No, Facebook Doesn’t ‘Own’ Your Private Photos

Another panicky status meme is making the Facebook rounds. And while there’s a grain of truth buried in it – as there is with many memes – it’s surrounded by some scare-mongering misinformation.

The current status meme reads something like this:

ATTENTION: This Friday, Facebook will become owner of the publishing rights of ALL your private photos. You need to make a simple change: go to ‘account’, ‘account settings’, ‘facebook adverts'(along the top), ‘ads shown by third parties’, choose ‘NO ONE’ then SAVE. Takes seconds to fix. And please share share share. (for those who haven’t done this yet..)

That right there is two completely separate issues rolled into one. Let’s take them one at a time.

First: Facebook doesn’t “own” your private photos. In fact, section 2 of their Terms (have you ever read them? you might want to) explicitly states “You own all of the content and information you post on Facebook” (emphasis mine). They further state on their Facebook Ads Settings page, “Despite what you may have heard, Facebook does not give your personal information to advertisers—including your name, profile picture or any of your photos.”

According to those same terms, when you upload your photos or other intellectual property, y ou give Facebook a “non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use any IP content that you post… this license ends when you delete your IP content or your account unless your content has been shared with others, and they have not deleted it.”

Why the non-exclusive license? So that they have the right to a) have your content on their servers and b) serve it to others, in accordance with your privacy preferences.

That brings us to part 2. Yes, Facebook is now (and has been) integrating their content into third party websites, and doing something they call “social advertising” on Facebook itself. That’s when they show you, in your sidebar, that such-and-such friend of yours “Liked” a given page or product, for example.  If that sort of thing wigs you out – as it does me – you can visit the Facebook Ads settings page, click on both Edit Third Party Ad Settings and Edit Social Ads settings and make sure you select “No One” for each of them.

My long-held opinion and personal preference is that the default sharing settings should always be the most private. Users should have to affirmatively opt-in to more public levels of sharing of their data and IP. However, since Facebook is provided free to users, it needs to make money in other ways, such as through advertising. They sell ads by mining our data, and our content (if we let them). So be it. We’re always free to choose not to use it, after all.

And while I’m no Facebook apologist, repeating erroneous information like “Facebook will own all your photos on Friday!” obscures the real message, which is: It’s a good idea, and your responsibility, to regularly review all of your Facebook privacy settings and make sure they’re how you want them to be.


  1. I think Facebook is being a bit disingenuous when it boasts that you retain ownership of the IP you put on Facebook. Yes, it’s technically true, but by giving Facebook an *irrevocable* license to use that IP however it wants (subject to privacy restrictions that it can change at will), your ownership rights shrink considerably. Yeah, this does, as you point out, allow them to retain and serve the content you put up there, but the rights you are granting are *much* broader than what is required to do that.

    If you read the terms, Facebook may even sublicense or transfer (sell) the data you put on there. Basically, they’re spelling out that whatever you put on there is no longer fully yours. Expect that, when Facebook merges or restructures or goes out of business or just plain needs to generate some revenue, your data can end up anywhere. The control that Facebook seems to give you over this is illusory.

    But unscrupulous third party apps are probably a more immediate concern in this regard.

  2. Hello again Arlene;

    You say…

    “They’ve shown an alarming tendency to change the rules after the game’s already started, and for a “social” medium don’t have a human face or contact mechanism at all.”

    This is the most frustrating part for the people that enjoy facebook for any reason, you are absolutely correct!

    I thank you for your kind response, and I must say, very well said indeed!
    I really like this part…

    “That being said, they’re the 800-pound gorilla, and we need to keep (prudently) playing the game with them as they and we evolve.”

    As an artist, somehow I can actually picture this, using my imagination…;)

    ~ Waving to Arlene ~

  3. Hello Arlene Wszalek…;)

    First, I’d like to respectfully compliment you for sharing a very informative and ‘positive’ version on Facebook; far too often today we do hear so much about all the nays and boo’s, as even myself have had plenty of beef’s regarding Facebook, and have been known to share what I think plenty, so I am glad to see a different and more positive viewpoint, and you do make sense with all you say.
    However, I hope you don’t mind if I beg to differ with you about some of the things you share here, as I’d like to tell you how I feel about facebook lately, and others too, many others?

