OpenFiction [Blog]

The accidental ‘booker

Posted in Uncategorized by scarsonmsm on January 22, 2008

A while back, I ended up creating a Facebook account in order to view some OCW-related content on the site (a group of Stanford students are using Facebook to organize a call for an OCW at Stanford). While I’ve read a fair amount about social networking sites, and received my share of invitations to join, I have to say, I’ve never been that interested. I have enough trouble keeping up with the online activities I already have going (this blog included). Once I signed up, it took no time at all for friends to find me (David Wiley spotted me in under six hours). Facebook, it turns out, was the one thing my entire family seemed to agree on. So I put a basic profile up, and have actually come to enjoy some aspects of it. But I’m still not sold.

There’s a lot out there on privacy concerns regarding Facebook, and some of it quite justified. I’m generally of the opinion, though, that the moment you turn on an internet-connected computer, you really ought to operate from the presumption that their is no such thing as privacy. Anything you do can be traced (and will be if Dick Cheney has anything to say about it). I’ve seen a few people shocked to learn that Google can find what you post on Facebook, which I find a little confusing. What can’t Google find?

I tend to be pretty conservative about the level of information I want to share on Facebook, but for me, the issue is less about privacy and more about intellectual property. Here’s the line in FB’s terms of use that gives me pause:

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. You may remove your User Content from the Site at any time.

It says right after this that if you remove your content, the license “expires,” but I’m not sure how that jibes with “irrevocable” and “perpetual,” especially when sublicenses are in play. Given my experiences with CC licenses, I suspect whatever the wording, once the content is out there, it’s a practical impossibility to pull it back.

I’m not wildly concerned about photographs (except it seems prudent to limit the number of pictures of my children out there floating around under sublicenses). There is some information, though, that gives me pause. Members of my family, for instance, are into the Family Tree application, and are busily tracing our genealogy. As a privacy issue, I can live with this, but given Facebook’s ability to sublicense data, I can see this really causing problems. It won’t take much number crunching to see the the historical health issues my family has been blessed with, and I’m sure their are plenty of insurance companies who’d be interested in such data on a population scale. My kids are going to have a tough enough time getting decent and affordable health coverage as it is.

The less dystopian among us will point out that the very same genealogy data could really produce an awful lot of good as well, which is no doubt true. My concern is the way it’s being collected and aggregated and who ultimately ends up having access to it. And the above is a for instance. It’s not too far beyond the pale to imagine oneself under scrutiny for who one is “friends” with on Facebook, as already I am friends with acquaintances of acquaintances who I hardly know. Anyway, for the time being, I’m happy keeping most of my online footprint off a site like Facebook.


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  1. […] A follow-up to the previous post: I’ve learned through a Facebook friend that there is a Facebook group dedicated to petitioning Facebook to remove profile information from the system once you deactivate your account (which apparently they don’t). […]

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