Terms & Conditions May Apply – Why you might not be as private as you think…

The Michaela Mccollum-Connolly story has been dominating column inches in the Irish press for the past 2 weeks. The almost unbelievable account of a 20 year old border county beauty caught up in a world of druglords, Peruvian jail cells, drug mules and South American cocaine is, of course, the prefect fodder for paper sales, and the likes of the Sunday Independent, and other, more ‘reputable’ sources have been lapping it up.

(One wonders whether or not the same column inch space would be reserved if the perpetrator was a middle aged male from Crumlin for example, but perhaps that’s for another day, and, indeed, perhaps that’s just how the media works.)

Much has been said about the facts of the case, and the world that the unfortunate/naive/criminally motivated (delete as appropriate) young woman has found herself in. However, leaving that aside for a second, the story has also gotten me thinking about the relationship between social, the media and privacy.

The debate rages constantly over whether, in global society, the concept of ‘privacy’ is fast becoming diluted by technology. From Snowden to Google’s insinuation this week that ‘Gmail users don’t expect privacy’ to Zuckerberg’s oft repeated point that Facebook is merely facilitating a trend towards increased openness and sharing, it seems that whole business models are being based on free access to services, and using the yottabytes of data created to sell targeted advertising.

Where does the MMC case come into this I hear you ask? Today (Sunday 18th August), the Sunday Independent ran an image on their front page of a dolled up Michaela, with the attribution ‘taken from her Facebook page’.

Far be it for me to cast judgement on an Irish institution like Independent newspapers, it’s still one of the most widely read, and probably profitable papers in Irish society.

No, this is a general comment about media brands using imagery from ‘private’ social accounts. I emphasise private here because it’s a complete misnomer – the SIndo, and other entities, both online and otherwise, are completely within their rights to do this kind of thing.

In fact, who could blame them, images like these certainly add to the story. This type of thing is very common practice across all media outlets.

‘Within their rights!’ I hear you scream. Well yes actually, it seems as if they are, and it’s likely going to take a court case to potentially prove otherwise.

You see what many people don’t realise is that there is a price for ‘free’ services like Facebook, Gmail, Twitter & Instagram.
Systrom, Zuck & Brin don’t provide these sites for the benefit of humankind (no matter what they seem to intimate).

I had a Twitter conversation recently with Aaron & Stewart around this very issue. Aaron raised the issue of legality around a particularly distasteful CollegeTimes.ie piece, centered around ‘Facebook creeping’. See the whole thread here.

Alarmingly, and unbeknownst to either myself, Aaron or Stu (the two lads would be particularly intelligent when it comes to the landscape of social media usage & media etc), it seems that the act of taking an image from a Facebook page which isn’t private (or un-viewable to non friends essentially), is defined as completely legal in Facebook’s ToS.

How you define ‘access and use that information’ is subjective, but presumably the SIndo and others see it as meaning something very specific.

This premise is also also legally allowed in the terms of usage for other social sites like Instagram & Twitter.

Basically, as I and others understand it, anything you post, be it photos of a night out or a particularly strong opinion, can, in most instances, be used in the media.

So, should you be involved in a Peruvian drugs case next week for example, and your Facebook account isn’t private, Indo ‘journalists’ have the right to take a little look at your page. That photo of you on holidays in Thailand with an innocuous ‘mushie shake’ in hand? Prepare for that to be splashed across our nation’s front pages.

In light of recent idiotic use of social media for such things like soliciting drugs, bragging about hit and runs or berating the partiality of future employers, it’s clear to me that a vast % of the population use social media in the same way as they would talk to their friends in their living room.

Society needs to get it into its head that, while openness can, and indeed is, a great thing for the majority of the time, you still need to be smart about what you share online. It’s only a Google search away after all.

Oh and as an aside, this interesting doc is opening soon. Terms & Conditions certainly apply.