When I do a telephone transfer at my bank, they ask me to prove I'm legitimate by giving them a few pieces of information – including my birth date. I also know that by combining birth date, surname and zip code, marketers can uniquely identify almost the whole population. To my way of thinking, this puts it in the same class as a social security number, and I'm careful about who I give it to.
So when signing up for Facebook I didn't consider for one moment the idea of publishing my natural birth date. Nor did I read the terms of service. If sites hide away their terms of service, I figure that means they don't expect me to read them anyway.
I enter what I think of as my current digital birth date. I never reveal my natural birth date unless some clear need for knowing it is conveyed to me by the site I'm visiting. Law 2. Minimal Disclosure. I take my inspiration from Jack Benny. My photo makes it clear I'm no spring chicken.
Moreover, I'll continue doing things this way until sites are willing to encrypt, audit, provide a usage statement and indemnify me for loss or misuse. Oh, and one more thing – they have to agree to stop treating me as though my age reveals my tastes (for example, stop assuming I never grew out of the Beatles). I'll be revealing my age, but I think of this as “ageism”.
I have to admit I had a small moment of reflection when I received a flood of Facebook birthday greetings and it wasn't my natural birthday (thanks folks!) Especially when one of them was from my sister. But hey. These are my digital friends, and my digital birthday is just as good as any other. It's the thought that counts, and I found it touching.
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:
It turns out that I donâ€™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 â€” but a complete DOB is just too much information. And yet â€” if I lie, Iâ€™m violating the terms of service:
Facebook: â€œâ€¦you agree to (a) provide accurate, current and complete information about you as may be prompted by any registration forms on the Site (â€Registration Dataâ€); (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;â€
I started wondering – does this mean I canâ€™t register a pseudonym on Facebook? Am I only legally able to register my â€œrealâ€ 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: â€œâ€¦provide true, accurate, current and complete information about yourself as prompted by the Serviceâ€™s registration formâ€
Multiply: â€œâ€¦provide certain limited information about you as prompted to do so by the Service (such information to be current, complete and accurate)â€
Slashdot: â€œpersonally provide true, accurate, current and complete information on the SourceForge Siteâ€™s registration form (collectively, the â€œRegistration Dataâ€) 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 userâ€™s information is untrue, inaccurate, not current or incomplete, SourceForge may suspend or terminate that userâ€™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.â€
Google Mail: â€œ5.1 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.â€
What do you all think? Do these TOSâ€™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, donâ€™t be shockedâ€¦
Some of the comments on Pam's blog talk about these matters in terms of anonymity. I want it to be clear. I'm not personally trying to be anonymous. I just don't want to disclose personal information that is not required in the circumstances.