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Facebook: what are your children really signing up for

We all love facebook. It’s the platform that brings friends and family together, helps you keep in touch with old acquaintances and colleagues and also gives you a sense of belonging to a number of communities. 

Today, we’ll take a look at the key building blocks that Facebook uses to set out its position on what data it collects, how it processes that data, what the rules of engagement are, and what sorts of data and privacy implications may arise as a result of this, for you and for your children. 

You should not let your children use Facebook if they are under 13 years of age.

The sign-up process

The sign up page to create an account looks fairly innocuous. It asks you to enter your first name, surname, mobile number or email address, asks you to select a password, requires you to specify your gender and enter your birthday.

The sign-up page for Facebook

At first glance, this does indeed look harmless. There’s a few things on this page that might merit a second look. For example, did you notice the statement that says:

“It’s free and always will be”

The question to ponder here is how is Facebook monetising all this? If the product/service i.e. Facebook is free and if it will always be free, how exactly are your children paying for the service? The answer to this question can be found under the links on the sign up page – Terms and Data Policy. We’ll cover these in the sections below so you know what to look for when you are reviewing the links yourself.

Key points from facebook's terms, and data policy

You can access Facebook’s terms and data policy through the links provided on the sign up page.

Facebook talks about giving people the power to build community and bring the world closer together as its mission statement. It’s hard to believe that that’s what makes people go looking for Facebook. Most of us sign up because it’s now part and parcel of contemporary life and social inclusion, without realising what that convenience costs us.

“We use the data we have – for example, about the connections you make, the choices and settings you select, and what you share and do on and off our Products”

“We use the data that we have to make suggestions for you and others – for example, groups to join, events to attend, pages to follow or send a message to, shows to watch and people who you may want to become friends with”

Facebook sets out the permissions it needs from you to provide you with its services. First is the permission to use your content that you create or share. So, when you share, post or upload any content to Facebook, you are giving Facebook a non-exclusive (you still retain ownership), transferable (Facebook can transfer the permissions to someone else), sub-licensable (Facebook can license your photo, your content or anything you share for commercial purposes and make money off of it), royalty free (you won’t get any money if Facebook chooses to use your content for its own purposes), worldwide licence (Facebook is free to take your content and use it in a different place and different context) to host, distribute, modify, run, copy, publicly perform, or display, translate, and create derivative works of your content.

That’s not all. You also give Facebook permission to use your profile photo, your name, and what you do on Facebook, without any compensation to you. This means that Facebook can take unanimous action on your behalf without asking you and share something with your connections/friends that you expressed an interest in. This could be an event or a brand or a person or a business. 

The fact that you may or may not want to share this information with your friends is pretty much irrelevant.

Common Pitfalls

  • Pitfall 1: Not understanding the bargain i.e. what are your children giving up to access free services on Facebook?
  • Pitfall 2: Not understanding how the business model works. Your content and everything you share on Facebook is feeding the marketing, advertising and behavioural profiling machine and it’s a machine that never forgets.
  • Pitfall 3: Blind faith. Not asking yourself often enough whether there are other alternative ways and more appropriate ways of sharing what you are trying to share.
  • Pitfall 4: Not reading and understanding the terms, the data policy and other building blocks that Facebook uses to set out its position.

what can you do to take control of your data

The best approach is to be consciously aware of what you are sharing and being absolutely clear about the reasons for doing so i.e. don’t share things that you don’t need to share.

Sign-up checklist

  • Don’t use a profile photo unless you really have to. If you have to, use one that doesn’t give out clues about your address or geographic area
  • Avoid giving out your phone number if you can help it
  • Use a separate email address that is not connected to your other day to day activities
  • Don’t include information on your profile that you don’t strictly need to include
  • Review your privacy settings on Facebook and keep your data private
  • Choose a strong password and two factor authentication, so you can sign in only when you type in your password AND enter the security code sent to your mobile via text
  • Don’t re-use your online account identities, for example, don’t reuse your username from your Google account on Facebook
  • Don’t share things that you don’t need to share

There are also a few regulatory routes you could pursue, for example the General Data Protection Regulations or GDPR, which all organisations in the EU are now expected to adhere to.

Under GDPR, you have the right to object to any data processing for marketing, for the purposes of pursuing legitimate business interests and also for the purposes of public interest.

You can send Facebook a written request under GDPR to ask it to stop processing your data for all of these purposes and you can even ask Facebook to delete the data it holds about you.

©ParentSecure 2021