A 2012 internet hoax is making the rounds again, tricking naïve Instagram users into sharing a big block of legal text that in no way, shape, or form protects them, their pictures, or their data from being shared online.
The hoax is so convincing, that it's been reposted by Hollywood actors and government officials, with both Julia Roberts and US Energy Secretary Rick Perry deciding to share it with the world, which has given it more credential than it deserves.
We explain who owns the rights to the images you post on social media, and how you can wrestle back control from the likes of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram (spoiler: it involves deleting them).
Instagram Privacy Hoax – What's Going On?
If you're lucky enough to have avoided any instances of this iteration of the popular social media hoax, let's explain. Essentially, social media users are being encouraged to share a block of legal text (pictured here) that, according to said text, will prevent Instagram — or whichever social media platform you find it on — from using your pictures. Tragically, this is patently untrue.
The hoax has been circulating around the internet for the better part of a decade now, but still somehow finds unsuspecting tech newbies to share it with everyone they know. Usher shared it, Rob Lowe shared it, Julia Roberts shared it, even US Energy Secretary Rick Perry shared it, which is a decidedly bad sign for the future of US energy.
While it's obviously enjoyable to make fun of people that fall pray to this kind of hoax, it is indicative of just how complicated the internet is, and how little information everyday users have when it comes to their online privacy.
The Labyrinth of Data Ownership
As you've likely discovered, online data ownership rules are blurry at best, particularly when it comes to social media. Despite their innocuous appearance, those terms of service agreements you blindly agree to when you sign up for the platform are actually elaborate, legally-binding documents. I know, we were surprised too!
If you could read them — which no one can — they would tell you that Instagram and Facebook have endless control over your pictures, your posts, and your data, and there's not much you can do about it short of cancelling your subscription (which is surprisingly difficult) and uninstalling the apps. Fortunately, you can take steps to protect yourself online outside of the social media realm.
Protecting Your Privacy Online
Simply put, social media is where data goes to be mined, and despite Congressional hearings, national councils, and antitrust investigations, that's not going to stop anytime soon. However, the rest of the internet is just as bad when it comes to harvesting your precious personal information, which is where a wide range of software can protect your online privacy in one way or another.
A good VPN, for example, allows you to connect to websites, use online tools, and download content anonymously, so that your data won't be out in the open for the taking. Password managers house a fully encrypted catalog of your many PINs and codes required to get into your accounts, and keeps track of them for you, so no one can use “P@a55w0rd” to get access to your bank statement.
Again though, these aren't going to help against social media's firm grip on your personal information and photos, and neither will posting a big block of legal text on your page. The reality is Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube already have control over all that stuff, and the only thing that's going to change that is policy.
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