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Privacy… can I haz it?

Alex Christie

19 February 2009

There has been a lot of uproar about the recent events that took place over on the Facebook Terms of Service page.

Contract
The big debacle has to do with how they proposed to treat data entered by members of the popular Social Networking site. This story has been blogged on, printed in media and even appeared on television news. If you are unaware of the story read our cover on the topic here.

The big debate is about who owns the data that you enter into Facebook, but on a broader scope, who owns the details entered into all forms of publicly available media?

I strongly believe that public information cannot be owned by anyone and as such I am very pleased that Facebook reverted to its previous ToS.

Target
The concept of owning information gained in a public space is akin to an artist performing in a public park and then being told by the city council that his performance is now owned by them and cannot be performed anywhere else without prior consent. 

On the flip-side, however, Facebook has mentioned that it intends to use the information you have shared without consent.

At first glance, this may appear very threatening and invasive on your privacy, when in reality the only information they have has been shared by you… that is right, you are responsible for the amount of information that Facebook and other social networks have on you.

Let’s have a quick look at the nature of sharing:

“Sharing is the joint use of a resource or space. In its narrow sense, it refers to joint or alternating use of an inherently finite good, such as a common pasture or a timeshared residence. It is also the process of dividing and distributing.” – Wikipedia

Sharing in its’ very essence, is the willing distribution of information.

You get to choose who has access to certain information, and how much of it they are privy to. How that information is used after you share it is irrelevant as you have made the conscious decision to distribute it. If a person you shared information with uses that information and causes you any discomfort or hurt, it can really only be seen as poor judgment by you…

So-long as no-one claims ownership to the information, anything shared in a public domain can be used by anyone for any purpose they see fit.

So the real question is not, “Who owns the information?”, but rather, “How do I protect myself from being hurt in a public environment?”
 
The only real advice would be to limit what you share online, or at least think twice before clicking “Post”.  Do not share things you would be concerned about other people knowing! I wouldn’t tell my doctor about my banking details anymore than I would discuss my sexual exploits around a dinner table with my family.

Paris

As long as you do not mind the data you post being viewed by all, the only real value in it for anyone would be in the demographics it contains. I.E. “What kind of music do 14 year old French girls like listening to when they are out socializing?”

This kind of information can potentially make the world a whole lot better, as we now have accurate statistics for various demographics regarding a whole host of topics without needing tedious polls and inaccurate guesswork. These demographics could potentially be used to track the quality of education across various areas (presumably by spelling and grammar etc…) and decide where the best place would be to build a library or a new school.

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