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Friday, May 18, 2012

Who Owns What We Post Online?

After writing Wednesday’s post on some of the issues Google is having overseas defending their practices of collecting data from users and compiling it to ‘offer superior services’, I started really thinking about the issue of personal property and who owns what we post online.

One school of thought says that our personal information, what we like, what we do online, and so on all forms a picture of us. This picture is very valuable to advertisers and the big boys of social media, so therefore it is our property. It is our prerogative to give this knowledge away to Google, Facebook, and others, but it is not their prerogative to take it.

The other school of thought says that when people use social media, they are freely submitting their personal information to the platform. The platform is owned an operated by the company. Therefore, you are freely giving your information to the company, and it belongs to them.

Europe recently passed a law known as the ‘Right to be forgotten’. According to the law, people have the right to monitor what is on the web about them, and can demand information be edited if incorrect or taken down. There are those who claim this runs afoul of freedom of speech laws.
Here is where I see complications arising. Say you are an aspiring teacher. One night in college you and a couple of friends have a bit too much, and you are underage. Someone snaps a photo of you and puts it on Facebook. The date underneath the photo will allow just about anyone to realize you are underage. Many states have very strict ‘no alcohol infraction’ policies for their teachers. You want the picture taken down before you apply for jobs out of fear of a potential employer seeing it. Do you have the right to demand Facebook remove the photo? Does the picture belong to you, to Facebook, or to the person who took it? We all know de-tagging a picture does not make it go away from the internet’s memory.

These personal property and privacy laws are going to have to be hammered out in courts in the coming years. This is just another case of technology being way ahead of the law. In the meantime, what do you think? Who owns this information we are putting out there about ourselves?

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