Friday, January 09, 2009

Facebook Horror Story

Or, What Happens to your photos once you post them on Facebook.

So you have a Facebook profile and you enjoy reading daily updates from your friends and browsing their photo albums. You also enjoy posting your own photos and updating your status. It's fun and safe, you think, because after all, you use the privacy settings to not show your profile in search results and all your photos are accessible to your friends only. You feel in complete control of everything that you've added to Facebook so far.

But do you realize that simply by posting your photo on Facebook you grant the site the right to reuse that Photo for any purpose they please. Yes, they can use your private photos anytime anywhere because you grant them that right. You don't believe me? Read this directly from their Terms of Use:

By posting User Content to any part of the Site, you automatically grant, and you represent and warrant that you have the right to grant, to the Company an irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, transferable, fully paid, worldwide license (with the right to sublicense) to use, copy, publicly perform, publicly display, reformat, translate, excerpt (in whole or in part) and distribute such User Content for any purpose, commercial, advertising, or otherwise, on or in connection with the Site or the promotion thereof, to prepare derivative works of, or incorporate into other works, such User Content, and to grant and authorize sublicenses of the foregoing.

No big deal, you think, because after all you can delete your photos on Facebook can't you? In fact you can't. You can't delete your account either. Still don't believe me? More from the Terms:

You may remove your User Content from the Site at any time. If you choose to remove your User Content, the license granted above will automatically expire, however you acknowledge that the Company may retain archived copies of your User Content.

So as you just read, even when you delete something from Facebook it remains there indefinitely. Even though they say that the license you granted theme expires ask yourself this: if they did not intend to reuse your content why would they keep it?

You might be thinking it's no big deal because you're not famous. The fact is it may not bother you now but who knows in 2, 5, 10, 20 years what will you think of it?

And this is not even the horror story I promised. Nope, I have my very own your-content-is-ours-and-we-keep-it-forever story with Facebook.

So here I am, a reluctant but long time hi5 user now on Facebook where many of my hi5 friends seem to have migrated. I added just one picture so my long lost classmates can recognize me when I send them friend requests. You can read my first impressions from using Facebook then come back to read the rest of this story.

One day, a friend sent me an invite to install an application. Actually the application used my friend's details to send me an invite to install it. While in one of those confusing pages where you choose what type of access to grant the application I see a Facebook-like button telling me I have one message. Thinking the message was from the application I clicked.

facebook ad

I know I should have been more careful but I would have never guessed that Facebook allowed ads with buttons that look exactly like the ones on the site. Truly, it's the most misleading ads I've ever seen. Anyway, I clicked then it happened. I saw myself on a site I had never heard of. The site had my Facebook profile photo and my public details. I was horrified. How to remove myself from this site? HOW!!! I tried and tried and just wouldn't find anything. This site that I shall not name, wanted me to think that they had imported my Facebook details to it and created a profile for me. I'll call the site, the Site Without a Name, SWN for short.

After investigating a little I realized that in fact what happened is even scarier. This 'SWN' was 'reading' my Facebook information from my browser session. Don't ask me how I don't know, maybe it's some sort of spyware. What it does is as long as your logged into Facebook it shows your profile picture and any public info you have available. Which means, if you Log out of Facebook and go on SWN site, it no longer shows your so-called profile but tells you that the site is 'Not open to you'. And it shows you an add for a Facebook application (I wonder if I can report this application and have it banned from Facebook?). As soon as you click on the ad it sends you to what looks like a Facebook login page (you can never be 100% sure these days) so you can login and proceed to install the application.

In a moment of panic, I deleted my profile photo. Hoping that it would no longer show up on the SWN profile page. Since they take the information from Facebook that should certainly solve the problem since the photo is no longer there, right? Wrong! Remember what you read earlier about Facebook keeping your content indefinitely. You see, each photo you add has a unique address and it is that address that the SWN site uses. When you delete the photo from your profile, it simply does not show up in your profile but its address remains the same. Since the SWN site knows your photo's address, it can reuse it at will even when it does not show up in your profile.

But the horror doesn't stop here. As I was getting used to my faceless profile, looking at what my friends where doing and just browsing around on Facebook. The most horrifying thing that ever happened to me on a social network happened. Keep in ming that I've tried many social networks and I'm active in quite a few, Friendster, hi5, Orkut, Myspace, WAYN, Mash(R.I.P.), 360 and I'm probably forgetting a few. As I was browsing and went back to the home page it was there... The photo that I had deleted. How? Where? When? I have not idea. I hadn't reupload it but it was there starring at me. Facebook was asking me to crop it. I was so stunt that I just didn't do anything. What happened can anybody tell me?

For a moment I wanted to set it back as my profile picture, yet I couldn't help but wonder what would happen if I simply clicked 'close' (Close what? I have no idea. Facebook is one of the most confusing sites I've even used). So I did it, closed and was back to my picture-less profile.

So now it's official, I think Facebook is dangerous.

Read more of my experiences with Facebook:
Facebook, second impression
Facebook - First impression


René said...

As of yesterday, August 27, 2009, most of your statements are untrue! Canada's Privacy Commissioner has forced Facebook to change its policies regarding the permanent nature of user's files kept indefinitely.
Read for yourself:

Anonymous said...

You are completely right. The internet is dangerous and people shouldn't be putting all this personal information about themselves on the internet. It's scary.

chatteress said...

Thank you René for these links. I see two issues here however. First of all, if application developers cannot accept the users' information they will probably not be as interested in building these apps as they used it, a lot of the value is in the amount of information you can get from the users. The second issue is that users can grant those apps access to their information; the catch here is that many apps will not work unless you grant them such access. It's actually a win-win situation for app developers and Facebook, they get all the information as they used to except now they are not liable
(neither is Facebook) because the users explicitly granted them the right to use their private information and do such thing as contact their friends on their behalf.

Anonymous said...

hmmmm, seems like a not very horrible story. Not being insulting or anything, honest, but you said yourself that you subscribe to any number of social networking sites, so why would it be so unheard of to have generic information about yourself floating around in random places on the web? In this day and age, you will not be able to come close to controlling available information about yourself on the internet. Example, if I were a very vindictive person, and some guy did some inconsiderate thing while driving on the road, and I took care to note his license plate number, then that's all I need. For a very nominal fee, I would be able to track this guy down, including phone numbers, addresses, credit history, emails, family members, etc. etc. etc. The list goes on. It's not hard, and the scariest part, this guy does not need to have ever participated in any social networking whatsoever. So yeah, with all due respect, welcome to the 21st century, the Age of Information.

Anonymous said...

thank you for posting this i am doing an essay on the dangerspf facebook and this story will definatlly come in handy thanks!!

Anonymous said...

thank you so much for telling us about the dangers of facebook!

Anonymous said...

not to be rude but this was stupid to read and how do u knw that it didnt take ur info from different sites or wut u where seeing wuz simply to get u 2 sighn up for that site useing ur fb info