Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Google's name policy is not illegal

This is a quick response to a google+ post suggesting that google's "real name" policy is contrary to the Privacy and Electronic Communications (EC Directive) Regulations 2003.

The post is, I'm afraid, quite wrong. The poster relies on regulation 18 which controls the compilation of any "directory of subscribers". It gives various rights which depend on the nature of the directory (telephone or not) and the nature of the person included (individual or corporation) which might allow opting out or require opting in and so on.

Regulation 18 only applies to a "directory of subscribers". The term "subscriber" is defined in regulation 2 to mean "a person who is a party to a contract with a provider of public electronic communications services for the supply of such services". A "public electronic communications service" is defined in section 151 of the Communications Act 2003 to mean "any electronic communications service that is provided so as to be available for use by members of the public" and "electronic communications service" is defined in section 32 of the same act to mean "a service consisting in, or having as its principal feature, the conveyance by means of an electronic communications network of signals, except in so far as it is a content service".

So: google+ is not a public communications provider and hence its members are not subscribers. Regulation 18 does not apply.

As far as I can tell, there is no regulatory reason why google+ should not operate a "real name" policy. They would have to be a little careful about the implementation of the policy within the EU in case they fall foul of European discrimination law. If, for instance, they ended up systematically blocking individuals from one racial group significantly more than those from another because their real names seemed too odd to google employees, that might amount to racial dscrimination. As readers will know, some ethnic groups prefer to have a single name, rather than a forename + surname model.

But that depends on how the policy is implemented, not the policy itself. So I would suggest not contacting the ICO who is already quite busy.