So the President is pushing to get people online, global Internet usage is skyrocketing unbelievably…but some people really don’t get the ‘Net. At all. That’s the only real conclusion we can draw from a new law suit facing Facebook.
It was filed yesterday in the Orange County Superior Court by five plaintiffs, which the AP has summarized as “a professional photographer, two children under age 13, a user of the original Facebook and a Los Angeles-based actress and model.” Though that motley crew sounds like a poor imitation of the lead characters in The Breakfast Club, their allegations are serious and they’re asking for a jury trial to pursue damages and legal fees.
So what are these core allegations? Brace yourself: Facebook is apparently breaking California privacy and right to publicity laws by disseminating personal info “posted by users” to “third parties” and is acting as a covert “data mining and harvesting” agency that’s using the metrics it compiles about its users for no-doubt nefarious money-making schemes. That’s how the AP has reported it, albeit without the last scurrilous accusation–but remember that the AP just really doesn’t get the InterWebs at all, which explains the horrid blandness of the news piece that ever so slightly intimates Facebook is the baddy in this drama.
Because it really shouldn’t be bland. It should be a loud, shouting at the rafters rant about people’s misunderstanding of social networking, and Facebook in particular. Why? Because the whole point of a social network is that it’s social, people. Facebook is 100% about sharing information–that’s pretty much its entire raison d’etre. And if you, as a user, deign to use someone’s free service to transmit and share personal information to the world, then you can’t really turn around and complain that the world can see it. It’s like having a phone installed so you can talk to people, and then complaining that your phone number’s listed in the phone book. You can indeed choose to go ex-directory, and keep your number or data private, but that’s a choice you need to make…exactly as you can in Facebook, with its extensive privacy settings.
As far as data mining goes–what’s the deal here? Don’t these people know about Google’s huge data retention system? Do they think Facebook’s selling the data to the Mafia? User-targeted advertising is beginning to permeate every corner of the net–how else do they think Facebook makes money to fund its enormous operation to supply social networking services to us, its millions upon millions of users?
Remember too that Facebook’s legitimate use of your data is very different in cases like this recent one, where a guy from Britain recognized his wife’s pic in one of those pop-up dating ads on Facebook. Turns out it had been harvested from the site without his wife’s permission, and without Facebook’s knowledge. The situation resulted in the site banning two ad networks that had violated its privacy rules. It’s the sort of thing that could happen to any of your images posted online.
Facebook’s terms and conditions were perhaps a little controversial in the past, but, like your status updates, photos, videos and everything else you as a user broadcast on Facebook (unless you tighten the privacy settings) they’re right there on the site for all to see.