Big Brother or Facebook? It’s Hard to Differentiate

March 30, 2011

In his 1949 novel “1984,” George Orwell coined the popular slogan, “Big Brother is watching you.” In the fictional world he created, everyone was put under surveillance and heavily scrutinized. Although this dystopia was meant to exist 27 years ago, technology has made Orwell’s 1984 world a reality of 2011. “Big Brother” keeps his eye over the world today, and we’re all being watched.
With the advent of Facebook in 2004, it has become hundreds of times easier to keep track of virtually everyone’s activities and whereabouts.Because every move made in cyberspace is tracked, and since that’s where many spend a considerable amount of time, Big Brother knows more about who we are than we probably realize.It’s not just that all of your friends, and maybe even people who aren’t your friends, have access to every wall post you share, status update you post, photo you upload, message you send, and even instant message you fire away: it’s that Mark Zuckerberg owns EVERYTHING you do via Facebook.
Yep, all that stuff posted does NOT belong to the individual who transmits the content online.When a user signs up for Facebook there’s a point in the process where the person has to get past a CAPTCHA. (This is a security measure that involves typing a display of distorted letters into a field to confirm that a person is creating an account. It is implemented to prevent the automated creation of multiple accounts.)

Immediately underneath the CAPTCHA is the sign up button, and underneath that is a teeny little sentence that reads, “By clicking Sign Up, you are indicating that you have read and agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.”

Although there are surely people who have taken the time to read Facebook’s terms and privacy policy, the lengthy jargon probably deters a greater number from understanding exactly what it is they’ve signed up for.

Well, of the seemingly countless lines of terms and conditions, there are two sections that state Facebook essentially owns whatever you do on Facebook, both of which come from its Statement of Rights and Responsibilities (which was previously called “Terms and Conditions”):

“For content that is covered by intellectual property rights, like photos and videos (“IP content”), you specifically give us the following permission, subject to your privacy and application settings: 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 (“IP License”). This IP License ends when you delete your IP content or your account unless your content has been shared with others, and they have not deleted it.”

What this verbose chunk of text means is that Facebook can do essentially anything it wishes with your intellectual property – your expression of thoughts and ideas through writing, photos, and videos – posted on the social networking site. And if the company makes money off of your writing, photos, or videos, you don’t get compensated for it.

In the FAQ section of this social networking utility, it is stated that users retain copyright to their content. But what does that really matter when Facebook is allowed to make money off of your intellectual property without giving you part of the profit? Basically, Facebook holds just as much copyright to your content as you do.

Fortunately, there’s a way to terminate Facebook’s license to your content.

Well, sort of.

The previously cited text states that Facebook’s license to your intellectual property “ends when you delete your IP content or your account.”

Unfortunately, if your content somehow remains on the account of another user, whether that user was tagged in a photo or if the user saved your content and uploaded it into his or her account, Facebook still has the right to use the content the same way as if it were still on your account.

Another way that Facebook may circumvent users’ absolute right to control over their content is stated in another wordy section in its Statement of Rights and Responsibilities:

“When you delete IP content, it is deleted in a manner similar to emptying the recycle bin on a computer. However, you understand that removed content may persist in backup copies for a reasonable period of time (but will not be available to others).”

When a recycle bin on a computer is emptied, files aren’t completely erased in that instant. In fact, they can actually be recovered, depending on how long ago the files have been deleted. (Files can be retrieved if attempted in a timely manner, before the computer saves something new to the partition of the hard drive that has been cleared.)

What does the company mean by “a reasonable period of time?” Does that mean that everything put on Facebook remains floating around in cyberspace indefinitely? Who exactly are the “others” that deleted content won’t be available to? Other users? What does the company get to do with the “backup copies” of content?

There doesn’t appear to be any clear definition of these references in Facebook’s terms.

If that’s not enough to worry about, there’s also the fact that the social networking utility tracks down the browser you use, the pages you visit, your location, and your IP address. Since IP addresses are unique to specific locations, it’s easy to figure out where a person lives, works or goes to school.

There’s also Places, a feature Facebook launched in August 2010 that allows users to announce their exact location, who they’re with, and what they’re doing on their walls.

It’s probably a fun thing to do since many people publicize their whereabouts and activities. But for those who use this feature, it’s important to keep in mind that by doing so, a multibillion-dollar company has recorded your location, and potentially your activity and companions with you at that time.

At the moment, the information you put up is used in a couple of ways.

Your “likes” on Facebook are used so companies can more specifically target their advertisements.

By default, your Facebook profile is made available to public search engines so that anyone who types your name into Google or Bing may stumble across your page.

Also, before using an app or playing a game, it is necessary to grant the third party hosting the app or game to access your basic information, including your “name, profile picture, gender, networks, user ID, list of friends, and any other information I’ve shared with everyone.” In January, Facebook extended the scope of information to which these third parties can request access, including your address and phone number.

Anything put up online is subject to scrutiny.

When the Patriot Act passed in 2001, the government gained the legal authority to increase surveillance measures for national security reasons. Among a number of things, it allows authorities to wiretap phone calls and electronic communications.

Guess what kind of communication Facebook is.

Big Brother knows so much about us, and it’s really unnerving. Credit card transactions can reveal where you prefer to shop, phone bills show the people you text and call most frequently, and customer service hotlines sometimes monitor phone calls for ‘quality assurance purposes.’

If you have a Facebook profile, what does it reveal about you? In addition to the fact that whatever is on there doesn’t belong to you, Big Brother can see everything because he’s still watching.

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