Anja Merret
Anja Merret

Facebook: A secret harvest

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?

17 Responses to “Facebook: A secret harvest”

  1. Hi Anja

    IBM actually developed the first system utilised for Hitler to track the Jews and Lou Gerstener, the head padillo actually started up the Carlyle Group which now controls a significant portion of the GCC economy re: oil cartel…Google does the same as Facebook, one of the major investors Jon Doerr I think, is a member of the Aspen Institute that heavily influences foreign policy – all mail from google is censored, documented and provided to 121 different branches of U.S intelligence agents and their allies, including Mossad which has a heavy hand in the drug and human traffickng industry, using the information highway to track down scapegoats and build up the myth of enemies..the whole IT game is rigged as you say. There isn’t one person including Gates that was not approached by the government to censor and track. communism in ways the communists could not

    December 6, 2007 at 10:09 am
  2. Nicholas #

    Frankly, Who cares?

    Had all though those thoughts before and what it comes down to in my mind is it makes no difference. The likes of the CIA have better things to do than harass the majority of people, the majority of us don’t even fall in their jurisdiction, so they can’t do anything anyway.

    Also most of the information that is on facebook about people you can get else where on the net. You just have to look harder for it. I actually did a varsity project on the matter and chose random people from my class, within in a week I had their Credit card details, phone numbers, where they party, what they drink, eat, buy, throw away etc.

    If the above is a real concern I suggest you don’t use any computer of any sort, don’t have a bank account, don’t use a phone, don’t leave your house for anything. Privacy is a fallacy in this Information age. All facebook does is make it easier to find the info.

    December 6, 2007 at 11:43 am
  3. Anja Merret

    Really? I always did think that Google is Big Brother but hadn’t thought it was quite so bad. So much for a business policy of ‘do no evil’.

    December 6, 2007 at 11:49 am
  4. Ryan Hogarth #

    Good bloody point. My facebook days are over, thanks very much. Its just not that beneficial to me, weighed against the risks. I’ll socialise elsewhere.

    December 6, 2007 at 11:57 am
  5. Hi Anja, I very much enjoyed your article. It is astounding to think that more people aren’t aware of the data-mining going on behind the veil of our naïveté.

    I think the points you make are valid, however I think you’ve missed one very key ingredient in this matter, beyond simply the acquisition of our social-narratives. I think if you include the commercial viability of an expansive marketing strategy; which utilizes our social behaviours to construct a tailored and very strategic set of advertising campaigns, marketing pitches coupled with the awareness of what we deem as important you may have the real cause for concern.

    You see my main concern with Facebook is that generaly individuals distribute social aspects of their lives, party pics, new purchases, moments with friends etc. The perfect resource for any company willing to purchase info on its target market, which I am quite sure is most likely..

    Just think you could pull information on the present status / wants / needs of a couple million teenagers during the christmas season…I’ve almost convinced myself that it is somewhat of a brilliant scheme so I shall move away from the keyboard and hope to hell that I regain my conscience which is already frayed at the ends..

    Great article again.Well done.

    December 6, 2007 at 12:52 pm
  6. Anja Merret

    Vincent. Of course Facebook has done just that. They recently launched their advertising platform which tracked all purchases by you and your friends and informed you and your friends about them. A forced word of mouth so to speak. In order to object, a group was formed on Facebook which grew to 50 000 members within days. Facebook has had to back down and provide an opt-out feature. However, it is of course still there. They haven’t cancelled it.

    December 6, 2007 at 1:07 pm
  7. I thought this was a great article – very informative, interesting and an eye opener for me. My initial concern was that SAB would buy drunk pictures of me and my friends and use it in their new Arrive Alive campaign. Highly unlikely though.

    That’s why I think most of the concerns raised are totally paranoid. Major paranoid! I agree with Nicholas – who cares???

    December 6, 2007 at 2:53 pm
  8. Sandra #

    I think we should care. I joined Facebook for a whole 3 weeks. Then I read the M n G article about them becoming an internet directory of sorts and I decided I don’t want to be part of it.
    After following their procedure for removing myself I received an email saying that my data was no longer visible but anytime I wanted to rejoin my user name and password would still work. I wrote back to them saying that was not good enough – I wanted to use my user name and password and get an error message if I tried to log on. After much emailing up and down they eventually said that I must first delete all my personal stuff from my profile and then they would be able to remove me from their site.

    Actually, I haven’t done it yet but now I am really motivated to go and erase myself. No time like the present

    December 6, 2007 at 3:41 pm
  9. Albertus van Wyk #

    There is clearly a need for social networking sites. The terms on which you join Facebook is worrying, but I don’t think boycotting all such projects is the answer. We should rather lobby against it or find a network with terms that protect the user.

