The Social Web: Who owns your data?

Summary:It's your life and your data - until you give it to Facebook. Then whose data is it?

Emil Protalinski

Emil Protalinski

Not Just You

or

You and You Alone

Violet Blue

Violet Blue

Best Argument: You and You Alone

The moderator has delivered a final verdict.

Opening Statements

It's yours -- until you upload it

Emil Protalinski: You own your data. After all, it's your data. You will always own your data, but so will whatever firm, company, or organization you have allowed to also own your data.
You are the exclusive owner of your data right up until the point where you hand it over to a party and agree they also own your data. Facebook is one such service.

If it wasn't for Facebook's Statement of Rights and Responsibilities, which you must agree to in order to use the service, you would still be the sole owner of your data.

In short, Facebook owns any IP you give it, because you gave it permission to own it. If there is content you don't want Facebook to own, don't upload it to Facebook.

See Emil Protalinski's Friending Facebook blog

 

Companies have no right

Violet Blue: We are on the cusp of a privacy apocalypse as a direct result of the collection of personal and private data on users of social websites. Companies like Facebook do not have the right to own or define ownership of anyone's data.

See Violet Blue's Pulp Tech blog

Related:

 

The Rebuttal

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Another model?

    Is there room for another social network with a new model? For instance, you give us content we split the ads.

    Posted by Lawrence Dignan

    Sure.

    Remember, YouTube already does this. Google pays uploaders who get a lot of traffic on their videos. There's no reason why Facebook, or one of its competitors, can't start doing the same at some point. Facebook wants to go more public with its service (see http://www.zdnet.com/blog/facebook/facebook-launches-verified-accounts-pseudonyms/9225), so it makes sense to woo people to share with incentives. Then again, it's not necessary for Facebook to do this right now. People are sharing more and more without being told to do so (see http://www.zdnet.com/blog/facebook/zuckerberg-4-billion-8220things-8221-are-shared-on-facebook-every-day/2020). Maybe that's the opening for the Facebook killer.

    Emil Protalinski

    I am for Not Just You

    The genie is out of the bottle

    It's a nice idea, but it's hard not to think experimental models will go the way of Diaspora, which never succeeded the way so many people wanted it to. You can't really use "statements" like Facebook's or tack on a revshare model to keep people from mucking around with user data. Revshare models could work, but it can't be too complicated, and I think there could be a lot of incentives for people to share more and allow use they wouldn't otherwise if they knew there was something in it for them. The problems here are also just as much technical as issues of intent and balancing business models. Even if Facebook were good on its word with its Statement or they made it so people could get a cut from advertising, there would undoubtedly be holes in a codebase that big that developers could exploit. For example, the recent iPhone "apps get your address book" situation with Path. With this much identifying data at stake, how can Facebook - or especially utilities like Google - legitimately keep users safe even if they want to? I think the remedy is more disclosure and transparency, and having policies in non-legalese. (Creative Commons does a great job of this, by having a lawyer-readable version of their licenses, and a version your mom could read.) But, in a way it's too late. For Facebook and Google, your unfettered data is their revenue. At this point, I don't think a new site model would deal with this issue. The genie is already out of the bottle.

    Violet Blue

    I am for You and You Alone

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Social apps

    Given the ecosystem of social sites and apps isn't the idea that you control your data a bit of a facade?

    Posted by Lawrence Dignan

    Yes and no.

    I honestly do believe that Facebook is getting better at giving its users control (see http://www.zdnet.com/blog/facebook/facebook-moves-privacy-controls-inline-simplifies-sharing/2948) but at the same time the company has many issues and a very long way to go (see http://www.zdnet.com/blog/facebook/facebook-misses-march-deadline-following-privacy-audit/11360). It's a facade in the sense that Facebook is going to keep improving to gain or keep your trust, so that it can keep milking you for all you're worth. It's not a facade in the sense that the tools are getting better and better. It's up to you to figure out if they're good enough for you. Most Facebook users seem to think they are. Again, this is simply because most don't care who sees their data. They just want to socialize with their friends.

    Emil Protalinski

    I am for Not Just You

    Sorry, but cynicism is not a good defense strategy

    The idea that control will be taken from us no matter what is a cynical way to see this issue. That's like saying privacy is a preference. Or that private property is a belief and not a right. But maybe it's true, that anyone who traffics in social sharing sites is an idiot to think they can have any privacy or control over what they do online. Except that now other people can share things for you without your consent, so when other people can share your data, photos and information - who's accountable then? It's also not a black and white question of you have control or you don't and "anything goes" - in reality this is grey and always will be. Data control and the levels of control we have over it must be negotiable and context-appropriate. It's not a 'facade' to demand this.

