The title of this blog says it all. On Facebook, our data doesn’t belong to us. Ditto our “authorial rights” according to information scientist, Amelia Acker at the University of Texas at Austin. (“Preservations Acts,” by Nora Caplan-Bricker Harper’s Magazine, Dec. 2018, pg. 62.)
If, like me, you read, but didn’t thoroughly understand the contract you accepted to participate on the site… Or, if you understood the words but have forgotten what they said, here it is in a nutshell. According to Acker, when we join “…we cede the power to collect them [our data] on our own, to own them, to govern them, and to exert rights over whether and if they should be archived, and to select what should be remembered and what should not remain.” (Ibid pg. 62.)
Shocking, isn’t it, to think Facebook owns our digital histories? Family pictures, once preserved in scrapbooks, if uploaded, would become the property of Mark Zuckerberg. As such, the company appears free to monetize the face of your favorite grandchild, if it so chooses.
But here’s another worry. What if Facebook goes out of business or merges with another company? Who owns your data becomes a murky legal questions. Of course, I’m wrong to pick on Facebook, alone. The situation applies to Twitter and probably other social media sites. But they aren’t the only ones we have to worry about. Nonprofits are gobbling up our information on a grand scale, though for benign reasons. The Wayback Machine, owned by The Internet Archive, a nonprofit located in San Francisco, has been indiscriminately scooping up web entries since 2001. They believe anything on the internet should be archived as historical record. Currently the machine has crawled through 339 billion web pages, “ a sliver of the gargantuan whole.” (Ibid pg. 60.)
Whether attempts to collect all that data makes sense is a subject for crazed historians and librarians to argue about. In the end, it may not matter. Eventually they’ll have to narrow their scope. Already, a keyboard search on a subject, even with their “sliver of the gargantuan whole” takes 24 hours. (ibid pg. 60.)
What should concern us as users, is whether or not anyone should own us.
Europe is far ahead of the United States on the question. The General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) that went into effect in the EU this year regulates how tech companies may gather and use their citizens’ data. It’s time for those of us in the United States to enjoy similar protections.