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Facebook policy change results in hysteria — and a hoax

NBC News
NBC News

If you're confused over a recent email from Facebook regarding its data use policy, you're not alone. 

The email — with the subject line "Updates to Data Use Policy and Statement of Rights and Responsibilities" — sparked an online hysteria which divided the Facebooking world into two factions: users who suspected the email was yet another phishing spam scam; and users who believed that Facebook is rolling back copyright and privacy rights, and protested this by cutting-and-pasting a viral status update.  Neither are accurate.

The hysterically reposted status update starts like this (and goes on and on and on):

In response to the new Facebook guidelines I hereby declare that my copyright is attached to all of my personal details, illustrations, graphics, comics, paintings, photos and videos, etc. (as a result of the Berner Convention). For commercial use of the above my written consent is needed at all times!

Blah blah blah and so on. We're all busy people, so let's just cut to the chase:

  • The Facebook policy update email, subject line: "Updates to Data Use Policy Statement of Rights and Responsibilities" (pictured below) is totally real, totally from Facebook and totally not a scam.  

  • The Facebook policy update doesn't represent any egregious robbery of your personal data, photos, drawings, macaroni art, etc., let alone any personal data you've already made available to Facebook or on many a site or mobile device.
  • Even if Facebook was coming for your macaroni art, et. al, your cut-and-paste status would do nothing to change it. As Snopes (a site you should have bookmarked) helpfully reminds: "Facebook users cannot retroactively negate any of the privacy or copyright terms they agreed to when they signed up for their Facebook accounts nor can they unilaterally alter or contradict any new privacy or copyright terms instituted by Facebook simply by posting a contrary legal notice on their Facebook walls. " This is true whether Facebook is a publicly traded company or not. 

Now that we're clear on that, let's focus on the notable items of this totally real, authentic Facebook update (which you can read in full here):

  • The new policy will allow Facebook to obtain data about you "from our affiliates or our advertising partners" (with whom you've already shared your personal info, such as websites, memberships, etc.), to "improve the quality of ads." Plenty of sites already do this, matching your info (which you've provided, technically of your own free will) to show you ads your most likely to respond to, and to report to those ad partners how you did respond.

NBC News contacted Facebook over the confusion likely caused by the latest policy change announcement and the latest Facebook copyright status hoax, and received the following email statement:

As outlined in our terms, the people who use Facebook own all of the content and information they post on Facebook, and they can control how it is shared through their privacy and application settings. Over the last few years, we have noticed some statements that suggest otherwise and we wanted to take a moment to remind you of the facts — when you post things like photos to Facebook, we do not own them. 

True enough.

As we reported a year ago, Facebook made a settlement with the Federal Trade Commission over the massive privacy rollback on 2009 which bars the social network "from making any further deceptive privacy claims." Facebook is also now required to "get consumer's approval before it changes the way it shares their data, and requires that it obtain periodic assessments of its privacy practices by independent, third-party auditors for the next 20 years."

Hence these emails that send us into a status-update cut-and-paste panic. If you fell for it this time around, don't be too hard on yourself. You're certainly not alone. As Facebook users, we're still angry over the social network playing fast and loose with our privacy in years past. Some people show their rage in fits of cutting and pasting, others vow they'll never touch Facebook again, then secretly log in three days later. We may love it too much to leave it, but can you really ever trust a cheater — even when that cheater is trying to show you its reformed? 

 Helen A.S. Popkin goes blah blah blah about privacy and then asks her to join her on Twitter and/or Facebook. Also, Google+. Because that's how she rolls.