December 2009

Your friends aren't the only ones online

By Patrick Choquette

You've probably read stories about Facebook users who were surprised to discover that information they posted on their personal page had been viewed by others and used to their detriment.

The internet and its search engines are now frequently used for obtaining and verifying personal information.

You would probably be surprised to know what others can read about you by typing your name on one of the search engines like Google.

One Facebook user recently learned this the hard way, when their insurance company stopped payment of the disability benefits they had been receiving due to a case of major depression.

The insurer had investigated online and found photos on this person's Facebook page showing a recent holiday trip where they apparently felt just fine - which seemed to conflict with the statements they made when applying for benefits.

Was this an unwarranted intrusion into their private life?

Most internet users who subscribe to websites like Facebook forget to read the "fine print" - the terms and conditions of use.

Facebook is designed to facilitate the exchange of information. Users who forget to read the terms and conditions may not realize that by "using or accessing" Facebook they are agreeing to a "Statement of Rights and Responsibilities" which includes the following:

Section 2.4: When you publish content or information using the "everyone" setting, it means that everyone, including people off of Facebook, will have access to that information and we may not have control over what they do with it.

Your information can be indexed by third-party search engines and linked outside Facebook. It can even be exported without restrictions governing confidentiality.

If you think Facebook ought to have called your attention to its terms and conditions - the ones you agreed to by clicking too soon - you should also be aware that you've agreed to "resolve any claim" against Facebook "exclusively in a state or federal court located in Santa Clara County" in California!