Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Facebook claims that some of your data is really their intelectual property.

Off the cuff remarks regarding the following article:
Really, my data is their intellectual property. I beg to differ.
I have read through a portion of the Google translation for the original post. I notice that there are a lot of comments saying that since Facebook is free, voluntary, and has a TOS that FB users agree to, one should not complain about Facebook's behavior.
That is flat out wrong. It is a mindless argument filled with pablum phrases. Here is the low down from my perspective. It is about transparency and boundaries, and the lack of meaningful laws.
Facebook declares:
"You are the owner of all content and information that you post on Facebook. In addition, you can use your privacy and application settings to control how that information is exchanged."
This seems to be a false assertion as evidenced by the fact that European users can ask for a copy of the information that Facebook holds concerning oneself, and yet they fail to disclose all that information. Ah, but herein lies the lies. You own what you post but not what they know. You don't actually post any comments when you click a "Like" button. You don't post anything when somebody else tags you in a photo. However, the European Privacy law that Facebook falls under due to its physical presence in Ireland, may not have such restrictive language, as it refers to one's data - not one's posts. Hence, it seems that FB is not being as transparent as the law seems to suggest.
What does that have to do with those who oppose the complaints regarding privacy? I liken it to a used car sales. A technique often employed is called bait and switch. It is founded on deception. Yes we know that FB acquires information and we assume that it is relatively benign info. But we really don't know what's under the hood. The privacy law is supposed to enforce transparency allowing us to make an informed decision as to the benefits and risks. Facebook clearly does not want that transparency.

But how can one make an informed decision if there is so much secrecy? How much data have they surreptitiously acquired about you? Would you be alarmed if there were some half truths or egregious assumptions made about you that were offensive? What if they knew more about you than you could possibly imagine? What if they routinely provide that information, however accurate or precise it may or may not be, to the authorities just for the asking?
So, you don't care what they know or think they know or that they earn money off that data and target marketing towards you that should meet your needs. All well and good. But your laissez-faire attitude need not extend to me. I don't mind them making a buck or two off of some of my data. I don't mind them complying with lawful requests for my data when they receive a warrant or subpoena. But I should be able to know what that data is. It is a matter of boundaries. My boundaries, your boundaries.

Just because they offer a service for free, doesn't allow them to run roughshod over your expectations. Take the used car sales as an analogy. Someone gives you a usable automobile and says it's yours to drive as you please. On the face of it, it's too good too be true. But hey - if you want transportation, why not. It so happens that the car is a GM product that comes with OnStar. You later find out that someone has listened in to your conversations, has logged all your travels, noted that you parked across the street from a message parlor, an adult bookstore and a gay bar. Perhaps they assume you were inclined to obtain services at each place rather than any other activity that could have occurred. They sold your itinerary to a third party and eventually you start getting flooded with solicitations that are inappropriate for your circumstances. Cops pull you over and decide that based on their information you may also be a person of interest and they sort through your smartphone and download all the data contained within. Do you expect to be treated with any dignity by the corporations or authorities? The thing is, I have a right to reasonable privacy and a right from improper search and seizure - from the government. But there are far too few targeted laws at what corporations can get away with. And they can get away with most anything regarding your data as long as its OK by you. But it could effect the price you pay for any kind of insurance, effect your medical benefits, your rights to vote (if you even bother with that), how friends and family perceive you, and for some, even one's very life may be sacrificed for these corporations profits. Then there are the data breaches. What a wonderful storehouse for identity theft victims. One pair of women in Ohio think that they will never be a victim of such a breach and even if they are it won't be much bother. But others who have experienced a loss of their identity have claimed it is very expensive, very labor intensive, very stressful and very long lived. A person's reputation can be utterly destroyed.

It boils down to this, stuff like the aforementioned can and does happen occasionally. Seemingly more often then most folks realize. I would like to limit what data of mine is being exploited. I don't mind trading a little, but I want to know what it is and where it's going. Facebook affirms that it is my data, so I believe they should start acting like it. In essence, it seems to be a breach of contract, if nothing else.