Protecting Your Information on Facebook

Contrary to recent rumors, you still own the information you post to Facebook, even though Facebook may use that information. Learn about the legal and practical aspects of Facebook privacy from Legal Lad and Tech Talker.

Adam Freedman
December 21, 2012

Protecting Your Information on Facebook

Today’s Topic:  Protecting Your Information on Facebook

And now, your daily dose of legalese: This article does not create an attorney-client relationship with any reader. In other words, although I am a lawyer, I’m not your lawyer. In fact, we barely know each other. If you need personalized legal advice, contact an attorney in your community.

Who Owns Your Facebook Posts?

When you post a photo to Facebook, who owns it? You? Facebook? In response to rumors that Facebook is trying to assert copyright – or ownership – of all information on its site, users have resorted to creative schemes to protect their private information. Today, I’ll explain what your legal rights are, and why the rumors are not true. And then, we’ll be joined by my fellow Quick and Dirty Tips colleague, Eric Escobar (aka Tech Talker), who will give us some practical tips to protect yourself on Facebook.  

Myths About Facebook Privacy Notices

If you spend time on Facebook, sooner or later you’ll probably come across somebody who has posted a notice that purports to protect his or her copyright and privacy rights. It may be a daunting message, full of legal lingo, and referencing such exotic laws as the Berne Convention, the Rome Treaty, or UCC 1-308. 

Complicated stuff!

But the good news is that you can ignore all of it. Such notices are largely motivated by persistent rumors that Facebook is going to take ownership of its users’ information, either as a matter of policy, or as a necessary result of becoming a publicly-traded company. But the rumors are not true, as Facebook representatives have made clear: Facebook members own the information that they post to the site, as they have since the beginning.

Your Rights Are Governed by Contract

The important point is that your legal relationship with Facebook is governed by contract. When you sign up for Facebook, you have to indicate your acceptance of the company’s legal terms, which includes its privacy policy and other policies. Between you and me, a lot of us don’t read those things before we click “accept,” but they are contracts nonetheless. Thus, even if you do disagree with something about Facebook’s terms of use, you couldn’t change those terms by unilaterally posting a notice to your wall. 

Under Facebook’s standard terms, you already own the content you post; that is, you have the copyright. However, users also grant Facebook permission (or a “license”) to use, distribute, and share the things you post online, without having to pay you any royalty. The license ends when you delete your content or shut down your account. There are ways to minimize the scope of this permission through your privacy and applications settings . . . which is my cue to turn it over to Tech Talker, Eric Escobar, to explain how we can keep ourselves safe on Facebook. Eric, what’s your advice?

*** A Tech Talker Exclusive! ***

Well, Adam, one of the easiest ways to avoid pranks or scams on Facebook is to always be a little bit skeptical. Before arbitrarily clicking on links or reposting something that seems too good to be true, just take a second to think about it.

Much of the time when you do click on something that turns out to be a scam, it will be a fairly benign prank with no malware transferred in the process. There are other times though, when a prank might compromise your Facebook account and, by extension, your privacy.

Let me break down how clicking a seemingly harmless link can cause some major damage to your social media reputation.

Say you’re strolling Facebook when you see a post with a link or video or some other content that seems a little generic. For example, the post says, “This video is hilarious!” or “You have to check this out!” or, my personal favorite, “Check out how I got 3 iPads for free!” These generic titles aren’t always malicious, but it doesn’t hurt to check other peoples’ comments to the post before proceeding.

But say you take a chance and click on the link. It might actually bring you to a funny picture or video, but in the process it might ask you to install a codec or program to watch the video. This codec can contain a Trojan virus which can do a number of horrible things to your computer.

Most likely, the program will gain access to your Facebook account, which it will then use to Like a ton of pages in order to drive traffic to those sites. That isn’t too bad, but then the attacker may effectively steal your identity and post status updates as you, with the same video link that infected your computer.

This means that if your friends check out your forged post, they could get the same Trojan horse, perpetuating the cycle! Not to mention the possibility of the intruder stealing your private information from your Facebook account and using it in other nefarious ways.

This may sound pretty scary, but with an updated antivirus and some common sense, you can prevent this from happening to you pretty easily.


Thank you for reading Legal Lad’s Quick and Dirty Tips for a More Lawful Life.

If there’s a recent college grad or senior on your gift list, give them Quick and Dirty Tips for Life After College! This essential guide gives any student or recent grad the tools they need to bridge the gap between graduation day and the “real world.” It’s not only incredibly useful and practical, it’s cheap! Just $3.99 for a jam-packed ebook. With Quick and Dirty Tips for Life After College, you learn the do’s and don’ts of your first job, how to improve your career prospects, how to organize your life, how to stock a healthy kitchen on a budget, and much more. The ebook is available now on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and iTunes.

You can send questions and comments to legal@quickanddirtytips.com. Please note that doing so will not create an attorney-client relationship and will be used for the purposes of this article only.

Man with Tablet Computer image from Shutterstock

You May Also Like...