Chapter 4: Privacy & Content Ownership

Online Privacy

When was the last time you were asked to “Accept Cookies”? Probably today. The tracking of our digital lives through cookies, web analytics, social media platforms and employer apps is constantly expanding. And what are cookies, anyway?

Person holding binoculars with the facebook logo in each eye: Facebook is watching you

Photo by Glen Carrie on Unsplash

As an issue, privacy spans the realms of both our physical and digital lives; it is incredibly complex and multifaceted. What one person considers private information, another may willingly share with a large circle of friends or even strangers, particularly on social media.

While digital information-sharing provides countless opportunities for community-building, collaboration and education, the broad disclosure of personal information can have potentially damaging effects. Aside from making oneself a target for nuisance interactions, such as spam, more significant attacks also become more problematic, such as phishing, hacking, harassment, stalking, doxxing, and fraud. At its most damaging, publication or abuse of personal information on the Internet can, and has, stigmatized vulnerable individuals, tarnished or destroyed reputations, terminated careers, and even caused some people the loss of their jobs, family, identity, or lives.

In British Columbia, there are two primary information privacy laws: the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA) and the Personal Information Protection Act (PIPA). These laws set out the minimum standards that employers, employees, and service providers (including College instructors) must follow to prevent unreasonable, unnecessary, or unsafe sharing of personal information belonging to staff, clients, customers, and the general public. BC has some of the strongest personal privacy laws in Canada and, arguably, one of the best in the world, alongside Great Britain, Australia, and New Zealand.

Organizations with social media accounts need to take notice! These laws are in force if they are operating in the province of British Columbia, even if the internet is a global digital space. What happens in Vegas most certainly does not stay in Vegas, as it were.

In the context of maintaining an online presence, there are two main privacy concerns for organizations: “transactional” privacy and content ownership.

Transactional Privacy

“Transactional” privacy is the privacy of meta data that identifies individuals or their computers (e.g. IP addresses) and what they access online, when, for how long, and with whom. Meta data refers to data that is captured through information exchanges when a user is browsing the internet, including any tab or window that is open, logged into an online application, submitting a form, purchasing a product, or clicking a link. This type of information is typically kept in cookies that are requested and downloaded from websites onto your computer then shared with websites or web apps that you visit. (For personal privacy, manage cookie options every opportunity you get!)

Dashbar showing transactional dataHere are few examples of what cookies do:

  1. Netflix remembers where you last stopped watching a particular show/movie.
  2. Amazon remembers what you had in your cart last time you logged in, even if you didn’t buy anything.
  3. Facebook remembers your login information so that you don’t need to login in every time you visit the website.

When a particular site has Google Analytics installed, a lot of information is shared with a website host:

  • an individual’s MAC (media access control) address,
  • IP (internet protocol) address, and
  • any information Google can ascertain from your Google profile (when you are logged in or have saved login information on a particular site).

Particular attention needs to be paid if you are using a software application that is hosted and managed in the US. Firms in the US buy digital information for sale at auctions. Large multi-national organizations, such as Google, Meta (which owns Facebook, Instragram, Threads, and WhatsApp), SnapChat, FourSquare, and Twitter are all based in the US. These companies broker and auction transactional information to advertisers to help strategically control their respective markets.

As we move through the course, you will learn more about how much businesses know about customers to target advertisements. When you use social media or many other website services (e.g.,, you consent to the terms and conditions of a privacy policy for that given company. In some cases, you will be asked to click a checkbox agreeing that you have read the conditions outlining how that specific company will (or won’t) protect your privacy. This “privacy through policy” system leaves users vulnerable, as many people do not take the time to read through the conditions and simply click “agree.” This can lead to the sale of personal information by companies, often without a user’s awareness.

Content Ownership

Content ownership is concerned with the privacy of an individual’s words, views, opinions, images, relationships, exchanges or reviews online.

Types of online privacy
Source Transactional Content
Static Website (no database capabilities)
Content is copyrighted by author/business, unless otherwise stated. (i.e., wikicommons)
Dynamic Website
Cookies, Web Analytics Content is copyrighted by author/business, unless otherwise stated. (i.e., ToS;DR)
Facebook & Instagram (Meta Inc.)
Cookies, usage data tracked, data shared with third-parties under “terms of service” Content is copyrighted by creator, however, owned by Meta Inc.
GMail, Google Drive, Docs (Alphabet Inc.)
Usage data tracked Content is copyrighted and owned by creator
Employer tracking apps
GPS (location), screen captures, check-in/out, attendance, etc. How content is copyrighted depends on an employee’s contract.

