Opinion: Facebook can use your pictures for ads, no permission required


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A warning is bouncing through cyberspace today, landing on the Facebook statuses of many of the social networking site’s users. The message: ‘Facebook has agreed to let third party advertisers use your posted pictures without your permission.’ It continues with a prescription of how you can protect your photos.

On its face, Facebook’s actions seem like a classic case of misappropriation, or the intentional, illegal use of the property of someone else for one’s own use or some other unauthorized purpose. Facebook admits in its terms of service that all Intellectual Property content, like photos and videos, belong to you, the user. But the fine print essentially allows Facebook to do what its pleases with such content, with some limitations.


Elsewhere in those terms of service that no one ever reads before hastily clicking ‘I agree,’ Facebook says, ‘You can use your privacy settings to limit how your name and profile picture may be associated with commercial or sponsored content. You give us permission to use your name and profile picture in connection with that content, subject to the limits you place.’ (emphasis added).

Well, that’s not vague or anything. What does ‘in connection with’ these third-party ads (i.e. ads on Facebook but not for Facebook) mean? According to the Facebook-wide status panic about this, apparently it means that your married face could end up on a sexy singles ad.

But Facebook administrators say that’s simply not true, and their policy has not changed regarding photos being used in third-party advertisements. Still, the Facebook blog says the site can use your photo for something that you have expressed interest in (say, by becoming a ‘fan’) -- without your permission. Don’t worry though, your data won’t be shared.

According to All Facebook, the social networking site only allows its users’ content to show up on third-party ads if the content is not being cached. But some ad networks do cache data. While many of those networks have been shut down and the site is doing its best to regulate, this is where the major problem lies. In some cases, pictures are appearing even outside the Facebook site.

As underhanded as this may seem, this should be a lesson to actually read the terms of service, vague as they may be, before signing up for a social networking service that wants to use your pictures in ads. That, or don’t put up pictures you’re not comfortable sharing with people outside your network of friends. In the meantime, you can change your privacy settings. The Facebook ads privacy settings are under ‘Newsfeeds and Wall.’

--Catherine Lyons