While the Supreme Court of India has extended Aadhaar linking to all services to March 31, 2018, it has found yet another interesting use case. Social network giant Facebook now wants users to use their names as listed in their Aadhaar cards while creating new accounts.

According to Facebook, this is an optional prompt and users are not required to enter the name on their Aadhaar card. The new feature encourages those opening new accounts to submit their names as in their Aadhaar cards.

“Using the name on your Aadhaar card makes it easier for friends to recognise you,” says the prompt when one submits the name for a new account.

However, not everyone sees this prompt while opening a new account. Facebook says this is a new feature and only a few of the users would see this, as per reports. According to Facebook, this is an optional prompt and not a mandatory one.

Twitter user @digitaldutta posted some screenshots of the posted screenshots of the new sign up message which referred to Aadhaar.

facebook-aadhaar-new accounts

It is, however, to be noted that Facebook is only asking the users to sign up on its social network using the names that are available on their Aadhaar cards but is not requesting any Aadhaar details. The latest move is aimed at curbing the number of fake accounts on the social media platform that has over 241 million users in the country, making India the second largest market for Facebook after the US.

Facebook, Aadhaar, And Data Privacy Concerns

Though the Facebook prompt can hardly be seen as something to evoke concerns over privacy since it is not asking for the Aadhaar number, the move raised concerns given the fact increasingly mandatory use of Aadhaar for various services has been opposed by several people.

Kiran Jonnalagadda, Aadhaar’s most vocal critic and co-founder of Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF), an advocacy group feels that there is the fear around Aadhaar which is now extending onto Facebook even though Facebook is attempting to do something else.

Kiran told Inc42, “Facebook has had the real names policy since long and it is nothing new. Sometimes when you ask people for a real name, people get confused as to what it means. More so in India where we end up using only the first name and last name. So my guess is by using the term the name as per your Aadhaar card, Facebook is trying to emphasise that is what it means by real name. So I feel nothing more than this on that. That said, the word Aadhaar is a minefield. Because people assume all sorts of things with Aadhaar whether Facebook will use it for data mining and what else will be asked the moment Aadhaar is mentioned. So the fear around Aadhaar which is now extending onto Facebook even though Facebook is trying to do something else.”

Recently Amazon was also in the news for the same reason when reports surfaced of Amazon’s customer care agents asking its users to reveal their Aadhaar number as an identity proof to track lost packages.

An Amazon spokesperson clarified to Inc42 that only in case of lost packages or missing delivery, where a detailed check needs to be done, does the Amazon agent ask the customer to furnish an identity proof.

The spokesperson explained, “In cases needing investigation for wrong or missing delivery, we need to authenticate customer ID as the first step and ask customers to submit a government certified identification proof in those cases. Our understanding is Aadhaar is the most ubiquitous and most widely held identification and is, therefore, our preferred one. Customer’s identification is a part of the investigation and enables the same, but we will carry out the necessary investigation even without it, though it may sometimes limit our process checks.”

Data privacy has become a hot topic of discussion in the country, especially after so many breaches have come to light especially in case of Aadhaar. The security of the Aadhaar system has been brought into question several times. In April 2017, the Aadhaar details of 1.4 Mn registered users were made public on the Jharkhand Directorate of Social Security.

These details included sensitive information such as names, addresses, bank account details and Aadhaar numbers. Similarly, in August 2017, a Punjab government entity published the details of 20,100 citizens on its official website. These details include Aadhaar numbers, usernames and their father’s name.

In the light of these incidents, any and everything related to Aadhaar becomes a hot topic of discussion. Last month, in order to secure digital transactions and address data privacy issues, the government released a white paper on the data protection framework. As per the paper, a nuanced approach towards data protection will have to be followed in India, bearing in mind the fact that individual privacy is a fundamental right limited by reasonable restrictions.

While Facebook’s intentions are just to ensure proper checks to root out fake accounts from the new accounts, which is a big menace on the social media platform, given that it is relying on Aadhaar which is already embroiled in much controversy is what is raising concerns.

More so, whether users in other countries are similarly prompted to use their real names with specific reference to relevant government IDs in the region or in the future will be, is not clear which raises questions on why this move in India alone.

Note: We at Inc42 take our ethics very seriously. More information about it can be found here.

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