Digital Panic 2.0! Facebook Are Still Not Going to Steal Your Copyright / Identity / Soul!

Happy New Year ladies, gentlemen, all in between, and none of the above! As always a new year brings new resolutions to be broken, new goals to be abandoned, and, of course, new hoaxes to be unmasked like a particularly tiresome episode of Scooby-Doo. Once again, and while 2015 is still knee-high to a grasshopper, our latest digital hoax and viral spread of legal misrepresentation comes to us from the realm of The Facebook. Much as with our last round of myth-busting, “Digital Panic! No, Facebook Is Not Spying on You Through Their Messenger App“, this time my, and no doubt your, Facebook news feed is a blaze with well-intentioned warnings about the depths to which Facebook has descended in its quest to steal Copyright, identities, souls and more than likely candy from babies. As much as this makes fascinating, if somewhat depressing reading, and as much as it pains me to take on the role of spoilsport in this micro-drama of the Erin Brockovich-esque user who first uncovered and took a stand against Facebook’s perceived changes in its Terms of Service, I must sadly inform you that this is once again nothing more than a not-particularly-elaborate-but-worryingly-effective hoax.

So what does this most recent hoax claim? Well, the most common version, and the one which has come to my attention seems to read like this:

Due to the fact that Facebook has chosen to involve software that will allow the theft of my personal information, I state: at this date of January 4, 2015, in response to the new guidelines of Facebook, pursuant to articles L.111, 112 and 113 of the code of intellectual property, I declare that my rights are attached to all my personal data drawings, paintings, photos, video, texts etc. published on my profile and my page. For commercial use of the foregoing my written consent is required at all times.

Those who read this text can do a copy/paste on their Facebook wall. This will allow them to place themselves under the protection of copyright. By this statement, I tell Facebook that it is strictly forbidden to disclose, copy, distribute, broadcast, or take any other action against me on the basis of this profile and or its content. The actions mentioned above also apply to employees, students, agents and or other personnel under the direction of Facebook.

The content of my profile contains private information. The violation of my privacy is punishable by law (UCC 1-308 1-308 1-103 and the Rome Statute).

Facebook is now an open capital entity. All members are invited to publish a notice of this kind, or if they prefer, you can copy and paste this version.

If you have not published this statement at least once, you tacitly allow the use of elements such as your photos as well as the information contained in the profile update.

Now, many of you who have been around the block might recognise this wording as rather evocative to that of numerous similar warnings in years gone by. The similarity to the unfounded claims of the past, and the blatant misunderstanding and/or misapplication of the law (particularly interesting for citizens of the European Union, who insist on reposting incantations of US-American law) can only mean that this is a hoax, or at the very least a rather unfortunate and common mistake, as Matt Peckham put it in the TIME article on this subject:

Perhaps “hoax” is too strong a word. Sometimes these things are just viral mistakes — someone taking a well-intentioned misunderstanding and driving it viral (though that’s often also a definition for “conspiracy theories”). People pick it up thinking they’re immunizing themselves with, as Snopes puts it, a “legal talisman.” No such thing exists. The person who devised this particular message may have been going for viral clutter, or they may simply have been misinformed.

One of the key-giveaways is that this most recent version uses many of the erroneous references to legislation which its predecessors are so fond of, such as citing the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC), Section 1-308, which, as Snopes.com put it, “has long been popular among conspiracy buffs who incorrectly maintain that citing it above your signature on an instrument will confer upon you the ability to invoke extraordinary legal rights“. The simple fact of the matter is that anyone using Facebook agreed to their Terms of Services when they signed up, including (unfortunately, but such is life) allowing them to unilaterally change those terms of service, and those terms are the primary basis of your legal relationship with Facebook. Indeed, statutory rights and national laws will come into the equation, but for the most part, unless any of these terms or changes of terms are in contravention of such laws, then you are simply stuck with them. In this, I would echo both the explanation and suggestion of Matt Peckham:

The idea seems to be that by posting this, you can somehow override the privacy strictures you agreed to when you signed up for Facebook. Let’s be clear: You can’t. It’s that simple. Posting such messages, whatever you’ve read about your rights and the power of self-declared legalese, will simply clutter up your timeline and annoy your friends. If you have a problem with Facebook’s privacy policies, you can either stick it out and lobby for Facebook to amend its terms, or you can quit Facebook.

