Terms of Service: Questions for Facebook Users Posting Privacy Notices on Their Walls

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Like most days, I scanned through my Facebook feed this morning to see what was happening amongst my friends and relatives. For the most part, it was same ol', same ol'. There were motivational posters, memes, discussions about working out, complaints about something or another. The usual. But as I scrolled, I began to see more and more notations about Facebook and privacy policies. Some were funny. Some were links to various stories discussing it. And a few were cut and pasted privacy notices.

I thought, "No way this is the same crap that has been around for a few years, right?" Wrong. It appears that quite a few of you have been suckered into believing that if you post some legal mumbo jumbo on your Facebook wall, it will prevent Zuckerberg Inc. from using your posts and photos to make money. It won't, by the way, but it raised a number of questions for me, some about your basic knowledge of the Internet, some about your sanity.

Have you ever read a Privacy Policy or a Terms of Service agreement?

Of course you haven't. Most of us haven't. Companies and Web sites could put language in there demanding the life of your firstborn child and you'd never be the wiser. Cracked even compiled a list of scary user agreement language. I'm not saying you should read them all, but a general familiarity with the standard user agreement wouldn't be the worst thing you've ever done (that would be what you did with your Star Wars action figures -- you know).


Did you honestly think you could post some generic legal language on your wall and be exempt from Facebook rules?

Let's think about it like this. Say you agree with a friend that you will loan him $100 and he agrees, in writing, to repay it to you within two weeks. It's weird that you would do something like that to a friend, but you get the idea. Then your friend, a week later, writes you a note that says he's declared himself exempt from the debt and is notifying you with the letter. You'd be like, "Um, dude, you can't do that!" The point is you can't accept a bunch of terms one moment then suddenly decide later you want to opt out. That isn't how agreements work. Your buddy still owes you 100 bucks and you still owe Facebook your soul posts, photos, etc.


You did know Facebook was in this for the money, right?

This shocks me probably more often than anything online. There is a growing notion that anything made of pixels should be free assuming it doesn't harm the paycheck of the person getting it for free. Newspapers, music, social networks...they all should just be donated by the Internet fairy for free use by anyone who wants them. Well, all those people and servers that run Facebook cost money. They can't feed their families with goodwill and magic. So, the social networking giant is going to do everything within their power to monetize this SERVICE YOU ARE BEING PROVIDED FOR FREE. Try to keep that in mind the next time you are offended by changes to Facebook's terms of service -- the ones you never read anyway.


Please tell me you understand that what you post on the Internet remains there basically forever.

Technically not a question, I know, but I'm hoping for the best here. When you post a photo of you drunk puking or holding up two fingers with your tongue stuck between them (ew), it takes on a life all its own. Even when you delete a photo, it is unlikely it is gone forever. It can come back to haunt you when you least expect it like a former stalker or herpes. So, don't be shocked when that photo of you peeing on a picture of your boss is presented to you during a performance review even if you deleted it off Facebook. The lesson here is don't post anything on line you don't want as later evidence you are a douchebag.


Have you ever heard of Internet hoaxes?

Maybe you gave money once to a sweet prince from Nigeria who just needed some help in exchange for big cash. Maybe you still think Swiffer kills dogs. The point is, just like in real life when a smarmy TV preacher gets busted for skimming from the collection plate or a shady used car dealer sells you a lemon, scams exist online, too. Remember that all-expenses-paid trip to the Bahamas you won that was really just a sales pitch for a condo near a landfill? Same thing except with e-mail and computers instead of regular mail and telephones. Don't get suckered into believing everything you read online. If you are uncertain as to its validity...


Do you know what Snopes is?

Think of Snopes as the repository of explanations of complicated Internet hoaxes for your grandparents. Whatever your read online that sounds even slightly sketchy, chances are Snopes has determined whether it is true or false, like the Facebook privacy hoax. Some are silly. Some are serious. But they are all here. Next time you feel the urge to click on that flashing banner promising a free iPad, check Snopes first. You'll thank me.


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