforcement action. Multiply, for instance, forbids posting of copyrighted material in the TOS, but makes it really easy to do, even encourages it by hosting playlists. It seems to be a case of using the TOS as a technical reason to drop an account if someone else complains. So, if the RIAA notices music being hosted on Multiply, the site proprietors say “We never intended that! Just look at our TOS. Let us know who is doing it, and we will kick them out.” Wink, wink, nudge, nudge. :-)

  2. But for most of these sites (Google Mail?) what purpose would a pseudonym serve? Even on Facebook, isn’t the whole point to allow your “friends” to be able to find you? And wouldn’t a pseudonym like “ID girl” lead to unwanted attention?


  3. “Even on Facebook, isn’t the whole point to allow your “friends” to be able to find you?” — I suspect that a substantial majority of my friends do not use their full, legal name in real-life social interactions. E.g., substituting “bob” for “robert” or “bill” for “william”, using their middle name as their first name, omitting their surname or generational qualifiers entirely, etc.

  4. You *especially* need pseudonyms on google mail — you have to have that email address to register at all the other sites and do your clickback validation, not to mention for recovery of lost passwords… besides, if you register ‘cheekymonkey’ on slashdot, and show an email address containing your real name, well you’ve kinda blown your cover, you know?

  5. Hey girl,

    Of course there is always the ability to lie of FB. Plenty of people do as I have found out. Just do a search for the word Identity on FB and you find that there are a ton of people with “Identity” for their name. A la “Alternate Identity” “My Other Identity” (actual names on facebook). What I’m wondering is which one are you and why aren’t you my friend? :-) My guess is the guys as FB don’t care and why should they since the whole point is about social networking.

    What is interesting is that there is nothing stopping me from creating a FB account for you, and if you don’t soon, I will:-) I have your picture, I know your birthday and I could pretty resonably start assuming a network of your friends.

    Bite the bullet girl. Can’t wait to see you on FB.

  6. Pingback: IdentityBlog - Digital Identity, Privacy, and the Internet's Missing Identity Layer

Comments are closed.