To Post on Facebook, or Not to Post

We’ve all seen it make the rounds on our Facebook newsfeeds: the post that declares something along the lines of “my rights are attached to all my personal data drawings, paintings, photos, video, texts, etc.”  Its reappearance around the end of 2014 was likely due to a notice sent by Facebook regarding changes in their policies, which took effect on January 1, 2015.

In the United States, this message does not have the power to unilaterally waive the privacy terms to which each user agrees upon opening a Facebook account.  For example, the new terms state that subject to a user’s privacy and application settings, “[f]or content . . . like photos and videos (IP content), . . . you grant us a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use any IP content that you post on or in connection with Facebook.”  The only way to terminate Facebook’s license is to delete your IP content or delete your account, but if you have shared that content with other users that have not deleted it, Facebook still maintains a license on it.

The European Union, however, has taken serious issue with this. EU data protection authorities say that this part (along with other parts) of Facebook’s policy violates their privacy laws.  On February 3, 2015, a task force led by Belgium, the Netherlands, and Germany was formed to investigate the concerns with Facebook’s privacy policy.  On February 23, 2015, a draft report commissioned by the Belgian Data Protection Authority outlined the following issues with Facebook’s policy:

  1. Consent to many of Facebook’s processing activities is likely not valid “[g]iven the limited information Facebook provides and the absence of meaningful choice;”
  1. The current “opt-out” default setting for advertising, as well as Facebook’s practice of combining and sharing data about its users, “do[] not meet the requirements for legally valid consent,” and opt-outs for location-data collection “are simply not provided;”
  1. Facebook’s new Statement of Rights and Responsibilities “contains a number of provisions which do not comply with the Unfair Contract Terms Directive” of European consumer protection law;
  1. The use of user-generated content for commercial purposes (the subject of the “my rights are attached to my personal data” post mentioned above) is not transparent and is not subject to “adequate control mechanisms;”
  1. The collection of location data parameters should be “turned off by default,” and users should be allowed “to determine when and how location data can be used by Facebook and to what purpose;”
  1. Facebook’s monitoring of its users while they are on and off the site is not in compliance with the e-Privacy Directive requiring “free and informed prior consent before storing or accessing information on an individual’s device;” and
  1. The terms “do not properly acknowledge” the fact that users cannot prevent Facebook from using their information gained from outside their network (i.e., if you have shared that content with other users that have not deleted it, Facebook may still use it).

Perhaps the necessitation of making these changes to comply with European Union laws will trickle into Facebook’s privacy policies for the U.S., but it is always wise to be wary of what you post and to periodically review social media privacy policies.

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