    Violet Blue

    I am for You and You Alone

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Price of admission

    Isn't social network data usage just the price for admission to use the social sites for "free?" Why shouldn't customers be the product?

    Posted by Lawrence Dignan

    Yes. You're Facebook's product.

    I think Facebook users are starting to realize this more and more, but the fact is that many of them don't know or don't care. There are some things that people make a point to keep private and away from Facebook on purpose, and there are other things they share without realizing they are doing so, but in the grand scheme of things, most people simply can't be bothered to worry about every single item they share. It's sad, but true. Customers have to be the product because nobody wants to pay for a communication platform any more.

    Emil Protalinski

    I am for Not Just You

    No: this is an excuse for bad behavior - "you're the product" is untenable

    What was it that??Thomas Jefferson said? The price of Facebook is eternal vigilance! Free becomes a lie when you're being tricked into paying for something in a way you're not shown. Or the way you're "paying for it" is being hidden from you. Or you're not given any option to "pay" differently - like, with money. I also think it's disgusting for any company to exploit a person's good will by taking something they're sharing on good faith, profiting off of it, and shrugging off any potential harm to the user. As if the user *deserves* to be tricked because they shared their lives -content- freely as an act of good faith in the first place! As I stated earlier, I think that "You're the product" is just the same as "blame the victim." No one deserves to be taken advantage of simply because they don't understand the implications or risks of their behavior, or their underestimation of another person to take advantage of them. That's why the Silicon Valley / startup maxim "if you're not a paying customer, then you're the product" is especially egregious and harmful. It is also a short-sighted business methodology: not a long-tail MO.

    Violet Blue

    I am for You and You Alone

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Rights issues

    How murky are rights issues? Say you upload something to Facebook you don't have rights to?

    Posted by Lawrence Dignan

    Very murky.

    Facebook seems to address these on a case-by-case basis. Given that 250 million photos are uploaded to Facebook daily (see http://www.zdnet.com/blog/facebook/facebooks-ipo-by-the-numbers/8329), there's really no other way to do it. Google allows others to take down content from YouTube without Google approving it first. The results have been disastrous (see http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2011/12/youtube-universal-megaupload/).

    Emil Protalinski

    I am for Not Just You

    If Facebook is at risk, it's crystal clear...

    Rights issues are very clear when it comes to certain IP and trademark instances, especially those that could make Facebook legally vulnerable. As a trademark owner I have had excellent and fast results with having my trademark rights enforced and respected within Facebook. Far better than my experiences with Amazon, who have been the most difficult to work with. So in my personal experience, people that hold legitimate rights to content can rely on Facebook to be a good actor and behave responsibly. Remember, Facebook also acted quickly to make it so users could opt-out of "Sponsored Stories" (targeted ads based on likes and served to users as though their friends are endorsing a product or brand), though it is unfortunate they've made it an account default. And Emil's right - Google's YouTube has behaved disgracefully in this area, to say the least.

    Violet Blue

    I am for You and You Alone

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Limits...

    Should there be limits to usage of content and what a social network has rights to?

    Posted by Lawrence Dignan

    Yep.

    Sure. Again, this comes down to the user agreement. Facebook covers its bases well, but there have also been many cases when the social networking giant has slipped up (here's one: http://www.zdnet.com/blog/facebook/facebook-loses-friend-finder-ruling-in-germany/10037). The trick for a company like Facebook is to get users comfortable with its users sharing more and more, so it can use the content to make money. Zuckerberg is the king at pushing the limits for this (see http://www.zdnet.com/blog/facebook/mark-zuckerberg-facebook-users-eventually-get-over-privacy-anxiety/1534). The question is: will Zuckerberg be able to keep up his balancing act? I think he will for quite some time. Even a massive privacy disaster won't kill Facebook. Only a truly viable alternative can do that, and even that will be an uphill battle.

    Emil Protalinski

    I am for Not Just You

    Yes - we should have rights to limit the use of our content and data

    Like "use by" dates? There should *definitely* be expiration dates on data a site can use. They also shouldn't be able to transfer our data to any other business, nor make our continuing participation in a service contingent with agreeing to new Terms that remove our control over our content. The right to use our data should expire on sale of a business, and be up for renewal. Or the limits should carry over to the new owner. Ideally we should be notified about every data sale that involves our content and information, and to whom, and how this data will be used. Facebook's Statement of Rights says they can use your content even after you've deleted it - if someone else has "liked" or shared it. That kind of loophole shouldn't be okay. If we delete or request removal of our content, a site should not be able to use it in any continuing fashion, no matter who else posts it. Sites that allow users to permanently delete information and accounts are at the forefront of best practices in this area. I appreciate that companies like Instagram do this, as well as Google's export and delete option (data portability project) for users. Google has led well in this area.