Facebook have indeed weighed in on this latest panic-propagated PR-phantasm  and addressed the Copyright Meme rushing like a virus through its uninoculated users, and they made it clear that, as far as they’re concerned you — not Facebook — own your content…. THOUGH, the little caveat should be addended that as part of your agreement to their Terms of Service, you generally grant them a “non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide licence to use any IP content that you post on or in connection with Facebook (IP Licence). This IP Licence ends when you delete your IP content or your account, unless your content has been shared with others and they have not deleted it.” Though Facebook were perhaps less clear than I about that rather important caveat, they nonetheless made it clear that:

There is a rumor circulating that Facebook is making a change related to ownership of users’ information or the content they post to the site. This is false. Anyone who uses Facebook owns and controls the content and information they post, as stated in our terms. They control how that content and information is shared. That is our policy, and it always has been.

Many people posting these warnings do in fact point out that it may be a hoax, but go ahead with the symbolic gesture as it is deemed “better safe than sorry”. And while the thought behind this idea may be commendable, there are much better ways to remain safe in the online environment than spreading panic and misinformation. Indeed, such panic and misunderstanding could even be detrimental to the cause of protection of users – these sorts of reactions could (and may well) have happened in reaction to an actual change in the Terms of Use of Facebook, or another similar entity,  which might benefit the users or increase protection. This perhaps seems unlikely to the more cynical of you, but flying off the handle every time terms are changed, or especially when they have not been, is certainly not the path to better informed internet users.

Instead, perhaps two important lessons could be taken away from such reactions:

The First is that people should be more skeptical of things they read on Facebook. These read-and-repost phenomena resemble the send-this-to-10-people-or-you-will-die-tomorrow/and-the-love-of-our-life-will-call-you/iF-u-cRi-eVRytiM emails and messages which have plagued us since the early days of email. As I stated in my last post regarding these sorts of Facebook hoaxes, if in doubt (and you should tautologically ALWAYS be in doubt of such dubious statements) Snopes.com it!

The Second is that if you are indeed worried about digital security and online privacy, and you are indeed entitled to be so, then there are far more effective ways you can protect yourself and warn others than spreading misinformation to the frustration of your friends and the nourishment and amusement of the trolls. In part because I am writing this late and night, and in part because I have covered much of this in my previous writing, I will, for the sake of convenience and laziness, engage in the arrogant art of self-quotation and suggest to those privacy-minded of you that there are alternatives to ineffectual status updates if you truly want to take hold of your digital identity:

I advocate an informed and responsible online presence, and can heartily recommend websites such as Lifehacker, who frequently have good advice on the safety and usefulness of certain services, such as “The Always Up-to-Date Guide to Managing Your Facebook Privacy” or “The Always Up-to-Date Power User’s Guide to Chrome“; and you will find guides online like “A Beginner’s Guide to internet Privacy and Security“; or services such as AdBlock(who very kindly allow you pay what you can for the service), which have made me so used to not having those pesky adds on so many websites, that I get a bit of a shock when I use someone else’s computer, or AdBlock Plus (confusingly named different entity altogether); Similarly it is important to have some decent internet security, such as AVG which has a rather robust Do Not Track feature. There are even more sophisticated measures such as Tor(explained nicely by Stuart Dredge of The Guardian here; “What is Tor? A beginner’s guide to the privacy tool“), which hides location and browsing habits…. and is so good at it, that even visiting the website might actually get you on an NSA watchlist. So… there’s that.

