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Why you should always read the small print from Facebook

A casual -- and perhaps tipsy -- reveler at a California chowder house on Saturday might not have realized that Facebook was about to photograph and record them and keep the recordings for ever.

2 min read
Yes, it says "the universe." Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

Please imagine you were to spend Saturday enjoying a little reading on the beach and then, perhaps, a couple of drinks.

Please imagine you decided to waft down to Northern California's Half Moon Bay and wandered into an establishment called Sam's Chowder House.

You may or may not have been with someone you shouldn't have been escorting. Still, you hoped for a little privacy, a little quiet time to contemplate life's ideas and people (small and large), while staring out at the ocean.

You may not have noticed the little yellow signs on the door of the chowder house. There are often little signs on glass doors. Surely they are about as meaningful as those Yelp and Zagat stickers.

In this case, though, it was a good thing my mind was stone cold.

For here was Facebook informing me that if I entered it would be photographing me and recording my conversations.

Perhaps I should have been unsurprised. This is merely the next stage of our ever-networked world.

And yet, as I read the smaller type, I saw that Facebook didn't merely intend to shoot and record with nary a privacy care.

No, by entering I was giving Facebook permission to use its recordings of me, my companion and anyone else sailing into the chowder house "throughout the universe, for any purpose whatsoever, in perpetuity."

Still, I could be assured that the company would, at least, allow me some rights to these recordings.

Not quite. "All such photographs and sound recordings to be the sole property of Facebook."

Technically, not merely of Facebook but of "its successors and assigns too."

Ergo, I could be chatting about my innermost thoughts, feelings, and intentions and Facebook could give (or even sell) the recording to anybody it chooses as one of its "assigns."

Would the company that is supposedly dedicated to bringing the world together assign details of my assignation to, say, someone who may not be my friend?

It seems to claim that right.

Oh, I know you'll tell me that this just a standard release form created by a turbo-lawyer.

But you'd imagine that Facebook, the company that prides itself on its people-centricity and privacy controls, might be a little more sensitive to these things.

It seems not. I have therefore contacted Facebook to ask whether the company can envisage, at any point, playing a recording of my intimate conversations to aliens from the Planet Zug.

The truth is, Facebook won't have the chance.

I read the small print, used the restroom and left. It's not that I don't trust Facebook. Oh, alright, it is.