When is a link not a link?

When is a link not a link?

When someone posts a link on Facebook, the first thing that Facebook does it make a little abstract of the page they’re linking to and post it underneath. The headline, a picture or logo, a little bit of text. Takes a second or two to appear. Very handy. I can see what’s on the page without even clicking the link.

Like this. I just typed the URL and Facebook did the rest.

screenshot-2017-02-17-17-35-02

But what if I own the page on the other end of the link, and I don’t want Facebook to do that? How do I stop them?

That question is part technical and part legal.

Is there any way of blocking the Facebook robot from copying the page and creating their own mini-copy of it for presenting in Facebook newsfeeds? Could it be done without blocking everyone else? Do they honour the robots exclusion protocol? (Yes, I know, I should do an experiment to find out).

But, also, is it legally OK? They are copying my stuff and they certainly aren’t asking first. Then they’re turning it into their own mini-version of my stuff, different from mine. What do they do with the copies of my version and of theirs? How can I find out?

My reason for wondering about this is because I was wondering how to reduce my exposure to Facebook. Get off it completely, obviously, would be the ideal. But like many others, I like the fact that Facebook keeps a tiny thread of connection open between me and people I would otherwise be completely detached from.

What I don’t like is that they can build up a complete record of my life. My pictures, my movements, they can recognise my children and my friends. I don’t like all that.

So I want to post my stuff somewhere else, a blog for example, and just put the links in Facebook. Have a way to talk to my friends, but without them sucking all my stuff right back in again.

It does open up a copyright can of worms as old as the web, and which people don’t really like to talk about.

At what point does the automated copying, storing, modification and re-publishing of other peoples stuff stop being a “fair use” (as the americans, who, lets face it, seem to have de facto dominance, would put it) and start being something which requires permission?

It was this question whcih led to the Automated Content Access Protocol. In part it led to the Copyright Hub. It’s lurking in the background of the forthcoming Publishers Right in the EU.

The right of businesses to grab, process, store and copy other peoples stuff seems to just be assumed now. Whole, HUGE, businesses depend on it. Search engines for a start, but also companies like Pinterest as well as, to a lesser extent, Facebook.

Perhaps it’s OK for that to be the default (although I can’t bring myself to embrace this). But surely the question I ask at the top shouldn’t be such a mystery. I have asked various geeks and they’re not quite sure. How DO you stop Facebook grabbing stuff from your site?

Surely it should be easy?

The old way, the copyright way, is that they can’t, unless you say it’s OK. That seems reasonable to me.

But if we’re going to have an internet-era reversal, where it’s OK until you say it isn’t, surely that should’t be a difficult thing to do.

So, geeks and scholars, what am I missing? I realise it’s probably more of a thought experiment than a realistic prospect. But in that spirit, how could I make a nice place online where I can put things, keep it open to humans but stop the likes of Facebook coming in and grabbing it all?

If your answer is “you can’t” or “put a password on it”, does that reasonable?

I think the internet could do better.

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