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Facebook 'Privacy Notice' Has No Legs

But Facebook should be looking at why the notice went viral.

5 Facebook Rivals Hot On Its Heels
5 Facebook Rivals Hot On Its Heels
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We like Facebook, but we don't necessarily trust it. That's what could be concluded from the sheer numbers of Facebook users who sought to protect themselves from the network by posting a legal notice that turned out to have no legal leg to stand on.

If you're like many Facebook users, at least one of your Facebook friends recently posted something like the following on his or her Timeline:

"In response to the new Facebook guidelines I hereby declare that my copyright is attached to all of my personal details, illustrations, comics, paintings, photos and videos, etc. (as a result of the Berner Convention). For commercial use of the above, my written consent is needed at all times! (Anyone reading this can copy this text and paste it on their Facebook Wall. This will place them under protection of copyright laws.) By the present communique, I notify Facebook that it is strictly forbidden to disclose, copy, distribute, disseminate, or take any other action against me on the basis of this profile and/or its contents. The aforementioned prohibited actions also apply to employees, students, agents and/or any staff under Facebook's direction or control. The content of this profile is private and confidential information. The violation of my privacy is punished by law (UCC 1 1-308-308 1-103 and the Rome Statute)."

Users who posted the notice intended for it to protect their privacy and content. The notice sounds kind of official (although I have never seen a legal notice that uses exclamation points, and "Berner Convention" should actually be "Berne Convention"). In reality, the notice is meaningless, as pointed out by online-myth-buster Snopes.com.

[ Are you shopping on Facebook for the holidays? Read Facebook Gift Scams: How They Work. ]

Facebook posted its own clarification on its Newsroom page: "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."

So, were the people who posted the notice duped? Should they have known better?

Media pundit Robert Scoble put it bluntly on his own Facebook page: "If you are posting about copyright on Facebook and you haven't done your research you are an idiot," he posted. "Start here," he added, linking to the Snopes page.

I don't think the people who posted the notice were idiots. The "privacy notice" quoted above was posted by one of my own Facebook friends. But it wasn't the first time the message appeared in my News Feed, nor would it be the last. The first time the notice appeared in my feed, it had been posted by a former colleague -- a very smart, very tech- and business-savvy person. He acknowledged in a comment accompanying the post that the notice wasn't likely binding, but he did it "just in case."

That "just in case" is a problem for Facebook. Clearly people aren't nervous enough about using Facebook that they are, well, not using Facebook. But the fact that the notice went viral shows that users are concerned. Perhaps they've been burned in the past by changes, or maybe they're just worried in general -- knowing that social networking is new enough that we don't yet know what we don't know.

Facebook was quick to respond to the issue, but the fact that the privacy notice essentially became a meme should tell the social networking giant something -- especially as it seeks to increase revenue at least in part by getting users to trust the network enough to buy and sell over it.

So maybe the silver lining to this passing social cloud is an increasing awareness on Facebook's part of users' concerns, which will hopefully lead to some actions that will assuage their fears.

Time will tell, but there's one good thing that immediately came out of the fray: the meme spawned from the meme. (Dozens of take-offs to the tune of, "In response to the new Facebook guidelines I hereby declare that everything I say is a usually not true anyway.")

Did you post the notice? Why do you think so many people did? Please let us know in the comments section below.

Follow Deb Donston-Miller on Twitter at @debdonston.

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Soozy G. Miller
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Soozy G. Miller,
User Rank: Apprentice
12/6/2012 | 8:11:06 PM
re: Facebook 'Privacy Notice' Has No Legs
There was also a rumor going around for a while that FB would start charging for membership. Since Zuckerberg is pushing for more advertising and more $ ventures related to FB and it's all based on membership, I'm pretty sure he wouldn't do anything to jeopardize the site.
b9 u4ea
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b9 u4ea,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/29/2012 | 8:27:56 PM
re: Facebook 'Privacy Notice' Has No Legs
I would like to point out that there's two different, but potentially overlapping (at least partially), concepts here: (1) Privacy, Personal Information, PII, etc...; and (2) Intellectual Property (IP). The use of both, are done so by grant. For the former, a grant of permission; and For the latter a grant or assignment of license(s).

Let's also consider individuals in other countries, that use Facebook, as it is a global phenomenon. These individuals may leverage local copyright and privacy laws and regulations. For example, let's look at the friendly neighbors to the North, Canada. Their privacy legislation is PIPEDA, which states:

"4.3 Principle 3 - Consent 4.3.8 An individual may withdraw consent at any time, subject to legal or contractual restrictions and reasonable notice. The organization shall inform the individual of the implications of such withdrawal".

So based upon this principal, permission can be withdrawn. Would it not be deemed "reasonable" to use the same medium that Facebook itself uses to convey "Data Use Policy" or "Privacy Policy" and "Facebook Statement of Rights and Responsibilities" (SRR), for an individual to convey notice to Facebook? Facebook, by their own actions, leverage it as a reasonable medium for notice of their corporate policies. Why would it not be "reasonable" for the individual to do the same? If it were unreasonable, I do believe that may be bias and unfair.

Furthermore, according to Canadian copyright law, licenses may not be granted in a manner suggested by the Facebook Statement of Rights and Responsibilities (SRR). The Facebook SRR states:

"2. Sharing Your Content and Information -- You own all of the content and information you post on Facebook, and you can control how it is shared through your privacy and application settings. In addition: (1) 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".

However, the Canadian Copyright Act states:

"Ownership of Copyright 13. (1) Subject to this Act, the author of a work shall be the first owner of the copyright therein. Assignments and licences (4) The owner of the copyright in any work may assign the right, either wholly or partially, and either generally or subject to limitations relating to territory, medium or sector of the market or other limitations relating to the scope of the assignment, and either for the whole term of the copyright or for any other part thereof, and may grant any interest in the right by licence, but no assignment or grant is valid unless it is in writing signed by the owner of the right in respect of which the assignment or grant is made, or by the ownerG«÷s duly authorized agent".

Finally, what are the implications if you're to not provide Facebook notice of you privacy or IP grants, constraints, expectations, or requirements? Suddenly, Facebook's Data Use or Privacy Policy changes, or the privacy safeguards, aka "Facebook privacy settings", change or are increased in scope, setting new "defaults" to open/public, or even fail, intentionally or "accidentally", releasing your information to others? Have you made your grants and/or expectations known to Facebook? How are they to handle your information, personal or otherwise? If you haven't, how could you expect them to know, your technical safeguards are replaced, altered, or even gone...
Cara Latham
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Cara Latham,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/29/2012 | 4:43:46 PM
re: Facebook 'Privacy Notice' Has No Legs
I agree that Facebook should be paying attention to the widespread effort by its users to try to protect their privacy, but at this point, if there is nothing that forces Facebook officials to do so, I doubt they will -- especially since, as you point out, the concern hasn't deterred users from actually using the site thus far.
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