    Violet Blue

    I am for You and You Alone

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Statements of rights should cure everything though...

    Is Facebook's statement of rights and responsibilities enough? How about Google's privacy notice?

    Posted by Lawrence Dignan

    Depends for whom.

    Any user agreement for an online service is read as often by users as the EULA prompt you get when you try to install a new piece of software. In other words, the only people that read them are the ones looking for something. Both documents are really only there for legal reasons. Is it enough for the courts? Yes. Is it enough for the users? No. Now, Facebook has started going out of its way asking users to comment on updates to its user agreement (see http://www.zdnet.com/blog/facebook/facebook-to-update-statement-of-rights-and-responsibilities/10579) and actually reads them over (http://www.zdnet.com/blog/facebook/facebook-examining-comments-on-terms-of-service-changes/10743), but that's still not enough. Facebook needs to be even more open, and I think we'll see that more and more as the social networking giant begins its life as a public company. In my opinion, Facebook seems to care more and more, while Google seems to care less and less.

    Emil Protalinski

    I am for Not Just You

    Nice idea - IF these companies abide by their own statements

    I think it's a great idea that depends on how Facebook or Google acts on any stated rights and responsibilities. What recourse does an ordinary user have to hold Facebook to its word in its Statements and Responsibilities? Facebook has a bad track record of following their own rules. Even Emil will agree on *that* one. They have been caught, and users have every reason to be suspicious. Google has started down that road as well. It's all a "rearview mirror" approach to user privacy and data control. Given that there are more Facebook profiles than living US citizens, what is the average internet (and contract law) sophistication of these users? Is Facebook disclosing "enough" for them to understand the product risks/rewards? ?? Look, if your mom can't understand Facebook's Statement of Rights and Responsibilities, then the answer is a firm NO. The efforts of Google to raise awareness about privacy has been excellent (I'm referring to Good To know, their privacy suite), though it's not the kind of campaign that gets saturation in the public consciousness. http://www.zdnet.com/blog/violetblue/google-steps-up-its-privacy-game-launches-good-to-know/746 Most people learned about the controls in our Google dashboards during the Privacy Policy change Google just made. But the change itself has a lot of problematic issues on wider, deeper levels. Plus, there are technical issues here... I have to say no.

    Violet Blue

    I am for You and You Alone

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Privacy apocalypse: Reality or fiction? Why or why not?

    This one should be fun

    Posted by Lawrence Dignan

    Reality, with a bit of exaggeration.

    This is definitely a reality. Zuckerberg and company have been pushing your privacy boundaries since day one. That being said, there's also a huge amount of fiction here (see http://www.zdnet.com/blog/facebook/spreading-facebook-app-fud/11540). Facebook is doing more and more to improve your privacy options, while still making more and more money from your content. It's not exactly an easy task. That being said, there are advantages to the exaggeration, because so few people notice otherwise. I just have a problem with scaring users rather than educating them.

    Emil Protalinski

    I am for Not Just You

    Reality: We are on the cusp of a privacy apocalypse.

    Social sites and data brokers (such as so-called "people finder" sites and credit companies) have been taking people's personal and private data and misusing it - before people have even had a chance to understand that this was happening, let alone what misuse would look like or what the effects of misuse could mean. It used to be that credit companies and sleazy direct-mail businesses were the ones making us feel like we were having our privacy violated with back-room sales of our personal information (and the information belonging to people we care about). Now it's social sites like Facebook, whom I think we can agree that no one trusts. And they potentially have a lot more information about you than credit companies, or the FBI. The US government is getting involved, the FTC is getting involved, the EU is in the middle of a huge internal and external fight to protect its citizens' data in light of what American social-web sites are doing. Meanwhile a whole lot of users that want to stay safe and in control of their personal information are caught in the middle. The free flow of information that is the backbone of the open internet necessitates a new awareness about how information about us is gathered, copied, stored and used. The stage is set.

    Violet Blue

    I am for You and You Alone

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Followup: Will users push back..ever?

    Users are starting to realize they are the product, but is it just a shoulder shrug moment? Or do you see pushback coming?

    Posted by Lawrence Dignan

    No.

    There are many vocal users who do protest, and some have even quit Facebook, but most simply take it. It's simply not a big issue to most. They just want to communicate easier and easier with their friends. The problem is that there really is no solid alternative to Facebook and Facebook is also very entrenched. Some think Facebook is the next Myspace, but I strongly disagree (http://www.zdnet.com/blog/facebook/facebook-is-here-to-stay-even-if-you-delete-your-account/6897).

