US-IT-FACEBOOKThere is no privacy on Facebook. The site uses your personal information to attract advertisers and everything you put on there is basically for sale – unless you are a master fine-print reader and can navigate opting out of the various levels of engagement that exist on the site. The good news is, you are not required to have a profile.

Two years ago, Facebook agreed to pay $20 million in fines and change its privacy policies after it was found in a class-action lawsuit to have used members’ images without their permission. They were used in those “sponsored stories” that show up on your newsfeed. Many groups are accusing the site of still using images, especially of younger users who may not understand how or spend the time to opt out of such things.

Basically, whenever you “like” an establishment, check in there or use an app associated with that company, your image may be used next to a custom ad for the business in the Facebook news feed, suggesting that you endorse it. The same is obviously true for your kids. The settlement the company reached does little to change that policy. From The Washington Post:

“The settlement now says that in order to use Facebook you have to agree that Facebook can do this,” said Scott Michelman, an attorney for Public Citizen, one of a handful of public interest groups involved in the new lawsuit. “In a way, this is worse than before the settlement, because Facebook doesn’t have to change its practice and now has legal language in place to protect itself from further lawsuits.”

Users sign up for Facebook services assuming they are free. We now know that they aren’t. Your data is being mined and used – their service contracts change frequently and secretively. Can anyone really say that they are %100 sure their data is protected on Facebook? I think not.

“The few new “protections” in the settlement are a joke,” says Guardian writer Annie Leonard. “For most children, the only change is some new legalese in Facebook’s terms of service saying that any user under 18 ‘represents’ that her parent agrees to let Facebook use her image in ads.”

Leonard argues “the idea that teenagers are really going to sit down and read Facebook’s legal terms, let alone read carefully enough to understand what they’re signing up for” is “out of touch with reality.” I think she’s right. I also think this is where parents need to come in and understand it for their children if they have concerns. But this is also a problem, because if parents could easily navigate this stuff, there wouldn’t be a class-action lawsuit to begin with.

This issue is this: everyone assumes Facebook is a free service and we all have the right to use it with our privacies intact. Wrong. Facebook is a multi-billion dollar business that will use our information in whatever way it can. We are all just signing up and handing this information to them on a silver platter – that’s the main problem. It is illegal in several states to use a minor’s image in advertising without parental consent, but Facebook is wilier and has better lawyers. They can also afford to throw money at settlements.

Let me be clear; I am on the side of the parents here. I think they are totally right; Facebook should do more to protect users. I just don’t think they will. Do you want to protect your kids and their images? Keep them off of social media. In this day and age that is probably close to impossible, so the next best thing is keeping yourself informed so that you can make the ever-evolving privacy tweaks the company will inevitably try to hide from you.

(photo: Getty Images)