Those Disclaimers You Add To Your Social Media Profiles Do Exactly Nothing

These disclaimers may be popular, but they are usually ineffective.

Sometimes I see someone who will proudly proclaim to the world that they solved some perceived problem with what a social media platform is going by adding some verbiage to their public profile on that platform. For instance, someone on Facebook might add “I do not give Facebook the authorization to do [this and that] with the data in my profile.” That’s cute, and usually ineffective.

Let me explain.

Let’s say BigCorp decides to set up a social medial platform. When you create an account there, they ask if you accept the Terms Of Service (TOS). If you accept them, they create an account. What do you think happens if you don’t accept them? They won’t let you create an account. They might tell you that they are sorry, or the button to create the account might be unclickable until you accept the TOS. Now, in theory, you are free to modify the TOS, and make a counter-offer. However, I’ve not seen any site that has a mechanism to do this.

What I’ve described here is essentially contract negotiation. Someone offers a contract. If you don’t like something in it, you can edit the contract and make a counteroffer. At then end of the day, both you and the other party have to agree to the final contract. Some contracts will contain provisions if you want to change the terms, but even without those provisions, you definitely cannot change a contract unilaterally.

“But what if BigCorp decides to change the TOS?”

They have to notify you of the change. A lot of companies will email you saying the TOS is about to change and encouraging you to read the new TOS. I am pretty sure that they don’t have to highlight the changes, unfortunately. They just need to tell you that there is a new TOS, and where you can read it. You have the choice to accept the new TOS, or reject it. I think there are some cases where a rejection won’t result in the termination of your account. However, in a lot of cases if you reject the new TOS, BigCorp can terminate your account.

“What if I don’t answer?”

If you don’t give an answer to the company regarding the new TOS, it is assumed that you have accepted it.

So let’s say that BigCorp has put into their TOS that they reserve the right to feed your data to AI, or the right they give themselves could be something even broader. If BigCorp, for instance, says that they can do anything with the data you post to their site, then feeding it to AI is part of anything. So you see that, and you decide to add to your profile a stipulation that your data cannot be fed to AI. What have you done?

Nothing. Nothing at all.

None of what you wrote there binds BigCorp. Why? Because you cannot unilaterally change a contract. Adding your stipulation to your profile is not proper notice of the desired change. You’d have to ask BigCorp if they are happy with this. Did you? No. Then your stipulation is ineffective. Let’s say you want to change the TOS and you want BigCorp’s approval. You’d have to find the proper person to ask for this. Maybe opening a ticket with them might work. At any rate, you have to give them the opportunity to refuse. Let’s suppose that you contact BigCorp and tell them of your plan. Can you assume that if they don’t answer, they’ve accepted the new terms?

I think you’d be on thin ice making this assumption. I checked the TOS of Facebook (Meta). First, they say that they can change the TOS whenever they want, they will notify you, and your continued usage of the service means that you’ve accepted the new TOS, just as I explained above. Conversely, they want any change you might want to be made to the TOS to be sent to them in writing and signed by them. Since an absence of response is not a signature, you’re out of luck.

This is partially why I qualified my ineffective with usually. I can see two ways in which your stipulation could work:

  1. The TOS already allows you to do this. “If you don’t want us to do so-and-so, put it in your profile.” I’ve never encountered a platform with this type of stipulation in their TOS.
  2. The platform has a mechanism by which they will listen to your proposed changes, and potentially accept them. In theory, Facebook allows it. In practice, good luck getting that signature.

However, unilaterally adding a stipulation to your profile without also contacting the company does not work. Some people say they’ve fixed something by adding a stipulation to their profile, without either explaining that the TOS already allowed it, or indicating that they contacted the company to modify the TOS, and that the company accepted their offer.

These people are misleading you.

These people are spreading dangerous misconceptions.






One response to “Those Disclaimers You Add To Your Social Media Profiles Do Exactly Nothing”

  1. ND Dev Avatar

    @yourautisticlife Fair enough. But what if I fear that Threads may federate with my Fedi instance and scrape content I post here? I've never accepted a TOS with Threads.I can block Threads if and when it ever federates, and I probably will, but that only inconveniences its users; it doesn't stop EvilCo from using the Mastodon Web interface to scrape everything I've written and feed it to an "AI".

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