Facebook 'Privacy Notice' Has No Legs

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

Debra Donston-Miller

November 29, 2012

4 Min Read
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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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