La manipulation d’images, en tant que données à caractère personnel, par Facebook – une étude de cas pour une approche éthique

Are you familiar with Meta’s terms of service and how your personal data is handled and used? In the article below, we’ll focus on a narrow aspect of Facebook’s recent rebranding to Meta and how it relates to the use of images on its platform. While there is a wealth of literature regarding ethical standards of social media marketing, this article will only address the specific issue of how Meta explains the use of images, especially those containing personal data such as a person’s face. It’s important to note that images on Facebook can be considered personal data, and in this article we’ll explore the possible ethical issues surrounding their use, especially with respect to Meta’s terms and conditions. To be more precise, the terms “Facebook” and “Meta” will be used interchangeably in this article.

Meta revenue based on user images

Meta’s use of the user’s images to generate revenue from advertisers is not fully explained in the commercial terms. However, reading carefully, it is clear that personal data, including images, is used to determine which advertisements will be shown to users[1]. In addition, Facebook’s terms of service state that companies and organizations pay to show ads to users[2] and that personal data is used to determine the relevance of those ads[3]. However, the language used in the Terms of Service is vague and it is not clear to what extent users have choice in the advertisements they see.

Facebook also claims not to share personal data without permission[4], but it is unclear how users can give this permission or how it can be obtained.

It is also unclear whether or not a sale of personal data is taking place[5]. Greater transparency is needed to ensure an ethical approach to show how user data is processed.

Terminology and user knowledge – an ethical issue

The statement in Facebook’s Terms of Service regarding users’ ownership of their intellectual property is problematic and potentially misleading[6]. This statement does not take into account situations where the creator’s intellectual property rights in his or her creation may belong to someone else or to a group of co-creators, for example under an agreement or agreement to work for remuneration.

In addition, Facebook’s terms imply that users can control the use and sharing of their content, stating that “nothing in these Terms deprives you of the rights you own to your own content,” but they exclude any responsibility or obligation to remove images that have been reshared by others. [7]

From an ethical point of view, Facebook should be more transparent about these situations with its users. For example, Facebook should explain that, under certain circumstances, images posted by their rightful owner can no longer be deleted. It should also be clarified that users are allowed to share their own copyrighted content, but it is strongly recommended to obtain permission first, as images may contain other people’s rights.

Facebook’s terms of business use legalese that can be difficult for untrained users to understand. For example, the statement “we need certain permissions from you” is unclear and should instead be worded more simply, such as “you must agree.” In addition, the statement suggests that Facebook only requires “some” permissions, when in fact is granted a full and unlimited license without royalties.

The link between the completely free license and the need to provide and improve Facebook’s products and services is not clearly explained[8] and an explanation is needed to tie the license to the fact that Facebook uses user content to display personalized, revenue-generating ads for Facebook.

In addition, the terms of use do not clearly explain that the license granted is not for an unlimited duration and that each new download of content generates a new unlimited license, which must be terminated by deleting the content. Terms of use need to be more specific in this regard, as they address content as a whole, rather than treating each download individually[9].

Loss of control and loss of rights over images

An important consequence of posting content to a public account is the loss of control and rights over images. When a user posts an image, the license allows Meta or any user in the user’s group of friends to use and share the image without the exclusive control of the original user. This loss of control occurs in two stages, when the user posts the image and Meta is granted a license, and then when the user’s public or group of friends receives a sublicense from Meta. Even if the user deletes the image, the sublicense remains in effect, allowing the group to continue using the image.[10]

The Terms of Service permit this two-step technique, discussed in the footnote, by granting Meta a non-exclusive license to use, modify, distribute, create derivative works from, and publicly display User Content. The license will end when the user deletes the content, but there is a contradiction in the explanation as to which content should be removed by whom. The technical language used to describe the rights granted to Meta is insufficiently explained to facilitate users’ understanding, in particular the right to create derivative works, which allows Meta to alter the image and claim ownership of the resulting new work.

For greater transparency, the terms of service should break down the different aspects of the license granted to Meta and provide clear examples of the actual scope of the license. For example, if a user posts a photo of themselves in a certain location, Meta can modify the image by turning it into black and white, adding text and graphics, and claim ownership of the new work, to which the user no longer has copyright. This license allows Meta to use the new image as it sees fit, whether for commercial or non-commercial purposes.

What if the user thought “money”?

Meta provides many details regarding the commercial use of a user’s images, which is a good thing. This allows Meta to present similar ads to the user’s friends. While this practice aims to generate more revenue for Meta based on social resemblance, it could also translate into revenue for the user. However, the fact that users will not receive any compensation is mentioned briefly and secondarily: “without paying you any compensation”. According to the Terms of Service, users authorize Meta to use their name, profile picture, and information about their actions with advertisements and sponsored content in connection with advertisements, offers, and other sponsored content without any compensation.

Updates – ethical improvement is needed

Ethical improvement is needed for updates to the Meta platform. It’s a difficult task to keep a great platform like Meta up to date and in good working order, and there are always things to improve. It’s understandable that Meta wants to get effective approval for its updates, as getting individual approvals from each user can be complicated. However, it is important that users have the opportunity to review updates before accepting them. A more ethical approach would be to block access to the account until the user ticks a box indicating that they have read and accepted the latest version of the Terms of Service. Otherwise, the user can continue to use the products without realizing that they have accepted a new version of the Terms of Service[11].


The above analysis revealed several ethical issues surrounding Meta’s proposed terms of service. Vague terms such as “we” and “we need” have been used repeatedly, which is unclear and open to interpretation. Terms of service are not written on the basis of clear laws, which makes it uncertain which laws apply when the use of an image by third parties becomes questionable. In addition, the unilateral modification of the terms of service is in favor of Meta, and there is a lack of clarity in the explanation of the user’s agreement to such changes.