    Emil Protalinski

    I am for Not Just You

    People are getting wise

    I think for now, most people are learning about the use of their data - and the privacy disaster in our future - the hard ways. Consumers don't know how it can be used until it's too late and they see it being used, like their images in ads without their knowledge. They also don't understand what it means that their "likes" and "plus ones" are being combined with their age and gender, and sold to advertisers. It takes things like having Instagram being sold to Facebook for people to at least think, I don't know what Facebook could do with my geotagged photos as tied to my phone number and my relatives, but I'm a little worried about whose hands this could fall into. Maybe I get a better Yelp recommendation, or maybe it goes to some shady data broker like Spokeo that sells it as a virtual private investigator to the guy that's stalking my sister. "You're the product" is like an extension of "blame the victim." No one deserves to be taken advantage of simply because they don't understand the implications or risks of their behavior, or their underestimation of another person to take advantage of them. Additionally, there are a lot of people beginning to fight and push the FTC to regulate these companies. Thats' why I see it starting to blow open, into a "privacy apocalypse."

    Violet Blue

    I am for You and You Alone

  • Great Debate Moderator

    User (data) appreciation?

    Social media is fascinating as a business to me for one reason: Without your content these sites would be useless. Is user content appreciated enough by social networks?

    Posted by Lawrence Dignan

    Nope.

    No, it's not. I don't believe Facebook, or even Twitter for that matter, completely understand just how useless they would be without their dedicated users. This is simply because social networks are such a new concept, and the ones that are successful are very much so. That being said, while the companies and their employees are rather clueless, if there is one person who gets it, it's probably Mark Zuckerberg.

    Emil Protalinski

    I am for Not Just You

    No, they don't: it's used at your expense.

    No, I don't think that user content is appreciated by Big Social (Facebook, G+, Yahoo) or others like Pinterest, Foursquare, Apple, others. They do everything they can to maximize the use and monetization of user content/participation at the expense of the user at every turn. User content is both content (photos, activity, profiles) and users. It's like Soylent Green! People *are* the content. A social site's use of its users' data is a grey area that most social sites - especially Big Social - capitalize on. They see what they can get away with in terms of how human content can be used, sold, and traded. Users are starting to realize that they are the product (in some ways that make them feel uncomfortable), and that their data has a lot of value - it makes other people rich and famous to use it. There are social sites that do appreciate their users and you can see it in their content practices.

    Violet Blue

    I am for You and You Alone

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Testing 1, 2, 3

    Check in pls

    Posted by Lawrence Dignan

    test

    test

    Emil Protalinski

    I am for Not Just You

    Testing

    Check check.

    Violet Blue

    I am for You and You Alone

Closing Statements

You are Facebook's product

Emil Protalinski

The privacy apocalypse is a serious problem that Facebook does not take seriously. That being said, the social networking giant is steadily, but very slowly, improving its stance and offering users a better and better solution.

Select users are fighting the company to improve faster and more dramatically, but most simply don't care about privacy; they just want to communicate with their friends. Don't expect Facebook to ever completely protect your privacy because the social networking giant is in the business of selling your data.

Remember that you are Facebook's product. Until Facebook gets a serious competitor, the social networking giant isn't going anywhere. It also won't be significantly changing its user agreement, which clearly states that it owns any IP you give it.

 

Price is eternal vigilance

Violet Blue

Before big social web sites started selling user data to the highest bidder and privacy violations with apps (as with Path), it seemed fine to think that once you signed up for a website they owned your data and content as part of a contract for free use of the site.

It has become clear that "free" use of these sites has a very real cost to users who want privacy and control over their data -- and their personal information. And that this "free" use of user data is making these sites an unbelievable amount of money -- while users have nothing to show for the value of their data except for dozens of nameless social web business partners knowing details about their lives.

The price of sites like Facebook is eternal vigilance - at the very least. It isn't free. People just don't realize what they're paying for it -- yet.

 

 

Close call

Lawrence Dignan

This debate was much closer than I expected it to be. Emil made some solid points and ultimately consumers may get used to the idea that they are the product and only have a share of their own information. However, Violet had well-thought out points, drove home the argument -- and ultimately won. One thing is certain: The issue of who owns your social data and what happens to it isn't going away.

 

Topics: Great Debate

About

Larry Dignan is Editor in Chief of ZDNet and SmartPlanet as well as Editorial Director of ZDNet's sister site TechRepublic. He was most recently Executive Editor of News and Blogs at ZDNet. Prior to that he was executive news editor at eWeek and news editor at Baseline. He also served as the East Coast news editor and finance editor at CN... Full Bio

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