You may have noticed some of your Facebook friends posting privacy disclaimers to their timelines over the last few days. In a nutshell, the notice boldly proclaims that the user themselves retains copyright of their pictures or other media and that no one else has permission to use them. The disclaimer, which is a hoax by the way, is thought to have originated during the weeks before Facebook went public. It was in response to allegations that Facebook had changed their privacy terms to your disadvantage. (They had not.) Though it sounds nice, the disclaimer actually offers you no legal protection – you can’t change the Facebook terms of service you agreed to when you signed up. You either live with them or you don’t use Facebook. The question really is, how well do you understand your online privacy rights?
They come down to this: if you want to use the social web, you should get over your expectation of privacy. Don’t worry, you still have ways to control who sees what you post, if you want to, and you should always use good judgement when deciding what to share, but along with that is an inherent lack of privacy in posting anything online. Social networks like Facebook make their money selling ads. And the more targeted they can make those ads, the more they can charge for them. They use your data for this, trying to guess your interests based on what you post and then serving you related ads. You can’t stop them or opt out of receiving the ads. You agreed to this when you opened your account.
But remember, it’s your data they want, not your baby pictures. This discussion of who owns your media is misguided. You own your pictures. In the case of Facebook, this is not even a question. You retain ownership while giving them the right to use your picture if they want to, for free. That’s the non-negotiable price of admission to use their service. So your best bet, then, if you don’t want to close your accounts, is to continue to enjoy using your social networks. As long as you review the privacy settings of your regularly, stop worrying about who owns your pictures, and make peace with the notion that your data is being mined for clues about what you may want to buy soon.