The price of free social media



This is the second column in a series where I will discuss key aspects at the crux of the data-driven economy, especially the role of Big Data. The previous column discussed how technology giants have emerged as the most valuable corporations in the world, mainly due to millions of users and the data each provides. Since many of us rely daily on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, LinkedIn, Twitter and Weibo, I discuss what we give up in exchange for access and use of these online services and platforms.

I cannot find a single person who has fully read the terms and conditions of these social media platforms. After all, who has the time? Besides, we all know that what we post is owned by us, right? What if I told you that while we indeed own the content, it is a diluted sense of ownership at best.

All the terms and conditions of each of these services say as much. In fact they have practically the same exact phrase with regard to ownership.The terms of Instagram, for instance, states that “Instagram does not claim ownership of any Content that you post on or through the Service. Instead, you hereby grant to Instagram a non-exclusive, fully paid and royalty-free, transferable, sub-licensable, worldwide license to use the Content that you post on or through the Service, subject to the Service’s Privacy Policy…You can choose who can view your Content and activities, including your photos, as described in the Privacy Policy.”

These services are clear that they are not the owners of the content you post. That is all well and good until you read further. As content owners using the site, you grant them a “non-exclusive” license, meaning that you can license the content to other people. The license you grant to the sites, however, is completely free from the time it is deemed granted (fully paid) and for any future use (royalty-free).

They are also able to transfer the license you granted over your content (transferable), as well as sell the license to others (sub-licensable), again completely free of charge. After all, you granted a royalty-free license to them in the first place for any future use.

You can, of course, choose to terminate the license granted by simply deleting your content from the sites. This would be the first step you can do to protect your content from being used. However, many sites such as Facebook and Instagram indicate that while you can delete the content from your own page or profile, the same content will still remain on the service if it was shared by another user since it is already part of their account, not yours.

Another option is to select the “only me” privacy setting for certain content you don’t want others to see and eventually share. Of course, this is counter-productive as many people use these sites in the first place to share
events and happenings in their lives to friends.

The question now is how can we protect the content we own from being freely distributed and used? In my opinion, it is a matter of personal choice. We all are dependent on these sites to connect us with our friends, get our news and see what is happening. We also have the power to choose what we post and upload. If you have photos that you feel may have economic value, then don’t post them. My father, for instance, has albums of digital sketches he makes and while many see them as valuable art, he sees them as more of a hobby. My many diver-photographer friends, on the other hand, take photos that they may see value in and would be better off not posting many of their rare or valuable ones online.

I am not emphasizing these terms to scare anyone off social media; I’m on each of these platforms and sites myself. What I’m doing is trying to inform of the rights you are giving away so you can better choose what content to post.

The author is the founder, CEO and counselor for Compliance, Trade & Investment and Government Relations & Public Policy at Caucus, Inc., a multi-industry and multi-disciplinary consultancy firm. He graduated MBA from De La Salle University, Juris Doctor from Far Eastern University and LLM in International Commercial Law from the University of Nottingham. He was a Chevening-HSBC UK Government Scholar, a Confucius Institute Scholar and an alumnus of the US State Department’s International Visitor Leadership Program. He teaches at the College of Law of the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila and at the College of Arts and Sciences of Miriam College. The author may be emailed at


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