Facebook – whose data is it anyway?

So you use Facebook extensively – post your status, upload photos, tag yourself and others in photos, and so on.  That is a large amount of data and particularly time you have put into your Facebook account – who owns that data, what can they do with it and is it there forever?

To answer the first question – it’s definitively yours and the Facebook T&Cs do reflect this.  But (there always has to be a but) Facebook, in common with a lot of other sites retain rights over your data.  Why do they do this? – generally so they can provide you with the service you want from them, which to me is very reasonable.  However, it is possible that they want access to that data to exploit it in other ways – such as targeted advertising; as this is often how they get the revenue to provide the free service you want to use this also appears reasonable.  Of course they may go further (Facebook doesn’t at the time of writing) to actually be able to sell your data or reuse/repackage it.  So whilst you own your data, you should look at what the service you are using can do with it.  Interestingly in the Techcrunch expose of Twitter documents Twitter wants to “take a far reaching license to the content, with two exceptions (endorsement, content profit), and no opt-out.” – this could well be beyond what seems like ‘fair’ use to provide the service and straightforward revenue generation to fund the service.

Does any of this actually matter? – I think it does, but for a different reason than what the sites do with it.  You own your data, but Facebook keep it for you.  If you read their Terms & Conditions you will see though that they have no duty of care over that data – if they lose it, if it gets hacked and replaced, if they want to unilaterally close down your account (presumably because they think you have breached their T&Cs) then that is it – no data!  Your data, but you no longer have it.

We all tend to use Facebook and similar social sites as an immediate thing – my current status, photos of the event happening now or last night – but do we think of the future?  Do you want to be able to access those photos next month, in a year, in 5 years?  Facebook won’t keep things forever even if they don’t ‘accidentally’ lose them – just try seeing how far back you can get your status updates.

So my big question is: where is your backup of those photos, of your friends, of your status – do you have a local copy?  My own sons amazingly (well to me) had over 1,000 photos each on Facebook, all uploaded from their camera phones and deleted from those phones after upload – no copies anywhere else.  When their friends closed their accounts or lost them, they lost those photos they were tagged in – lost those reminders of the memories of those events

So, if it is your data, which it is, then take control of that data and ensure you have your own copy on your own computer or other media and do this backup regularly. It won’t surprise you that is why we created the SocialSafe application.

(Note: above I refer to the Techcrunch expose of Twitter documents – that was hard for me to quote.  My gut feel is that they shouldn’t have used the documents they received – it wasn’t their data; however, now they have been used the information, it is widely disseminated and hence no conversation can be complete without it.)

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