How the pictures you publish on Facebook can be used by advertising companies and journalists


At the moment I’m writing, more than 800 million people are registrated on Facebook around the world, uploading 250 million of photos per day. By doing so, they are actually feeding one of the biggest databases in the world, and the least we can say is that this database is far from being the one protecting the content of what is posted on it. Indeed, when reading the Facebook’s Terms of Service (what we usually don’t do), we see that Facebook is appropriating itself all the rights on anything that is uploaded on the website.

Following these regulations, some rumors started to spread, mostly by wall posts. Here is what the main message said : “Facebook had agreed to let third party advertisers use your posted pictures without your permission”. Does it mean that a coffee company for example could use a picture of a person drinking coffee to promote its product without their consent ? Barry Schmitt, manager of policy communications at Facebook, explained in a post of July 2009 that it was not the case, and that the companies who did it were violating the website’s policy and were required to remove their ads.

Source : Guhmshoo’s webpage

I have to say that I see a few problems here. First, the fact that this information have been disclaimed in 2009 and the rumor is still flowing in the end of 2011 shows that Facebook’s data protection policy’s credibility has been low for a certain time. Then, not only Facebook dispossesses people from their rights on their materials, but they are also totally unable to prevent external companies to use their image. Even if those are requested to remove the illegal ads, the damage is done, and depending on what their image has been used for, these people’s life can be affected to a high level.

Source : Guhmshoo’s webpage

I have to admit that it is difficult (or impossible) for Facebook to prevent people’s image to be used if they do not manage their privacy settings in order to hide their content to the public. But what about those who limit the access to their profile to their list of contacts only ? Are their pictures 100% safely stocked ? Why is Facebook dispossessing people from the rights they have on their photos if they assure they care about their privacy and don’t pass these rights on to anyone else ? There are too many shadow zones here. In my opinion, if Facebook was a secret agent, not only it would be a double one, but its cover would be shattered pretty fast.


Nowadays, Facebook is the gold mine of pictures databases, because people themselves are providing it with their personal materials. As journalists, we are aware that messages, news, articles are always more powerful with a picture to illustrate it. The era of digital media, has made it much easier to access and transmit all sorts of photos of anyone, from anywhere and in any kind of situation. Therefore, isn’t it tempting, when a person doesn’t want to give you a photo, or let you take a shot, to just screen their Facebook profile, or their friends’, in order to get one ? Would it be legal ?

Source :

In Switzerland, the Press Council had to deal with such a case. At the end, they declared that “in a social network such as Facebook, the communication is usually used for exchanging images and information between private people – even if it is partly accessible to everyone – and is mostly none of the public’s concern. Not because they publish something on Facebook means that people agree to make it accessible to the public.”

The problem here is that such a decision is not legally binding. Indeed, the Swiss Press Council is a structure that enables disputes related to journalism to be solved out of a court. Because they tacitly accept to be subject to its rules, journalists usually respect them and comply with the decisions of the Press Council. But what happens when they don’t ?

Source :

At the end of November 2011, almost all the newspapers in the French speaking part of Switzerland published the picture of a teacher making a bad joke in front of the gate located at the entrance of the concentration camp of Auschwitz. In his mind, the aim of the shot was just to make his friends have a good laugh, but the consequence was that this man got fired of his job.

As journalists, we should think twice before using a picture taken from a private online page, because the consequences can be devastating. But as people, we should think even longer before posting it. Let’s protect ourselves from what Facebook is not able to.

Source : Dave Makes

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  1. #1 by Doline on January 5, 2012 - 10:32

    Merci pour cet article très détaillé et passionnant à lire. Je pense qu’un des problèmes auquel nos sociétés sont ajd confrontées est le manque d’éducation, déjà à l’école, en ce qui concerne la “privacy” sur le net. À quand un programme scolaire qui s’occupera d’éduquer les enfants à ce propos? Cela existe-t-il déjà dans certains pays?

  2. #2 by Cloé on January 5, 2012 - 19:20

    D’après ce que j’ai pu voir sur YouTube en écrivant cet article, certains pays (not. GB et Australie) ont un programme de prévention qui fonctionne par spots publicitaires (ThinkUKnow). Je ne sais pas quelle ampleur ça a là-bas, mais en ce qui concerne la Suisse, je n’ai pas l’impression que quelque chose de tel existe, et c’est bien dommage !

    GB :
    Australie :

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