    Before I start, I must say that I actually enjoy Facebook,and look at it as a place with very much potential in so many avenues, for pleasure and business, and I try to use it as such, and many times I have tried to convince the naysayers of which I meet plenty of, that it’s a good, safe place with far more credibility than many will give it.

    I am not here to intentionally badmouth Facebook, or you for what you share, so please do not think that, as you continue to read my added views here; if I did not care about what you share, or about Facebook, I would not even bother being here or saying anything at all. Fact is I do care, and so I am very frustrated and bothered by many things regarding Facebook I wish the folks running the place would change or fix, before the place loses all it’s credibility, as I see it doing very quickly!

    Arlene, you say many valid things about Facebook, stuff like that it’s free, and also how it is easy to complain and just take for granted what we have to enjoy there; this is what I decipher from your fine words here, and you are correct in a way, however, again, there are many, many free places online, and also just as many that offer a lot of great ways to mingle too. Facebook does happen to have a special chemistry and appeal unique to its’ own that works, or millions would not be using it for various reasons they enjoy it, or do their ‘business’ upon it.

    Yes, Facebook is free to users, but, it also wants us to use it, it entices us in so many ways, suggesting to us that it is the best for us, and that we will be safe there whether we use it for a family sharing, or finding and making lots of friends; it also tells us in many places that all we share will not ever be used or shared maliciously; for all intensive purposes Facebook advertises itself to be fair, and safe, and user friendly for all, and a very credible and trusted website. That means they have a lot to hold up to, that is a responsibility on their part, as other sites often warn you different; there are websites where before you join they will advise you in various ways that they are not responsible, and what you should be aware of etc.
    Facebook acts like an innocent growing community that is here for all that join, that is why it has skyrocketed and has grown!! That, and the user interface, and yes, even the safety settings in place that do make us all feel far more secure and safer there than anywhere else, so safe that people actually do use their real identities, whereas many, many places online people make up fictitious names and hardly share any reality as they do upon Facebook.

    For this reason, Facebook has even more to hold up to its’ credibility as an online place that caters to its’ clientèle to uphold what they preach and attract us with.

    Facebook also stipulates various rules, such as certain things will not be tolerated, like fakes, and clones for example. If it is found that a same user has more than one account, they will be de-activated without warning. Facebook also has censorship guidelines in place to be followed. Rules are plenty.

    Okay, all that out of the way now, here is my beef’s..
    Some you already mentioned, like the one about the defaults Facebook has where they will automatically leave the users ‘open season’ on search engines etc…but there is more to this. What really bothers me is that even once we find these settings when we become aware of them, usually by other friends or searching around, we are NOT told, that Facebook makes changes or add ons randomly with even more default ‘open’ settings similar, once again leaving us ‘open season’ in newer ways, so that once again, unless we know or find out, we are ‘vulnerable’ not only to what users may not want, but also to potential hackers.

    I do not think it is right that Facebook makes us believe we are safe, when in fact we are not if we have to find all this settings ourselves and keep a constant lookout in our settings for whatever Facebook may change once again.

    Another problem, and a big one, is all these third part apps on Facebook. We are bombarded with these, and okay, it’s all about fun and functionality, because people love playing games, and all these various fun puzzles and such can be a delight, but the trouble is, whenever someone uses them, it actually tells you that it will virally search through all your friends lists! That to me is a privacy concern we have little control over, unless we once again know how to disable all these apps, which then kind of takes away from a lot of the functionality and fun on Facebook.
    What is more, these past few months, these apps have gotten so out of hand where it appears like anyone can try to create one, whether they know what they do or not, and users are the testing ground, and often these apps do not work, and instead are strewn with viruses or malicious malware because of incompetence of those that are in a rush to throw them out there!! This is annoying in more ways than one, as many users get these plastered on their walls constantly; also they slow things down and cause all sorts of problems with other posts being lost or disappearing, and again, hackers getting through via these apps that are bogus or garbage!

