Using Facebook Gives You No Privacy, Not Really

5 min read · 8 years ago


Using Facebook Gives You No Privacy, Not Really image facebook privacy sean beanfacebook-privacy-sean-beanDid you read the terms and conditions of Facebook when you signed up? Are you aware of what being a member means? Each time you upload photos of your kids in funny costumes, or friends at parties, you are passing legal control of those photos to Facebook. Now, because Facebook owns Instagram, that same rule will apply to every picture you have uploaded there. Not ones you upload in future – EVERY photo you have ever uploaded.

Surely I am being sensationalist. Even if I’m right, does it really matter? What harm can it do if Instagram wants to include your photo in advertisements? Are you going to make money out of that photo on your own? (Well, you might be able to.) Facebook and Instagram are not likely to use your photo and make it look like you are endorsing something unfairly, so where’s the harm? We get to use the sites for free, right? They have to make money somehow.

What Facebook says about how it uses your information

Facebook’s Data Use Policy includes this statement:

While you are allowing us to use the information we receive about you, you always own all of your information. Your trust is important to us, which is why we don’t share information we receive about you with others unless we have:

  • received your permission;
  • given you notice, such as by telling you about it in this policy; or
  • removed your name or any other personally identifying information from it.

Of course, for information others share about you, they control how it is shared.

Take note of those parts I have bolded. I’ll come back to them in a minute. Now look at what Facebook says about how your data is shared with third party apps.

Your friends and the other people you share information with often want to share your information with applications to make their experiences on those applications more personalized and social. For example, one of your friends might want to use a music application that allows them to see what their friends are listening to. To get the full benefit of that application, your friend would want to give the application her friend list – which includes your User ID – so the application knows which of her friends is also using it. Your friend might also want to share the music you “like” on Facebook. If you have made that information public, then the application can access it just like anyone else. But if you’ve shared your likes with just your friends, the application could ask your friend for permission to share them.

In other words, you can restrict your own likes to your friends, but if those friends use apps in an open way and decide to share more information than you would want them to, tough luck.

The short reality is that you cannot actually control your privacy on Facebook. No matter how many lines Facebook adds to its privacy statements or how many granular controls it adds to your account settings – the whole system of you being in control of what people see about you falls over completely because anything any of your friends does can make you public.

Facebook uses your likes to endorse paying sponsors

A recent development on Facebook is “sponsored stories”. These give advertisers the chance to pop up on people’s timelines next to recommendations by friends. For example, if you check-in at Starbucks and post on your timeline, your friends may then see a sponsored story showing that activity. Starbucks pays Facebook, you star in the advert but you get nothing.

Using Facebook Gives You No Privacy, Not Really image sponsored stories starbuckssponsored-stories-starbucks

You can also appear in sponsored ads if you like the Facebook pages of companies that pay Facebook for Sponsored Stories appearances.

You control your own content, but you don’t

Facebook’s legal terms page says clearly that you own everything that you upload to Facebook or type into Facebook, presuming it is yours to begin with. You can now also delete your account and remove all your content (something you couldn’t do a few months ago). That’s good, right? But, you can only delete what you post. If content you have posted has been shared by others, Facebook can carry on using that content as much as it likes.

Here’s what Facebook says.

For content that is covered by intellectual property rights, like photos and videos (IP content), you specifically give us the following permission, subject to your privacy and application settings: you grant us a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use any IP content that you post on or in connection with Facebook (IP License). This IP License ends when you delete your IP content or your account unless your content has been shared with others, and they have not deleted it.

Let’s examine that in the context of the earlier statements. I can post pictures of my kids in fancy dress at a party for friends to see only – then one of them can share it with their friends, so I no longer have control over it even though I chose to make that content only private. (Here’s a good place to refer you to my earlier post on how to control privacy with Google Plus circles.) Additionally, I might like the Starbucks page just to enter a prize draw, then my name and picture will appear in adverts for my friends to see, showing me endorsing Starbucks. Great. Way to go Facebook.

At this point, deleting my account looks like the most sensible thing to do. But I want to use Facebook for at least some things. It’s ubiquitous. I have to log into Facebook to manage Facebook pages on behalf of clients. The best option is to be aware, which of course most people are not. The more things you click on, like and share that are connected to Facebook (you don’t even have to be ON Facebook), the more you are allowing your own name to be used commercially. Whether you care or not is up to you.

Instagram is likely to wake people up

Today Instagram announced that it will be changing its policy to fall into line with Facebook. From mid January 2013, everything you post on Instagram (or have posted) will be deemed to be usable commercially. Unless you remove content before the date, you will be deemed to have given permission for that content to be sold to advertisers for use in ads. Let’s think of an example. You go to Starbucks and take a photo of a coffee cup and a cake and you upload it to Instagram with “Starbucks” in the caption. Next thing you know, that picture is showing up on the timeline of your Facebook friends under a “Sponsored” banner with the news that you love Starbucks. Even if you don’t.

The reaction to Instagram’s announcement was swift and wide, and it may cause people to desert the site. It may also wake people up to the lack of privacy control that Facebook offers altogether. Then again, is it really that important? You decide, just be informed.

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