I was not going to bother with another article on Facebook, or any other social networking site. But then a video flitted across my Mac and it just forced me to take up the pen again, or pull up the keyboard and touchpad.
There are two things I want to point out. For the rest, I anticipate that the intelligent reader will join the dots and make the connection. In other words, dear reader, if you are member of a social-networking site such as Facebook, you might want to be cautious of what you post on it.
First of all, here is an excerpt from the terms, which you would have agreed to when you joined, that I cut-and-pasted off the Facebook site. Bit long, but worth fighting your way through. Odds are you didn’t when you signed up:
By posting user content to any part of the site, you automatically grant, and you represent and warrant that you have the right to grant, to the company an irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, transferable, fully paid, worldwide licence (with the right to sublicense) to use, copy, publicly perform, publicly display, reformat, translate, excerpt (in whole or in part) and distribute such user content for any purpose, commercial, advertising, or otherwise, on or in connection with the site or the promotion thereof, to prepare derivative works of, or incorporate into other works, such user content, and to grant and authorise sublicences of the foregoing.
In plain English, that says that Facebook can take all of the info you have posted on its network, whether about yourself or your friends, and use that information as it wishes to. If anybody reads that differently, let me know. I would love to be wrong on this one.
What’s more, even if you choose to remove what Facebook calls your “user content”, or what you would call the info you have posted on the site, Facebook retains the right to keep archived copies of your user content. With other words, information on you is still owned and used by Facebook for however long it would like to make use of it.
Have you ever tried to have yourself deleted off a dating site? I have. Even when I caused a riot, the administrators of the site emailed me to say that my information was no longer visible but they had nevertheless archived it. That was the best deal I could get. And they sounded surprised. Not many people have insisted on the same, by the sounds of it.
Secondly, let’s have a look at who invested money in Facebook and who could have a say in how that information is used. The first bit of venture capital, $500 000, came from Peter Thiel, previously founder and CEO of PayPal. Peter Thiel is now involved in Vanguard PAC, an American ultra-conservative organisation.
Then Accel Partners gave Facebook $12,8-million in venture capital in May 2005. Accel’s manager and Facebook board member James Breyer previously served on the board of NVCA with Gilman Louie, CEO of In-Q-Tel. To get an idea of what In-Q-Tel is about, check the copy on its “Our aim” page, which states the following:
“Launched by the CIA in 1999 as a private, independent, not-for-profit organisation, IQT was created to bridge the gap between the technology needs of the Intelligence Community and new advances in commercial technology.”
Guess what. It’s the CIA. For those not in the know, the CIA is the Central Intelligence Agency of the United States; the American equivalent of the Secret Service. In addition, James Breyer has other connections to “spooks” and American secret services. View the video that tripped across my Mac for further information.
So what do we have here? We have a private organisation that openly states in its terms of service that it intends to use any information you post on its site, for any purpose it feels like. And we also see that there is some fairly straightforward connection to the CIA with a member of the board. And thirdly, we have an organisation that never needs to destroy your data.
Shouldn’t you be much more careful of what you put up on Facebook? Those drunken and debauched pictures of you as a student were really fun to take and share. But they could stop you from getting a senior job in 10 years’ time; never mind the immediate penalty of having the university’s disciplinary body chasing after you as happened at Oxford in July 2007.
Then there are those third-generation Iraqi immigrant friends of yours. Totally fabulous people, but with the names they have, you are at risk in the US of suddenly having card-carrying membership of al-Qaeda just by virtue of the fact that you might know somebody with an Arabic-sounding surname. And yes, the US Department of Homeland Security has that level of paranoia. Just check some of the stories on Amnesty International on detainees at Guantánamo.
So have you joined the dots yet? If you have a Facebook profile, do filter your future content through a multilayered process. Regrettably you can’t do anything about the stuff that is already there! Ask yourself, among many other questions: Is what I am posting OK for my career, reputation and personal safety, and is my ID secure from fraud? In other words, is it really worth playing the Facebook game?