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)

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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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