You may own your digital footprint, but will it be there tomorrow?

You know the drill. You register for the next shiny social networking site and click the Terms of Use "Accept" button faster than the speed of light. Most of us never read a word of the lengthy legal foo because it's boring and it makes our eyes bleed and we're in a hurry to lifecast our next thought before the moment is lost, or we want in before the crowd shows up and ruins the novelty.

In our haste, are we giving up ownership of bits of our digital selves or blindly banking on the fact that those bits won't be monetised by the site owners? Or worse, making the assumption that our content won't go poof one day without warning?

I'm definitely guilty as charged in this regard, but have made a vow to at least read enough of the legalese on the sites I currently post content to so I know the rights that matter to me most:

  1. Do I own my content on this site?
  2. Does the site co-own my content?
  3. If they co-own my content, what can they do with it?

Most site's terms of use agreements lean far, far over to protecting the site owners, but some totally get that it's in their best interest to take care of their community members by granting them (co)ownership their content. Examples:

Twitter: "Twitter is allowed to "use, copy, reproduce, process, adapt, modify, publish, transmit, display and distribute" your tweets because that's what we do. However, they are your tweets and they belong to you."

Facebook: "You own all of the content and information you post on Facebook..." (it's worth reading the dots on this one).

Sun Blogs\*: "Under the license, you will get to use and copy your blog in its entirety, and we can keep your entire blog in place at http://blogs.sun.com." \*Side note: Note that this is a corporate blog site. Sun has always been a leader in defining sensible corporate social content guidelines, so it's not entirely surprising that they'd progressively cover this base as well. It's good to know your rights as an employee who contributes social media content to company sanctioned sites.


OK, so you own your content. Now what?

Ownership is just half the battle. Assuming you own a copy of your content, does any of that matter if you don't religiously back-up a local copy? Not really. Most sites have a sensible back-up strategy, but there's no guarantee that they'll restore missing or damaged content and there's definitely no guarantee that they'll perpetually host your content so your children's, children's, children can cherish your immortal and compelling lifecasts.

In addition to knowing your content ownership rights, before you decide on posting content to a site, be sure to know if there's a feature that enables exporting of your content. Alternatively, check-out services that make this process a bit more convenient, but all of the above applies to them too.

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Sr. Community Engineering Program Manager/Acting Director for Sun's external social networking sites (blogs, forums, wikis, etc.). Skrocki's personal blog, LinkedIn.

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