By default, copyright is provided to the author(s) or organization of the documents’ creator, according to the laws of the country from which they operate. Some companies, such as Meta, apply their own licensing onto the content published on their site. This is agreed to in the Terms of Service when users create their accounts.

In the case of Facebook and many other similar platforms, they do not grant themselves full property rights over your content, but they do claim royalty-free redistribution rights and they are absolved of any copyright infringement claims that might occur from others copying your content from them.


Copyright provides security and protection for an original literary, musical, dramatical or artistic work. The author has the right to prevent others from reproducing or copying the work. A work is by default copyrighted once is has been created and fixed in material form (Canadian Intellectual Property Office, n.d.).


Many types of licensing exist for all digital media that allow the copying and reproduction of an original work of writing or art. For example, in BC, educators can use the Fair Dealings Policy to upload and create copies of up to 10% of a copyright-protected work for their courses.

Read The Educator’s Guide to Copyright, Fair Use, and Creative Commons. This article outlines important distinctions regarding copyright use and provides a number of important rules you must follow to avoid copyright infringement.

Creative Commons

In a way, Creative Commons (CC) licenses are what the internet was originally intended to be: an open sharing of knowledge, ideas, and other content to enrich and advance humanity.

Creative Commons licenses offer a variety of attributes that can be applied (or not) by the original content creators, at their own discretion. For example, most content creators create a “BY” requirement; anybody who wants to use that content in the future must state who originally created the content (that is, who it was “by”). All CC licenses allow content to be accessed for free; that’s at the heart of the license policy. Many Creative Commons licenses include a “Share Alike” license (“SA”), which means that future users of the content must agree to share the content, just as they are using it. Many specify that the content cannot be used for commercial purposes at all (“NC”).

Content creators can consider their options and apply the Creative Commons license simply by adding it to the content. However, once that has been done, the content is forever in the Creative Commons and can be reproduced by others, as per the specific terms of the license.

Users can see the bottom of this page for examples of attributions to original content creators. This OER textbook is covered by an “attribution-share alike-non-commercial” Creative Commons license, which means you’re free to repurpose this content, as long as you allow others to do the same with your work, give credit to the original author(s), and never receive any payment for the content.

Consumer Privacy & Data Ethics

As more and more data is collected and tracked, there will continue to be a tension between organizations wanting to know more about their target audiences and consumers wanting to protect their privacy and personal data. Data protection is being monitored by governments across the globe. As a result, organizations will need to rely on building truly meaningful relationships with their target audiences that are based on trust, value, and consent, which brings us to data ethics.

Data ethics is about responsible and sustainable use of data. Organizations will need to have policies in place that serve their audiences well. This will likely involve giving consumers more control over their data, providing a level of transparency, holding organizations accountable, and keeping customer data secure. Data is a powerful asset for any organization. Yet, with this power comes increased organizational responsibility to use it wisely, appropriately, and ethically.

The Value of Human Data

We are learning the hard way that we must fight for our privacy online. ​As an early leader in the social media platform market, Facebook set very poor standards for the protection of user privacy because access to personally identifiable user data was immensely profitable for the company. Before Facebook, users of online sites frequently used avatars and crafted usernames that didn’t connect to details of their offline lives.

Still, countless online sites permit or encourage users to create online identities apart from their face-to-face identities. Many of today’s younger internet users choose platforms with higher standards for privacy, limiting the audiences that their posts reach and the periods of time those posts last. Youth frequently have “finsta” accounts—“fake” Instagrams that they share with nosy family and acquaintances, while only good friends and in-the-know audiences have access to their “real” Instagrams. Practices like these force developers to offer users more control over user privacy and the reach of their posts, at the risk of losing users to competitors.

Users shape platforms and platforms shape user behaviour.

Media Attributions

  1. Canadian Intellectual Property Office. (n.d.). A guide to copyright.
  2. Creative Commons. (n.d.) . Share your work.

This chapter was partially adapted from Maintaining an Online Presence: Business Management of a Digital Presence by Julia Grav, which is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

This chapter was partially adapted from Foundations in Digital Marketing: Building Meaningful Customer Relationships and Engaged Audiences by Rochelle Grayson, which is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

This chapter was partially adapted from Humans R Social Media by Diana Daly, which is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.


Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

Social Media & Reputation Management Copyright © 2023 by Sam Schechter is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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