A significant problem is that users are not fully aware that their rights to published images may be lost and used by third parties without financial compensation. Although Meta claims that users can remove and delete their content, the sublicense agreement makes this ineffective. The financial benefit of Meta is not explained in a transparent manner, as there seems to be a contradiction between the sub-licensing right granted to Meta and the user’s waiver of any compensation. Meta claims not to sell user data, such as images, but is paid by providers to provide analytics of the relationship between user behavior and their images.

To address these concerns, a set of possible solutions is needed. First, a clear explanation of the technical terms should be provided at the beginning of any account opening, as well as the statement that a specialized person with IP experience should review the agreement to ensure that it is well understood. More explanations and examples should be given when it comes to legal definitions, such as the granting of a non-exclusive license to Meta or the mechanism for updating the terms of service.

It is also important to inform users that posted images can no longer be controlled by them or Meta after they are published and shared. A friendly warning before posting images, as well as a training quiz to assess the user’s understanding of the risks of sharing images, could help inform customers about image processing on the platform in a fair and ethical manner.



[1] « En utilisant nos Produits, vous acceptez que nous vous montrions des publicités que nous estimons pertinentes pour vous en fonction de vos intérêts. Nous utilisons vos données à caractère personnel afin de définir les publicités personnalisées à vous montrer. » (Conditions de service, Introduction)

[2] « des entreprises, des organisations et d’autres personnes nous payent pour vous montrer des publicités pour leurs produits et services. » (Conditions de service, Introduction)

[3] « Nous utilisons vos données à caractère personnel afin de définir les publicités personnalisées à vous montrer. » (Conditions de service, Introduction)

[4] « Nous utilisons vos données à caractère personnel afin de définir les publicités personnalisées à vous montrer. » (Conditions de service, Introduction)

[5] « Nous ne vendons pas vos données à caractère personnel (…) et ne partageons pas d’informations (…) sauf autorisation expresse de votre part. » (Conditions de service, Introduction)

[6] « Vous conservez la propriété des droits de propriété intellectuelle (tels que les droits d’auteur et les marques déposées) de tout le contenu que vous créez et partagez sur Facebook et les autres produits des entités Meta que vous utilisez. Aucune disposition des présentes Conditions ne vous prive des droits que vous possédez sur votre propre contenu. Vous êtes libre de partager votre contenu avec quiconque, où vous le souhaitez. » (Conditions de service, 3.3 Les autorisations que vous nous accordez).

[7] « votre contenu a été utilisé par des tiers conformément à la présente licence, et ces derniers ne l’ont pas supprimé (dans ce cas, cette licence continuera de s’appliquer jusqu’à la suppression du contenu). » (Conditions de service, 3.3 Les autorisations que vous nous accordez)

[8]  « Ceci est uniquement dans le but de fournir et d’améliorer nos Produits et services, tels que décrits dans l’article 1 ci-dessus. » (Conditions de service, 3.3 Les autorisations que vous nous accordez)

[9] « La licence prend fin lorsque votre contenu est supprimé de nos systèmes. Vous pouvez à tout moment supprimer du contenu individuel que vous partagez, publiez et importez. En outre, tout le contenu publié sur votre compte personnel sera supprimé si vous supprimez votre compte. » (Conditions de service, 3.3 Les autorisations que vous nous accordez)

[10] A. «En particulier, lorsque vous partagez, publiez ou importez du contenu protégé par des droits de propriété intellectuelle sur ou en rapport avec nos Produits, vous nous accordez une licence non exclusive, transférable, sous-licenciable, gratuite et mondiale pour héberger, utiliser, distribuer, modifier, exécuter, copier, représenter publiquement ou afficher publiquement, traduire et créer des œuvres dérivées de votre contenu (conformément à vos paramètres de confidentialité et d’application). Cela signifie, par exemple, que si vous partagez une photo sur Facebook, vous nous autorisez à la conserver, à la copier et à la partager avec d’autres (encore une fois, conformément à vos paramètres), tels que les Produits Meta ou des fournisseurs de services qui prennent en charge ces produits et services. La licence prend fin lorsque votre contenu est supprimé de nos systèmes. » (Conditions de service, 3.3 Les autorisations que vous nous accordez)

B. «Lorsque le processus de suppression d’un tel contenu débute, les autres utilisateurs ne peuvent plus voir ce contenu. (…) Le contenu ne sera pas supprimé (…) dans les cas suivants : votre contenu a été utilisé par des tiers conformément à la présente licence, et ces derniers ne l’ont pas supprimé (dans ce cas, cette licence continuera de s’appliquer jusqu’à la suppression du contenu) ; » (Conditions de service, 3 Les autorisations que vous nous accordez).

[11] « Une fois les Conditions révisées en vigueur, vous serez lié par celles-ci si vous continuez d’utiliser nos Produits. » (Conditions de service, 4. Dispositions supplémentaires)


Paul Cosmovici

Me Paul Cosmovici, avocat dans le domaine des marques, brevets et designs, travaille notamment pour des clients situés en Suisse, France, Allemagne, USA ou Royaume-Uni. Il a une grande expérience dans la stratégie liée à la propriété intellectuelle. Son expérience comprend la structuration de transactions commerciales, ainsi que la protection d’actifs de propriété intellectuelle. Me Paul Cosmovici conseille des entreprises menant des activités telles que pharmacies, aliments et boissons, FMCG, logiciels, banques, fonds d'investissement et universités publiques.

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