What is hiding in the Facebook Terms of Service?

Man creeping through personal information made public via Facebook.The very last sentence of Campbell, Martin and Fabos’ (2015) Chapter 16 in Media & Culture: Mass Communication in a Digital Age made me feel pretty lousy about the lackadaisical approach I have had to media and technology thus far:

More important, we need to challenge ourselves to become watchdogs- critical consumers and engaged citizens-who learn from the past, care about the present, and map mass media’s future. (p. 565)

In reading this, I finally realized that I was simply relying on the hope that someone else in society would act as a watchdog for me, and if anything was array, I would find out about it on the news or in a blog somewhere. How lazy of me! More so, how foolish of me!

As I have never even read the Terms of Service of social media platform, Facebook, that I use each and every day, I decided to finally put aside the time to read through the terms, carefully, acting as a watchdog for the online community. In reading the terms it became very evident that I must also take a careful look at the Facebook Data Policy, which is simply linked to from the Terms of Service page. It took me an hour and a half to get through both of these statements that I had, at one point, simply clicked “accept” to without taking even a brief look at.

Here are snippets of what stood out to me as especially important:

1.

Facebook (2015) states, “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.”

I read this statement five times over and, in the end, couldn’t help but conclude that we, as consumers, need a lawyer to make sense of what this really means to us. It was clearly written by a team of legal representatives hired by Facebook, and yet, we are all agreeing to this without having any legal team of our own first take a look.  However, since I do not have a the funding for a legal team of my own, my own interpretation of this statement is that we are essentially providing Facebook with the right to use any content that we post on its platform, free of charge, for whatever they wish. Even more interestingly, just because we personally delete the content does not relinquish that right so long as another user has also shared it.

2.

Facebook (2015) goes on to state,You will not create more than one personal account.”

This statement under Registration and Account Security made me wonder what power Facebook has to enforce a breach in this agreement. For example, my aunt, who is on the autism spectrum, has four separate personal accounts. She does not understand that just because she gets logged out of her Facebook account on her computer that it does not mean the account has been deleted- and so she simply opens a new account. Can she be liable for breaching the Terms of Service?

3.

Facebook’s (2015) Amendments note:

  1. We’ll notify you before we make changes to these terms and give you the opportunity to review and comment on the revised terms before continuing to use our Services.
  2. If we make changes to policies, guidelines or other terms referenced in or incorporated by this Statement, we may provide notice on the Site Governance Page.
  3. Your continued use of the Facebook Services, following notice of the changes to our terms, policies or guidelines, constitutes your acceptance of our amended terms, policies or guidelines.

Number two, in particular, under the Amendments section of the Terms and Service caught my attention. Facebook notes in number one that users will be notified of changes to the Terms of Service and in number three that our continued use constitutes our acceptance of the amended terms, but number two seems to say that this notice they speak of in number one may simply be in the form of a statement on their Site Governance Page. This is another case in which we would benefit from a lawyer distinguishing the exact meaning of the agreement.

4.

We collect information about the people and groups you are connected to and how you interact with them, such as the people you communicate with the most or the groups you like to share with. We also collect contact information you provide if you upload, sync or import this information (such as an address book) from a device.

This seems to mean that even if an individual is not a Facebook user, their information may be collected by Facebook just by being in the address book of someone who IS a Facebook user. Do Facebook users really have the right to sign off on other individuals’ privacies?  

5.

Conduct surveys and research, test features in development, and analyze the information we have to evaluate and improve products and services, develop new products or features, and conduct audits and troubleshooting activities.

Someone in this past Thursday’s class brought up the ethics of Facebook utilizing users in research endeavors and Professor Passetti and I pointed out that we likely agreed to this in some form by clicking “accept” to the Terms of Service. Well, here it is!

6.

Public information is any information you share with a public audience, as well as information in your Public Profile, or content you share on a Facebook Page or another public forum. Public information is available to anyone on or off our Services and can be seen or accessed through online search engines, APIs, and offline media, such as on TV.

Interesting! If you have a public profile, it seems that any of the content, including images and videos, can be used on TV free of charge. I would strongly advise against having a public profile, unless you are a public figure.

7.

We may access, preserve and share your information in response to a legal request (like a search warrant, court order or subpoena) if we have a good faith belief that the law requires us to do so.

For most people, depending on their privacy and security settings, Facebook knows more about us than even our closest friends- including our exact location at any given time! So, I guess, do not use Facebook if you are engaging in any illegal activity or hiding from the cops because you are as good as found!


There is certainly a lot of information residing in the Facebook Terms of Service and the Facebook Data Policy. No one should simply click accept, mainly because that seems to be what Facebook would like you to do! Lackadaisical consumers, like I was, are easier to exploit and use for commercial growth. In my opinion, Facebook should be required by law to be more proactive in ensuring that the Terms of Service and Data Policy are actually read and comprehended by users.

In my opinion, a simple ten question quiz on the terms should be a prerequisite for utilizing Facebook’s services. Please share your thoughts on this statement and tweet me @allymp507!

xoxo Newhouse, New Ally 💁


References

Campbell, Richard, Christopher R. Martin, and Bettina Fabos. Media & Culture: Mass Communication in a Digital Age, 10th ed.. Macmillan, 2015. ISBN: 978-1-4576-6873-9.

Facebook (2015, January) Data Policy. Retrieved from https://www.facebook.com/about/privacy/

Facebook (2015) Terms of Service. Retrieved from https://www.facebook.com/legal/terms

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