    Now I will mention another big beef, not only from me, but many, many people I know on facebook, that of double standards! Facebook has certain censorship rules and also stipulates users can only have one profile per person. What happens is wrong, as a person can post an artistic nude, or even a couple kissing, and be reported by another user, and thus get de-activated without any warning or second thought, just like that, yet, another user can have far more explicit images or even very graphic decapitations and violent images, and even far more explicit nudity, and nothing happens to them!! This is unfair tactics, and also bias!
    Facebook depends on its’ users to monitor and report stuff, this leaves so much upon immaturity and also spites and conflicts that happen, and jealousy, and bias and discrimination as well! Here is another example where this is totally a double standard! Users get banned for nudity or questionable material, and yet ads are exempt from this, as I have known many friends get booted from facebook, one I knew was banned just for posting a couple kissing, and yet, I still to this day see an ad depicting ‘bestiality’, where a woman is being raped by an animal, and it is very explicit and I have reported it, and it still slaps me in the face when I see it again and again; there are many more very bad ads and in very poor taste, and whether they are paid for or not should not be a question, for one thing, bestiality is highly illegal, and another, how can facebook dictate rules upon one area and not the others when the rules are apparently supposed to cover ‘all of facebook’, and yet, they allow the ads to get away with stuff users would be de-activated for without any warning?!

    Facebook has no way to contact them directly, and even when you do happen to find some measure to get through via email, they never respond, or it is some auto bot response!

    My greatest beef is that Facebook has no human element to control facebook at all, or if they do, they are totally incompetent or don’t care! It is like they managed to start a great online thing, got many users, and once they reached their quota, they no longer care as more gets taken away, and users, who actually make that place what it is, get treated like dirt! Now listen again please, as I say once more, the users make that place what it is. Without the users, without the customer base, facebook would be nothing, and any business on there would not sell anything without the users to see them or buy them. I have worked in management in retail and the idea is that customers are gold, and so what happened to Facebook as all of a sudden their customers no longer matter? They are just a number quota and that is all?

    Facebook has a duty to uphold its’ rules properly and professionally on all, users and businesses alike, or state the differences upon joining up as a warning that users will be treated one way, and businesses will be treated like gold! They do not do this, so what they do is bias and wrong!

    This also pertains to clones, or people that have more than one profile; as I happen to know for a fact that the average users have not only one more identity on Facebook but some have upwards of ten or twenty or MORE! This should not even happen today with our technology of IP addresses and so many ways to prevent and find this. Once again, facebook depends upon its’ users to let them know and report this kind of abuse.

    Facebook has an obligation to it’s members, it is not all about, well, it’s free, so just be happy, and stop being negative. I am actually very positive about facebook and would love more of my friends to join, and I would enjoy knowing all those I have on facebook as friends would have more trust and faith after they have been hacked or have caught viruses from facebook due to the flaws and incompetence and lack of proper screening and maintenance on behalf of facebook that is the responsibility of facebook! May I say that facebook has become too big for its’ own good? That is often what happens, once they have what they want, quality and substance goes downhill and customers suffer.

    I like facebook, and I am concerned that users will get fed up, as I already see many leave now…and more and more all we have is children and young adults playing games on there, and not just facebook games, but games upon other people, and also another big problem is solicitations, often sex acts for money as there is a lot of pimping going on upon facebook that should never happen in such a place that is claiming to be so wholesome and wants to grow upon its’ credibility!!

    One last thing that I already have noticed that stems outside of facebook is more and more businesses and companies and even the Governments and libraries no longer trust facebook due to so many mishaps and all this garbage that I mentioned above, and so they block facebook more and more, so no one can access it anywhere! Tell me, what good are all the businesses on facebook when no one will see them or be able to access anything, and what good is networking in a place where it does no good, when once again, no one sees you from outside because facebook is blocked everywhere from any reputable corporations and businesses?!! Nuts to that?

