Direct User Input

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Direct User Input

Direct user input is the easiest data source to understand, but also probably the broadest in terms of form and content.

We’re all familiar with the sign-up and login process, and have undoubtedly shared our online identity on dozens of sites and inside dozens of applications. We’ve entered our preferences, our addresses and phone numbers, and shared our thoughts, opinions, photos and videos. We’ve left comments a ratings. And we’ve done it all voluntarily and with the full awareness that once it leaves our fingers it’s less private than it once was.

What troubles us is less that the sites and services we’ve interacted with have access to this information, but more that they may be sharing it with other services without our awareness, or using it in ways we haven’t foreseen. Direct user input isn’t a data access issue: it’s a data usage and permission issue.

Two things to note about direct user input. First, to the extent that user input such as photos, videos or written posts constitute creative works, they are protected under the various copyright laws that many countries have put in place. That means that users retain rights to control how and where their content is used. Second, and directly related, is the ability to license those rights to others and even to bargain away content rights forever, so be careful. Here is a sample policy from an internet company around how they manage rights in user content (with some redactions):

You own the content you create and share, and nothing in these Terms takes away the rights you have to your own content. You are free to share your content with anyone else, wherever you want. To provide our services, though, we need you to give us some legal permissions to use that content.

Specifically, when you share, post, or upload content that is covered by intellectual property rights (like photos or videos) on or in connection with our service, you grant us a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, and worldwide license to host, use, distribute, modify, run, copy, publicly perform or display, translate, and create derivative works of your content (consistent with your privacy and application settings). This means, for example, that if you share a photo, you give us permission to store, copy, and share it with others (again, consistent with your settings) such as service providers that support our service or other of our services you use. 

You can end this license any time by deleting your content or account. You should know that, for technical reasons, content you delete may persist for a limited period of time in backup copies (though it will not be visible to other users). In addition, content you delete may continue to appear if you have shared it with others and they have not deleted it.