If you are wondering what might have prompted this latest round of panic, I suspect it might be a reaction to the changes which Facebook intend to make to their data policy, cookies policy, and terms, which they were actually rather open about (for example on their Site Governance Page), if anyone was paying attention back in November 2014:

Today, we’re letting people know about our updated data policy, cookies policy, and terms, which reflect new features we’ve been working on and will go into effect January 30, 2015. You can read more about them here:

https://www.facebook.com/about/terms-updates

Over the past week, people from around the world shared their questions and comments about our proposed updates. We’ll continue the conversation on Monday, November 24 at 11 a.m. PT with a live Q&A with Erin Egan, Facebook’s Chief Privacy Officer.

https://www.facebook.com/events/654330378017916

We always hear great questions from people about what the updates mean for them and the information they share on Facebook. Here are answers to some of the top questions we received about our proposed updates:

Q: Why are you updating these documents?

We want to make sure people understand how Facebook works so they can make informed decisions and control their experience. Our updates reflect the new products we’ve been working on to improve your Facebook experience, like helping you discover what’s around you, making purchases more convenient, and making privacy information more accessible. For example, we created Privacy Basics, which gives you tips and a how-to guide for taking charge of your experience on Facebook.

https://www.facebook.com/about/basics/

Q: Do I own the stuff I share on Facebook?

Yes. You own all of the content and information you post on Facebook, and you can control how it is shared through your settings. We get this question a lot, and it’s one of the first things you’ll find in our updated terms.

Q: How will Facebook share my location with other people?

We’ve updated our explanation of how we get location information, so some people were curious what this means for their day-to-day experience on Facebook. Importantly, the information we receive depends on the features you decide to use. You control whether you share your precise location with Facebook using your device settings. You also decide whether you share your location when you check in someplace, share the location a photo was taken, or use optional features like Nearby Friends.

Q. With this Buy button, will Facebook put my credit card information out there?

No. One of the new features our data policy covers is a Buy button we’re testing in some regions to help people discover and purchase products without leaving Facebook. This feature is completely optional, and if you decide to use it, we don’t share your credit or debit card number. People can select whether or not they’d like to save payment information for future purchases.

Q. Is there a direct link to ad preferences?

It’s important that controls be available in context, so we make ad preferences available from every ad on Facebook. Click the chevron or “x” in the top right corner of the ad to learn why you’re seeing that specific ad and add and remove interests that we use to show you ads.

Thank you to everyone who shared comments and questions over the past week. We’ll continue to listen to your feedback about the controls you have over your information, including audience selectors, ad preferences, and other tools. We will work hard to build the trust people have in Facebook.

The details of the new Privacy Basics system have been made widely available. While Facebook are far from perfect, and I whole-heartedly support anyone who chooses not to use Facebook at all due to their practices regarding the collection and use of personal information, in this case Facebook were rather clear back in 2014 about their intentions, and in fact sought user Feedback regarding the proposed changes. So, a dystopian power-grab this is not.

Once again, I would entreat you not to propagate this sort of misinformation, which is almost without fail either a hoax by an easily amused troll, or the workings of some poor fool good Samaritan who truly does not understand how Copyright, Contract, or Privacy Law works, and I would sum up my advice with the advice provided by Snopes.com, which I also cited in my last blog post on this topic:

If you do not agree with Facebook’s stated policies, you have several options:

  • Decline to sign up for a Facebook account.
  • Bilaterally negotiate a modified policy with Facebook.
  • Lobby for Facebook to amend its policies through its Facebook Site Governance section.
  • Cancel your Facebook account.

(Note that in the last case, you may have already ceded some rights which you cannot necessarily reclaim by canceling your account.)

And, once again, I bid a Happy and Well-Informed New Year to you all,

~ Shane

Photo Credit: The Opening of the Sixth Seal – Francis Danby (c) Victoria Art Gallery; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

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