Seen that privacy chain letter on Facebook? Ignore it

A widely shared status update on Facebook claims you need to post a disclaimer to keep the site from ripping off your data. Too bad it's completely bogus.

Elinor Mills Former Staff Writer
Elinor Mills covers Internet security and privacy. She joined CNET News in 2005 after working as a foreign correspondent for Reuters in Portugal and writing for The Industry Standard, the IDG News Service and the Associated Press.
Elinor Mills
4 min read

If you've been on Facebook this week, you may have seen a status update now making the rounds that purports to explain how to safeguard your privacy on the service. Which sounds great, but for one thing: It's pretty much bogus.

In fact, you're much better off just ignoring this latter-day chain letter (see the full thing below) and voting on Facebook's proposed changes to its real privacy policy instead.

The gist of this chain message is unless you post a disclaimer specifying that you forbid organizations and other people from using your Facebook updates, pictures and comments for -- well, for whatever -- you'll lose rights to your own data. This is supposedly a consequence of the fact that Facebook is now a public company.

Pretty much everything about the message is inaccurate or misleading.

First off, the fact that Facebook is publicly traded now doesn't change the rights users have over their data. As Facebook says in a recent post on its "Facebook and Privacy" account page:

We have noticed a recent status update that is being widely shared implying the ownership of your Facebook content has recently changed. This is not true and has never been the case. Facebook does not own your data and content.
Also, Facebook users -- like those of any other site -- can't simply override the site's Terms of Use agreement with an after-the-fact disclaimer like this one. Once you've agreed to a site's terms of use, you're bound to those terms whether you like it or not. If you don't, stop using the service.

Finally, the disclaimer cites the U.S. Uniform Commercial Code, which has nothing to do with privacy.

Here's the text of that bogus privacy notice circulating on Facebook:

For those of you who do not understand the reasoning behind this posting, Facebook is now a publicly traded entity. Unless you state otherwise, anyone can infringe on your right to privacy once you post to this site. It is recommended that you and other members post a similar notice as this, or you may copy and paste this version. If you do not post such a statement once, then you are indirectly allowing public use of items such as your photos and the information contained in your status updates.

PRIVACY NOTICE: Warning - any person and/or institution and/or Agent and/or Agency of any governmental structure including but not limited to the United States Federal Government also using or monitoring/using this website or any of its associated websites, you do NOT have my permission to utilize any of my profile information nor any of the content contained herein including, but not limited to my photos, and/or the comments made about my photos or any other "picture" art posted on my profile.

You are hereby notified that you are strictly prohibited from disclosing, copying, distributing, disseminating, or taking any other action against me with regard to this profile and the contents herein.

The foregoing prohibitions also apply to your employee, agent, student or any personnel under your direction or control. The contents of this profile are private and legally privileged and confidential information, and the violation of my personal privacy is punishable by law. UCC 1-103 1-308 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED WITHOUT PREJUDICE

"To all these people posting this 'privacy notice' on Facebook: you're right to be concerned about your privacy on Facebook, but posting that does absolutely nothing to help you," says Sarah Downey, online privacy analyst at online privacy firm Abine. "Facebook's Terms of Use and Data Use Policy govern your content. You 'agree' to them by using Facebook's services. Making a post saying that you don't isn't legal magic that will change this fact."

Instead, people should understand that everything they post to Facebook will be treated as public data unless they take actions with their settings to make it otherwise. Abine offers tips on doing that here.

And Facebook users can vote on revisions the company is proposing to its privacy policy until 9 a.m. PT this Friday. Abine recommends voting to maintain the existing policy. You can vote on the Facebook privacy policy here.

Facebook will have preliminary results from the vote on Friday evening and official results will be tabulated and confirmed by a third party auditor by Saturday evening, a Facebook spokeswoman said today. The company isn't promoting the vote on its site except to fans of the Facebook Site Governance Page, who will receive an update about it in their News Feed. People who vote can also share that fact on their friends' News Feeds.

You can read more about the Facebook Privacy Notice on Snopes, an excellent site that debunks hoaxes and urban legends.