    Facebook has such great potential and so much going for it, and all more and more useless as facebook is becoming more a playground for pranks and lunacy and underground money making schemes upon the unaware than much else. That is sad, that is so unnecessary, and I sure wish facebook would look at all this and fix all this before it is all too late! I also wish they would really consider having human staff on hand to monitor things, even part time, this would profit much more in the longterm, in a place that now appears to think only in the short term. which is slowly killing all credibility of facebook as a real good tool, and making it into what so many already see as a children’s playground and a good place to get lucky with the opposite sex!!

    I thank you kindly for reading my response and I hope I have added some value of a differing point of view, from a facebook user that enjoys the place for so many reasons, and who also has a business too, and is concerned about my own credibility on there by how things are degenerating so quickly in so many various ways.


    ~ Peter

    1. Peter: Thank you for taking the time to read and especially for taking the time to write. I’m personally ambivalent about Facebook and don’t disagree with anything you’ve said. They’ve shown an alarming tendency to change the rules after the game’s already started, and for a “social” medium don’t have a human face or contact mechanism at all. That being said, they’re the 800-pound gorilla, and we need to keep (prudently) playing the game with them as they and we evolve.

  4. Thanks Arlene. It drives me insane when I see people blindly reposting those panicked updates without regard for the details. Thanks for helping us clear it up for those “nervous nellies”

    1. Thank you for the kind words. I’m pleasantly surprised at how much this post has resonated with people!

  5. There is a very long standing USENET group called “alt.conspiracy” which is dedicated to conspiracy posts and similar rants. Several HUNDRED every day!

    About once a month one comes along that has some originality and it hits the headlines.

    IMHO “alt.conspiracy” should be required reading before using the Internet. 🙂

    1. Or at least snopes… it’s amazing what people, even ordinarily sensible ones, will take on faith just because they saw someone else post it.

    1. Thank you for reading, and for taking the time to comment. Much appreciated :).

  6. Excellent post Arlene. There is so much misinformation and fear being spread around FB…I am glad you are being the voice of reason on this issue…very refreshing 🙂 – Jimmy

  7. Thanks Arlene:

    I found you through @MariSmith’s posting on Facebook about this Hoax.

    I’ll be happy to share your article! (It did not sit right with me when I first heard about it, but I DID go and ask Mari about it! 😉


    1. Thanks for sharing and for taking the time to leave a comment, Roz. Glad you found the post useful 🙂

  8. I’ll admit that I “kinda” panicked. Well, at least I made the privacy settings change (to 3rd Party Ads) and than proceeded to share on Facebook.

    However, even though it may be a (mini) meme, it seems like there is still *some* truth, right? The Facebook Ads tab has this language:

    “Facebook does not give third party applications or ad networks the right to use your name or picture in ads. If we allow this in the future, the setting you choose will determine how your information is used.”

    It’s the last part that rubs me the wrong way. You are giving them permission “if they allow it in the future.” Seems to me that it would not hurt to change that setting to “No One.” Would you agree?

    As far as the Social Ads setting, the language is a bit more clear, specifically this bullet:

    “If a photo is used, it is your profile photo and not from your photo albums.”

    I did not make the change there – left as “only my friends.”

    Thanks for pointing this out. Curious to hear your thoughts on the above.

    DJ Waldow
    Director of Community, Blue Sky Factory

    1. Hi DJ, and thanks for your comments and question. I’m still against giving permission for social ads. Just because I “like” a page, or use an app, doesn’t mean I consent to my image being used to promote that product, brand or service. Which brings to mind another think to regularly check on your FB profile: do you still genuinely “Like” everything that you clicked on once upon a time? Still use all the apps you’ve installed? Especially if one is consenting to FB Social Ads, it’s best to make sure.

