Thursday, January 17, 2013

Eric Goldman at Forbes has Few Legal Concerns About Facebook's "Graph Search"

Eric Goldman at Forbes does not share our legal concerns about Facebook Search as being what amounts to a large-scale stealing of private materials for commercial use. See Some Concerns About Facebook's "Graph Search" - Forbes.

My reaction is that I think the modern world's concepts of what is right and wrong and what is "legal" have become terribly warped. Things are totally out of kilter on this score around the world.

If I post a personal photograph to my group of friends, or tell them about my last vacation, what possible legal justification does ANY company or online portal have to use that photograph or posting to drive more traffic to their website by indexing MY material?

And that includes Facebook. Nothing uploaded by me to my Facebook account was intended for any kind of public indexing by Facebook, except for the few precise profile elements that I have expressly permitted to be indexed.

If privacy is not protected at this level, the user has only the protection of intellectual property law for protection against public use of his personal materials by others.

The only difference between a confidential private or business email to one or a handfull or a group of 60 people in a corporation and a strictly limited posting to a group of 60 people on Facebook is just that. The forum may differ, but the privacy should be the same. The privacy may ONLY be different because social media websites are not honoring privacy the way they should by law, and THAT rampant abuse should be stopped.

The forum chosen should not make a photograph or posting any less private if it is intended for a small group of users on Facebook or a small group of email recipients.

That Facebook -- despite express "hiding" of material by the user -- still plans to include that material in Facebook graph search results is an abomination.

And it is not clear what will happen with material found in databases that relates to deactivated or deleted accounts. None of that material "belongs" to Facebook. Will that be included in search results? We hold that to be illegal.

Right now I would like to deactivate and/or delete my Facebook account but I am reluctant to do so because then I can not keep on eye on what Facebook is going to do with my content in the near future. But our goodbye to Facebook is coming soon. And they better not be indexing any of OUR content.

Facebook "graph search" portends a foreboding end to privacy rights and opens the door for commercial appropriation of personal content never intended for public exploitation or profit.

Well, courts are even permitting the patenting of human genes, so this is right in the trend of the misguided legal servants permitting the average man's remaining private and personal assets to become wares to be hawked by traders on commercial markets.

It is a all a sad scenario to a digital revolution which once held so much promise and is now becoming virtually nothing more but a gold mine for greedy commercial interests.

U.S. District Court Judge Has Ruled That Facebook Postings Can Be Used As Evidence in a Court of Law

A violation of intellectual viz. privacy rights by social networking commercial interests is of course not the same as the status of Facebook postings as a matter of evidence in a court of law.

Doug Mataconis writes at Outside the Beltway in bill-of-rights at Judge Rules That What You Post On Facebook Can Be Used As Evidence Against You that:
"... what you post on Facebook, or Twitter, or any other social networking site is considered publicly disseminated for the purposes of the law even if you have restricted access to your account to only a select group of people."
We are of the opinion that this does not put private postings and photographs in the category of "publicly disseminated" for commercial use by social media companies or anyone else, since otherwise anything posted online would consequently be unprotected as if it were in the public domain, which is not the case. Copyrighted material is protected from infringement and that covers just about everything personal. It is NOT free for companies "to take".

Facebook Search, Privacy and Intellectual Property: Reference Compendiums of Private Materials for Commercial Use are Prohibited

For an overview of privacy and applicable laws, see the Wikipedia article on privacy at

Companies such as Facebook are exploiting to their benefit the weak status of the right to privacy in the law.

That is why we prefer to talk about a criminal theft of information, which in the case of social media networks is of course also a violation of both intellectual and privacy rights, however those are defined by any legal jurisdiction.

Original photos and texts that anyone posts about themselves belong to THEM, not to the social networking platform, and websites such as Facebook do not have the right to use that "property" or "intellectual property right" other than for the purpose to which it is was originally intended, unless they have explicit specific permission from the rights owner.

A simple clueless opt-out or opt-in will not suffice.

Search-type lists or compendiums utilizing private protected materials are illegal. We need look only to J.K. Rowling and Harry Potter, where the rights owners to the series of Harry Potter books sued the maker of a publication that was a reference compendium of Harry Potter characters, places, etc.
Not allowed.

We see no great legal distinction here between Facebook's commercial use of search compendiums of private user materials and the J.K. Rowling case.
See LawUpdates.

If Facebook wants to use YOUR materials beyond the purpose for which YOU posted them, then they need your permission and they should have to pay you for it.

"Graph Search" at Facebook as a Potential Criminal Violation of Your Privacy Rights

I received an inquiry as to whether information on a deactivated or deleted Facebook account would still be searchable on the announced Facebook Graph Search. Here is what I replied at my Facebook account:

Facebook writes at its website Help:
"Hidden from Timeline:"Hidden stories will not appear on your timeline at all. Stories you hide from your timeline will still appear in your activity log and are also visible elsewhere on Facebook to the audience they're shared with, such as in news feed and search."
In my opinion that is completely illegal regardless of the fact that Facebook posts this information as is.

They can not simply claim all information ever posted as "THEIRS" for purposes of search. No way.

As for deactivated or deleted accounts -- all of these social networking sites keep YOUR information completely intact on their databases, as far as I know. See at

Whether that info will show up on Facebook search I can not know -- since the so-called" Facebook Graph Search" is in beta, so it is hard to tell what the final version will be, but you can be sure they will try to search everything that they can, and I am sure they will find multiple privacy lawsuits against them. It is inevitable.

The whole idea of this graph search is in fact to put you into contact with people you may not want to be in contact with -- that is certainly my case.


If you make content available to friends and they make that contact available to friends of friends, and they do the same, your material becomes "public" in the blink of an eye and there is nothing you can do about it.

Indeed, that is why Facebook is launching "graph search".

The article cited above reads:
"Forrester Research analyst Nate Elliott said Facebook’s initiative aims to get people more engaged on the social network.
“Facebook’s worst nightmare is a static social graph; if users aren’t adding very many new friends or connections… their personal network becomes less and less active over time,” Elliott said.
“But that may be happening: We haven’t seen significant growth in the average number of friends per user recently. Graph search seems designed to encourage users to add more friends more quickly. If it means users’ personal networks change more frequently, and become more active, then that keeps them coming back to the site — which is vital to Facebook’s success.”
So, the whole idea is to force you into contact with strangers who, if you have posted about a vacation somewhere, have also been there, etc., because you will be able, to query, as the previously cited article writes:
"The social network offered examples of graph search queries including “friends who live in my city,” “people from my hometown who like hiking,” “friends of friends who have been to Yosemite National Park,” “software engineers who live in San Francisco and like skiing,” “people who like things I like,” or “people who like tennis and live nearby.”" 
This is a privacy nightmare!

How about a query about who goes on vacation in June for criminals ready to break, enter and burglarize your house, etc., and many far worse scenarios can be imagined.

In my opinion, totally illegal.

What Facebook is anticipating doing is essentially STEALING your information. It would in my opinion be a criminal offense and so the guilty should then be treated.

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