We don’t need Facebook to violate our privacy; we do it to ourselves

You Own What You Post on Facebook

Earlier this week, my Facebook homepage was lit up by a series of posts from friends proclaiming that they were no longer subject to Facebook’s litany of privacy abuses and thefts of intellectual property.

As it turned out, both the intellectual property theft and the idea that it could be prevented on a ‘because-I-said-so’ basis were poorly-vetted, and previously-debunked hoaxes.

And You Control How Facebook Shares that Info (If You Change Your Privacy Settings)


Facebook via Shutterstock

A quick look at Facebook’s statement on rights and responsibilities and data use policy make abundantly clear that “you own all of the content and information you post on Facebook, and you can control how it is shared.”

It’s true that you need to change your privacy settings to prevent the website from using the information you post for research, promotional or analytical use, but that does not change the fact that you own what you post. (Two key privacy settings in Facebook are found here and here.)

Speaking of which, what are we posting online about ourselves, that we might not even realize?

Who Needs Facebook to Violate Our Privacy? We Do It Quite Well On Our Own

According to Consumer Reports’ latest “State of the Net” survey, we don’t need Facebook to violate our privacy; we do it quite well by ourselves. More than ever, users are making a wide array of information including our preexisting health conditions, plans for the day, phone number and personal finances public and available to employers, insurers, the IRS, divorce lawyers and criminals.

Moreover, 13 million users have not set, or didn’t know about, their privacy settings and 28 percent of Facebook users share all or almost all of their posts with an audience wider than just their friends. Unsurprisingly, eleven percent of Facebook users report having privacy-related problems. But their problems, ranging from identity theft to someone using their log in information, are by and large completely preventable.

Criticisms of Facebook’s stance on intellectual property are not only wrong and hypocritical; they are also misguided. Who owns social media is not at issue; at issue is the feed-like amount of data Facebook and other social networking sites collect, sell and distribute about things they should have no knowledge of. We have a great deal of control over the information we make public; we have far less control over information that should be kept private.

That Facebook, along with other social media sites, knows who I email, what other websites I visit and what I buy online is far more worrisome for those concerned about online privacy than who “owns” what is put in the public domain. Furthermore, Facebook’s support of CISPA, which would have allowed the government to circumvent due process and gather information from social networking sites without a warrant, represents a bigger threat to personal privacy than any faux-theft that can supposedly be wished away via online disclaimer.

In short, we own what we post publicly but we don’t own what we’d rather keep private.

That original poem you posted in a status update? Don’t worry; Mark Zuckerburg can’t claim that he wrote it. He can, however, use it and the Google searches you made to help tailor the ads you see, suggest possible friends, and, if he had his way, sell you out to the government if the poem is too risqué.

Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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  • dorothycharlesbanks

    I have never understood why people post personal information on Facebook and other social sites, expecting the information to stay in their personal Facebook filing cabinet. Anyone who believes that information they put on Facebook is totally private had better get a grip on reality. When photos, personal notes and conversations are posted, you have no control over it when you press “enter.” It immediately becomes Facebook’s property. You lose control of the content.

    I have a blog and I have a Facebook account but I do not part with any personal information on either. However, on my blog have photos of family members that have died, but the information is general. I created for any member of my family who may initiate a genealogy search. I use no phone number, SS numbers, no phone numbers of their family. On Facebook I post news stories and interesting photos that I’ve seen on the Internet. I have read posts on Facebook in which people are angry that others are able to read what they have written. For this reason people who use social sites should be very careful what they reveal about themselves and their families.

    As it stands, anyone can key in their name on the Internet and find information such as places of employment, salaries, addresses (a map showing how to get to your house), telephone numbers, your age and birth date and more. Someone is providing this information other than yourself. And Facebook is one of the culprit, no matter how it claims to keep all information private.

  • Naja pallida

    Bed, Bath and Beyond you say? I would think you would get a lot of use out of a discount from the Beyond department. :)

    Sadly, this is all too common. When banks should be doing everything they can to protect customers, not only do they sell your information to other companies, they then try to sell you special protection for your identity… when one would think that should be their job in the first place.

  • smart!

  • On a slightly related topic: I just learned my bank sells credit card info to major big box stores. I just got an announcement from Bank West that I get a 10% discount if I use my debit card at Bed, Bath and Behinny.

  • Zorba

    ^^This^^. It’s the only thing I use FB for- to keep up with pictures and news of nieces, nephews, and kids of old friends. I don’t have my picture on it, I don’t give any other information, I don’t “like” anything or play any of the stupid games, I log out every time, and use my privacy settings.
    For professional purposes, I have a separate email account only used for that, and I use LinkedIn for professional reasons, and only for that reason (I do special education consulting, tutoring, and act as a parent advocate).

    I would suggest to anyone whose business associates or bosses are pressuring them to use FB, to use LinkedIn instead, and only for business purposes (and make sure you have a separate, professional email account- don’t use it for private emails). I don’t even have my friends and relatives on LinkedIn.
    It’s not perfect by any means, but there are ways to be connected without being profligate about your information.
    Also, clear your cookies and history frequently, and use something like SpyBot.

  • There are some websites that use Facebook-supported login and don’t really have anything else. Or others where I don’t care if they have my FB account info but I don’t want to give them access to any of my regular email addresses (I use a whole bunch of them, based on needs, and rotate in new ones on bi-annual basis).

    Roughly every six months or so, I go over to my FB ‘wall’ and post the status that I do not use FB and do not check in, and if someone is a friend and wishes to contact me, write email or pick up the phone. And also not to be offended when I ignore the latest attempt to send me an e-card or share an app.

  • Mike_in_Houston

    I opened an account several years ago. All that is on there is my name and birthdate, and I’m thinking of removing the latter. The account is valuable from time to time if, for example, I want to look at a photo that is not accessible on the homepage (that’s actually the only thing I’ve ever used it for, and that only twice). Aside from that, if there is something about me that I want somebody to know, I will tell him or her myself.

  • Naja pallida

    That’s the point I always make… they can’t use anything you don’t give them. And it is quite possible to be on it, and not give them anything they can really use, aside from who you choose to be friends with. Which really doesn’t tell them much. You just have to resist the urge to go around liking everything, and make sure you’re logging out after every session, because many sites that have those ‘social integration’ built in basically enables them to track you everywhere you go. But really, there’s no reason you can’t use it for basic social communication. I’ve found it quite handy to keep in touch with clients and friends alike, and basically have an empty profile otherwise.

  • Butch

    We’re coming under a lot of pressure from a business associate to list our business on Facebook. I just can’t bring myself to do it – I want nothing to do with FB.

  • citizen_spot

    I just can’t understand why anyone would be on the book-face. The company’s only product is your freely given information about you. Call me a luddite but no thanks! ; )

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