    And another point – of course privacy and identity theft and so on are potential problems when you join this kind of network – it goes without saying. I agree with Nicholas. If you’re worried about it, don’t join. As simple as that.

    December 6, 2007 at 3:50 pm
  10. Steve #

    Responding to Anja’s story and Vincent’s post, while I see the value in what you guys are saying, its broader than that. To me you either play online or you don’t.

    Let’s take example of Cnet journo who wrote about what they found out about Eric Schmidt in 30 mins on Google.,-reach/2100-1032_3-5787483.html

    For their effort, Google blacklisted Cnet journos for a year ( Google also on another occasion fired an employee after 11 days for blogging about things at Google.

    Indeed how much info could I find out online about Vincent (Hofmann). Your cell number, your email address, your MSN and hotmail address, your company, you’re a student etc.

    Who needs Facebook? Google was great!

    December 6, 2007 at 4:45 pm
  11. Awesome Steve, had you clicked on my name, bold & red you’d have found out where I lived and my business. I entirely understand what you are saying, those who are willingly involved in the dissemination of information which is self-related should aknowledge that their information is distributed publically rather than simply to a few designated friends.

    However, I volunteered my information to the world in order to market myself and my company, it was solely in order to do so that I created an online presence and will continue to be an online presence/present(to google). I think what I fear most is the fine print and most if not all of the users of facebook’s ignorance of the implications of these online – diaries, beyond simply the narcissistic pleasure in distorting your own reality to suit the needs of others.

    As I said that collection of data for the purposes of market-profiling is genious, I only wish I had come up with the idea…

    I’m just not that into conspiracy theories I guess, I simply enjoy the trickery and manipulation involved which the information giants like : google, facebook, wikipedia, msn etc. employ such great effect…

    I’ll never forget, whilst teaching, how willing students were to utilize wikipedia as a resource for their academic papers. One wonders if they will ever read expansive texts on a single topic, instead of simply getting bite sized chunks off of the net. This same practice is applied to all forms of interaction by this same age-group, news is sent via email subscriptions and read on ticker-tapes at the bottom of a tv. screen, friends are made via mxit and books have been replaced by magazines…

    I’m 24 and I’m afraid of what my generation has done..

    December 7, 2007 at 8:34 am
  12. Even if you take all the tin foil hat stuff out of the conversation, it is still a very good idea to read the terms of use and privacy policy if you are going to use these services.

    December 7, 2007 at 8:40 am
  13. I think at the end of the day the Facebook empire is somewhat different in the sense that individuals, like I did, volunteer information about themselves. They treat it as a means of both networking and having their social lives affirmed as being succesful and thus enabling them to integrate into a broader social community. Consider that I recently got engaged and felt that the best way to communicate this very personal decision to “friends” (acquintances) who live abroad was through Facebook. Had my “friends” remained in touch in the tangible sense, instead of the technological version they now espouse, they would have been greated with my voice and a personal message with some meaning rather than simply a broadcast…

    Enough digression, I’ve indulged and had my rant for the day, it is somewhat off point but I prevaricate whenever and now wherever I can..

    December 7, 2007 at 10:45 am
  14. NotParanoid #


    Your comments about Facebook’s policies, privacy protection, etc. are all valid. Nobody should publish anything to these sites that they do not share with the world.

    Unfortunately your article loses credibility with the ridiculous links you attempt to draw between the CIA and Facebook: A member of a group that funded Facebook belonged to the same association as the former CEO of a non-profit with connections to the CIA.

    And thus you conclude that we have to fear that the CIA is mining Facebook data? Hopefully no thinking person takes this seriously.

    Would you call this responsible journalism?

    December 22, 2007 at 4:21 pm
  15. Anja Merret

    I’m not a journalist. I am a blogger! As a blogger, I comment and voice an opinion. If I were a journalist I would have a greater responsibility to the boys (mostly) and a few rare girls who pay my salary. As I do not get paid by Thoughtleader et al, I am entitled to voice the weirdest of opinions. And should get away with them. Of course the odd troll does so want to spoil my party! Especially appreciated are trolls who voice their opinion hiding behind a nom de plum.

    December 23, 2007 at 12:20 am
  16. NotParanoid #

    “I’m not a journalist…I am entitled to voice the weirdest of opinions…”


    “…does so want to spoil my party…”

    Not trying to spoil anything, just searching for the truth. It is a well written article with some good advice. Just trying to point out the silly, irrelevant parts.

    Best of luck.

    (p.s. Don’t you think it is somewhat ironic that your piece is about the need for privacy online and yet you admonish me for being anonymous?)

    December 23, 2007 at 12:50 am
  17. Ms McGuinley #

    Good to know, thanks for posting this! Its these details that most of us don’t pay attention to that end up haunting us.

    January 9, 2009 at 12:30 am

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