      1. Wow. Excellent point. Liking and giving consent to my avatar/profile pic being used it a bit different. Agreed.

        Re-checking all of my “likes” now. One issue I run into is that I tend to “like” a lot more than I really like (in real life) as I do a lot of social media at my company. I find myself liking clients pages all of the time. That being said, if I client was doing or stood for something I was against, I still would not like them.

      2. This is a great point Arlene!

        It is so easy to “Like” a page on FB, but my liking something should not mean that you can use my name and likeness for YOUR promotion without my permission!

        Aloha, QR Code Ken

        1. Exactly. And taking a bit of my own medicine, even though my Social Ads permissions are set to “No One,” I just went through my FB profile and deleted a number of Pages that I’d previously “Liked.” The truth is that FB may change its Terms going forward, and grant advertisers new permissions that users will need to go through and undo.

  9. Thanks for the clarification, Arlene — and in-depth explanation! This seems to be a recurring “Old Social Media Tale.” Oh and the ‘See What you Look Like…’ is going around too! lol Thanks, Arlene 😉

    1. I’d like to think that much of this could be avoided if Facebook simply made everything private by default, and you had to opt-in to less-private settings… then people would understand (in theory) what they were agreeing to share. Of course, Facebook would make much less on advertising were that the case, and then people might have to (gasp) pay for the service… 🙂 Thanks for the comment, Becky, I appreciate your time! 🙂

      1. Excellent point, Arlene. In the world of email marketing, we call what FB is doing “passive opt-in.” It’s the equivalent of pre-checking an opt-in box. Actually, this is even worse b/c you don’t even know the settings are that way by default.

  10. Hi Arlene, First time here and I appreciate your content and will be coming back 😉 You said it best Arlene “It’s a good idea, and your responsibility, to regularly review all of your Facebook privacy settings and make sure they’re how you want them to be.” I have seen over the weeks
    I’m using to build my professional reputation on Facebook. Please visit my profile and click the “Recommend” button to support me”
    Old Man Picture Scam – “see what you look like when you’re old” (paraphrased)

    It is our own responsibility to keep checking for spams & scams and make sure privacy setting is up to par…:)
    Thank You for this GREAT POST Arlene and shedding light.

    Therese Miu

    1. Thank you for the kind words, Therese. I’ve been amazed, recently at the number of people – who I know to well aware of the dangers of phishing and link-baiting – who have nonetheless fallen for the “see what you’ll look like when you’re old” spam!

  11. Arlene, this is an awesome, educational post: thanks so much! I went ahead and made adjustments in my account settings.

    When I first started, I had moments of panic when these “danger danger Will Robinson” type messages appeared. I’ve since learned to pause, and go to trusted sources like Mari Smith, and now that I’ve found you…you!

    Many thanks Mari for posting this on FB, and Arlene for the great info. Cheers! Kaarina

  12. Thank you, Arlene. I will spread this around because I have friends who panic very easily. I also have friends who seem to be a bit dim, financially – they read that Facebook is worth x million/billion/gazillion but don’t realise that as it is a free utility, its value is in its advertising. Sigh.

    1. What you say is so true, Morag. People feel such an intimate connection to Facebook because their friends, family and colleagues are there, that they forget that the way they “pay” for it is their data. I do wonder, should FB ever offer a subscription model in exchange for greater privacy, how many people would opt for it.

  13. Like!

    Thank you Arlene for this myth-busting post!!! I tire of these panic-memes that seem to spread fast and poke holes at Facebook… yet the onus is always on the user to tweak the complex privacy settings to their liking.

    I’m sharing your post with my peeps.

    1. Thank you for the share, Mari! It would be so helpful if Facebook would aggregate all its various Privacy settings on a single page. It’s too easy to miss one or more when you have to drill down to even find them. On the other hand, the people who complain most vociferously are usually the same ones who click “OK” to things without knowing or understanding what they’re agreeing to… or who re-post other people’s status memes without checking them out for themselves ;).

  14. And it’s also a good idea to take status memes like the one above with a grain of salt. Usually a quick bit of googling will let you know if it’s an accurate claim or not.

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