A recent CBC news story showed several Canada Border Service agents having
posted damaging comments and pictures on their Facebook profiles. The
pictures showed them partying and drinking while in uniform, and the
remarks revealed an inability to discern between certain foreign passports.
While the article will undoubtedly raise issues of national security, it
should give individuals who have an online presence, particularly Facebook
subscribers, another cause for concern. The report is testimony to the
fact that nothing on the Internet is truly and absolutely private,
especially on Facebook. It highlights the ever-growing but under-tackled
tension between technological development, intellectual property, and
There is an unquestionable relationship between protecting IP and
protecting privacy; both involve a common desire to control distribution
of information. Friction can result if and when the party wishing to
control the IP in a subject matter is separate from the party desiring to
protect his/her privacy rights. In this case, while the border agents may
have wanted to keep their pictures and comments private, their posting of
the material on Facebook licensed to other parties the ability to control
that material – parties who most likely do not have the agents’ privacy
interests in mind.
By accepting the mandatory terms and conditions when signing up, millions
have given Facebook a far-reaching license over their IP, including
comments, pictures, phone numbers, addresses, and birthdates. For those
who want to control their information so as to better maintain their
privacy, this is likely not an ideal situation.
The extent of the license is frightening, where users grant Facebook
rights that closely mirrors absolute ownership. To illustrate through its
transferable, fully paid, worldwide license ” to share information in any
format with other companies and agencies, and can reveal personal
information if it is in Facebook’s interest to do so. Even more terrifying
is that it can also grant and authorize sublicenses of the same rights!
Such licensing illustrates the tension between IP rights and the right to
privacy; the very individual who wants to protect her privacy no longer
has exclusive control in the information she wants kept private.
What can users do to avoid such a situation? More realistically, can users
do anything to avoid it? The unfortunate truth is that unless one
completely avoids social networking sites such as Facebook, one has no
option but to agree to its terms.
The common argument is that users have made the choice to accept all terms
imposed by Facebook, despite having had the option not to. I don’t quite
agree. Facebook has carved a niche for itself as the ultimate social
networking tool. And while it is usually associated with personal use,
businesses are also wanting in. For example, corporate recruiters have
“begun to utilize the facebook.com to perform the equivalent of a
background check” on applicants. Whether or not such monitoring is
ethical, an online presence is becoming increasingly important and
advantageous in a technology-driven society and while joining may be a
choice, choosing not to may be detrimental to one’s interest.
One solution would be to do away with standardized terms and allow
individuals to partake in contract negotiation. Currently, individuals
have no say in which rights are licensed, and are involved in a
relationship where the bargaining power between themselves and Facebook is
grossly unequal. The individual can either accept the terms as they are,
or be excluded from the social networking community, while Facebook loses
nothing if the odd individual decides not to join. While ideal, increased
bargaining power and user control over the nature of the license would not
be feasible, taking into consideration the sheer number of users
registered on the site.
Another suggestion is that individuals who wish to use Facebook should be
more aware of the terms and conditions of use before accepting them.
However, the average user cannot be expected to read and understand the
highly technical and legal language found in these terms.
Individuals should keep these issues in mind and be conscious of the fact
that that nothing is truly private in cyberspace; one’s online presence is
out there for the world to access. In an era where technological
advancement is blurring the line between public and private, and where
solutions are yet to be found, it is advisable for individuals to be more
responsible with what they divulge online. As the CBC story shows, what
happens on Facebook does not necessarily stay on Facebook.