Columns > Published on February 3rd, 2015

Breaking Down the Facebook Terms and Conditions Update — 2015

A new year, a new Facebook uproar.

You may recall receiving the below notification when you logged into your Facebook account in late December or early January:

By using our services after Jan 30, you agree to our updated terms, data policy, and cookies policy, and to seeing improved ads based on apps and websites you use. Learn more about these updates and how to control the ads you see.

What This Means For Users

With this round of changes, Facebook published a guide: Updating Our Terms and Policies: Helping You Understand How Facebook Works And How To Control Your Information. The cynical lawyer in me says this is marketing ploy to make users feel better about their lack of privacy.

But in the interests of balance, it also shows an understanding that users usually do not read terms and conditions (what’s the point when you can’t negotiate them?!), and need a plain English explanation of the practical effects of terms.

Ultimately, you need to decide what level of information you are comfortable with sharing based on knowing what is being collected about you.

Privacy Basics  is an interactive guide on how to control your information on Facebook. The sections on What Others See About You, How Others Interact With You and What You See use slick graphics, and give off that social media “we’re all friends here” vibe.  The step-by-step guide shows users how to:

  • Post to limited individuals, groups, and the public; and how to delete their posts;
  • Create customized lists of people who can see their posts;
  • View what their profile looks like to specific individuals and managing what their profile shows to specific individuals, groups, or the public;
  • See who can see what they’re liking or posting on their own wall, and on other people’s walls;
  • Choose an audience for photos they post;
  • Manage what other people can post on their timeline;
  • Untag themselves in photos;
  • Unfriend or block someone who’s bothering them;
  • Manage their ad preferences (currently only available in specific areas); and
  • Manage what they see in their News Feed.

Under these slick, interactive graphics is the less aesthetically appealing Data Policy. This outlines what information Facebook collects from you, and about you.

Is it as much information as everyone imagines?

Pretty much.

When you start drilling down into what Facebook collects, it feels quite intrusive. Here’s a sample of what information gets collected about you:

  • When you message or communicate with people on Facebook;
  • What sort of stuff you’re looking at and engaging with, and the frequency and length of your engagement;
  • When other people share information about you, like photos or when they send you a message;
  • If you pay for games or make donations via Facebook, information on how you paid, your credit or debit card details, and your shipping and contact details;
  • The devices (your phone, laptop, tablet) that you use Facebook on – depending on the permissions you’ve granted.
  • Device attributes like the OS, hardware version, file and software names and types.
  • Device locations, including specific geographic locations, such as through GPS, Bluetooth, or Wi-Fi signals.

The device information collection is where things get particularly sticky. Vice magazine recently interviewed a leading privacy law expert, who explained that Facebook can track your location for the purposes of targeted advertising, but this only applies to users who give Facebook permission to track their location. 

The next question is, who is Facebook sharing this information with?

Yes, Facebook is giving information about us to advertisers, but only information that cannot personally identify us:

We do not share information that personally identifies you (personally identifiable information is information like name or email address that can by itself be used to contact you or identifies who you are) with advertising, measurement or analytics partners unless you give us permission.

So what do they share with advertisers?

They share how their ads are performing and how many times an ad has been viewed. The obvious non-personal information they share about us is demographics. Facebook gives the example of “25 year old female, in Madrid, who likes software engineering.

Facebook also states that it "transfer[s] information to vendors, service providers, and other partners who globally support our business.” to do things like provide technical services and facilitate payments.

Further, any applications you use that are integrated with Facebook may receive your information. As an example, game developers may get information about your activities in the game.

Facebook may also access, preserve and share your information in response to a legal request like a search warrant or court order, if it has a good faith belief that the law requires it to do so.

Facebook also shares your information with the Facebook group companies – including Instagram, WhatsApp, and Oculus.

And if Facebook is ever sold, your personal information will be treated as a normal company asset, and transferred to the new owner.

Practical Privacy Issues

I doubt Facebook employees are sitting around with a cup of coffee, avidly watching the intricacies of people’s love lives via Facebook messenger.

But, it is collecting a huge amount of information about what you’re doing on Facebook (and the device that you’re accessing it with, if you gave permission), to create highly targeted advertising. If that irks you, make sure you opt out of the location tracking settings.

When it comes to the privacy about what you post, the main concern users should have is about their Facebook friends changing the audience settings.

Every post you see has a little icon where you can see the audience for that post. See that audience? They can see your likes and comments.

And this is where it gets more complicated – a person can change their audience after they’ve posted, and you won’t get notified about this, and probably won’t even know. Comments made between a tight-knit group of friends could become public fodder.

Recently, a friend of mine found an unsavory photo of themself in an online tabloid article. When they emailed the journalist responsible politely asking for it be removed, the journalist — and I use that term loosely in this case — was a total jerk and told them tough luck — with some more colourful language thrown in.

What’s The Deal With Those Privacy Notices My Friends Posted?

It’s a hoax and won’t do anything to alter the terms, conditions and policies you agreed to by signing up for Facebook and using its services.

Current Facebook Litigation

With all that being said on privacy, Facebook is currently facing a class-action lawsuit accusing it of scanning its users’ private messages for advertising purposes. Watch this space.

What Can You Do If You Don’t Like Facebook’s Terms and Conditions?

The cautious would say only post information that you’re comfortable with your mother and/or employer reading. And to remove any permissions granted which allow Facebook to track the location of your device.  

The extreme would say, don’t have a Facebook account.  

The less concerned would say, stuff it, post what you like. As a friend of mine once said when I told him to make his Facebook account private, “but I like to let future employers know what they’re in for.” (Yes, I shook my head at that one.)

Ultimately, you need to decide what level of information you are comfortable with sharing based on knowing what is being collected about you.  

About the author

In a previous life, Jessica worked for 12 years in the legal industry, with her last purely legal role being the corporate counsel for a property management company in Australia. Since then, she’s been the editor for an online literary journal and currently manages a music/tech start-up. She also freelancers as a contract lawyer and content producer, and writes regular columns for Litreactor and Gypsy Girl.

Jessica’s fiction and poetry has appeared in or is upcoming in Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine (Aus), Beware the Dark (UK), Kaleidotrope, Plasma Frequency Magazine, and Pantheon Magazine.

She loves swimming, and like Peter Singer, considers herself a flexible vegan and focuses on the welfarist approach to animal rights.

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