Can a Status Update Protect Your Privacy on Facebook?

No. That’s not how this works. That’s not how any of this works.

A familiar status update is being circulated around again this week, in which uninformed users attempt to protect their by posting a few lines of legalese informing the powers that be at that they are no longer participating in the site’s terms of service. The status reads as a variation of the following:

“As of September 28, 2015, I do not give Facebook or any entities associated with Facebook permission to use my pictures, information, or posts, both past and future. By this statement, I give notice to Facebook it is strictly forbidden to disclose, copy, distribute, or take any other action against me based on this profile and/or its contents. The content of this profile is private and confidential information. The violation of privacy can be punished by law (UCC 1-308- 1 1 308-103 and the Rome Statute). NOTE: Facebook is now a public entity. All members must post a note like this. If you prefer, you can copy and paste this version. If you do not publish a statement at least once it will be tactically allowing the use of your photos, as well as the information contained in the profile status updates.”

Here’s why this notice is a sham. First of all, Facebook has a set of terms of service that all members agree to when they sign up for an account. A users continued use of the website constitutes agreement with the terms of service. Secondly, this notice is the legal equivalent of buying a house and then posting a note on the door informing your mortgage company that you will not be paying the rate agreed upon in the terms of the mortgage. Want to guess how long it would take your mortgage company to kick you to the curb if you did that? Do you think it would be legally binding for you to send your boss an e-mail informing him that you will not be working for the agreed upon amount because the company’s profit structure has changed? Might he show you the door shortly thereafter?

Facebook is no different. They provide a service that you agree to use– free of charge, I might add– and your continued use of that service signifies your continued agreement with the terms of the service’s use.

So what can you do if you are unhappy with how Facebook uses your status updates and photos? Not much. You can cancel your account, but that doesn’t always mean they can’t use the information you have already provided them. Your best bet might be to invite a few friends over, hook up the old slide projector, and share your photos and what you’ve been doing over the last few weeks at a dinner party. That way you can control the privacy of the evening until your guests go home and start sharing gossip with mutual friends who weren’t invited to the party. Otherwise, you’re just going to have to get used to the world we live in.

It appears George Orwell’s vision of the government as Big Brother wasn’t entirely accurate. Turns out Big Brother is actually Big Business, only instead of being subject to his invasions of privacy through political might, we have willingly signed over some of our rights to privacy in order to take advantage of the technology he provides. In exchange, our technological overlord has the right to try to turn a profit in order to keep a free service running.

Now, can we go back to posting cat pictures instead of legal disclaimers?

Update: Another version of this hoax claims Facebook is going to start charging $5.99 per month. This also isn’t true.


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