Facebook Article in the Alligator

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Article published in the Independent Florida Alligator:


Original Article here:

If you haven’t already reposted the status update attempting to regain control of everything you’ve ever shared on Facebook – don’t. It won’t work. Accepting the terms of service upon signing up for the social networking site cannot be undone.

The status updates claim users’ copyright over the contents they’ve shared on Facebook and requires written consent from the individual user before Facebook can use the material. It has been copied and pasted so many times it’s like a newsfeed chain letter. But it is false.

The status update cites international law – the Berne Convention, though misspelled as ‘Berner,’ – and Uniform Commercial Code as protections against violating user’s privacy. But Clay Calvert, a University of Florida journalism professor and director of the Marion B. Brechner First Amendment Project, and who holds a both a law degree and a doctorate in communication, said it’s not a matter of either of those, it’s a matter of contract law.

“This is much more of a symbolic protest than one that has any legal effect, despite what people would like to believe or think they know,” Calvert said.

When setting up an account with Facebook, soon-to-be users must accept the terms of service. If they actually read them, they’d know that Facebook has the right to use the information shared on the site. Facebook claims a “non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license” to use any intellectual property content when the user chooses certain settings.

This doesn’t mean Facebook “owns” what’s shared – but it can disclose the information, which may include users’ GPS locations, to advertisers to more effectively direct ads their way. Information associated with an account may be kept even after it is deleted.

The Facebook Statement of Rights and Responsibilities “is our terms of service that governs our relationship with users.” A status update cannot trump the terms of service that each user agreed to when signing up for site, Calvert said. It was a choice to sign up and it is a choice to continue to use Facebook – but only under their terms.

It’s like leasing a car, Calvert said, you can’t negotiate the terms by putting a sticker on it claiming your rights after you’ve signed the contract. You’re bound to that lease.

“The big picture is that Facebook users did not realize that they were giving away their rights,” Calvert said.

Now that they’re realizing this they’re trying to get them back. But the sheer number of people who repost that status doesn’t make it enforceable. Facebook also maintains the right to update their terms of service, and to continue using Facebook is to accept the changes, according to Facebook’s Statement of Rights and Responsibilities. But who actually reads the terms of service?

“I know that I don’t read them, ever,” said Moriah Geier, an 18-year-old UF dance freshman, not only referring to Facebook’s terms, but iTunes and any other terms

and conditions one has to accept by ‘clicking the box’ on the internet. She reads them more on paper. She saw her friends posting the copied status, but didn’t believe her rights could be changed by a status update.

This wave of statuses followed a revision this month to the data use policy, which includes the information Facebook collects and how it may use that data. A similar message spread earlier this year following Facebook becoming a publicly traded company, but that has nothing to do with users’ privacy. Facebook can change the terms if notice is provided, which is done by posting the change on the Facebook Site Governance Page, and providing an opportunity to comment.

Adjusting your privacy and application settings controls how some content and information is shared, but some information like your name, profile picture and networks will always be public.

“It’s just become our everyday way of communicating,” said Kayla Marcus, 19-year-old UF dance freshman. “We don’t realize it’s so public.”