Legal impacts of digital technology on wider society

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Ethical impacts


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Environmental impacts


Issues of privacy



Syllabus content

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Explain the current ethical, legal and environmental impacts and risks of digital technology on society. Where data privacy issues arise these should be considered.



Exam questions will be taken from the following areas:

  • cyber security
  • mobile technologies
  • wireless networking
  • cloud storage
  • theft of computer code
  • issues around copyright of algorithms
  • cracking
  • hacking
  • wearable technologies
  • computer based implants.

Students will be expected to understand and explain the general principles behind the issues rather than have detailed knowledge on specific issues.

Students should be aware that ordinary citizens normally value their privacy and may not like it when governments or security services have too much access.

Students should be aware that governments and security services often argue that they cannot keep their citizens safe from terrorism and other attacks unless they have access to private data.


Does Facebook Really Own Your Photos?

The wonderful people at Photo Stealers, a wall of shame site that focuses on highlighting photographers who pad their portfolios with the works of others, have had a great deal of trouble with their Facebook page recently.

One of the photographers they’ve called out have launched a campaign against them. That campaign has included a string of attacks on various services that Photo Stealers uses, including their Facebook page. That page has been shut down, restored, have had multiple posts removed and also caused the site’s creator and lone blogger, Corey Ann, to be personally banned on Facebook.

Ann has been reaching out to Facebook both to try and restore her posts and accounts and to try and stop what she considers a harassment campaign. When she finally was able to work with someone, the email reply she got was, in a word, breathtaking.


According to the help center representative, this was verified by her supervisor, who she had worked with on the response.

Of course, the Facebook Terms of Service tells a slightly different story. It says:


In short, Facebook has a (broad) license to use your work, but there is no copyright transfer and Facebook does not own your images in any way.

This was further backed up by a different Facebook representative that jumped into the fray, who clarified that Facebook has a license to use the image and, furthermore, has policies against uploading infringing work.

But while the original representative was clearly wrong and many have risen up to debunk them, it doesn’t mean that there isn’t a problem.

After all, if one representative at Facebook (and their supervisor) feel this way, then it’s likely others do and this can create a serious problem when trying to deal with plagiarism and copyright infringement on the site.

The Power of Perception

The problem with the encounter is this: One, but likely more, Facebook employees believe that anything you upload to the site becomes Facebook’s property. This includes pictures, posts, videos, etc.

While this almost certainly would not hold up in a court of law. Very few copyright holders have the means to take such issues to court, especially against a giant corporation like Facebook.

As such, Facebook, for many creators, is the enforcement system. If a creator submits a copyright notice to Facebook and Facebook declines to remove it, there isn’t much further that most can do. The work, more or less, just stays online.

When the enforcers of the law don’t understand the law and mistakenly believe that the content involved is theirs, motivation to stop piracy drops. Imagine if the police mistakenly believed that they owned every vehicle that had driven onto government property, how different would the recovery of stolen cars be?

While I would like to believe that this is an isolated incident and that this is just a pair of employees who have the wrong idea, I highly doubt it and the fact that Ann has had so many problems with Facebook over these issues highlights that it likely isn’t.

And this is a very serious problem for Facebook, considering that it’s going through other copyright controversies.

It’s About the Community Too


Last month I posted about how Facebook was encouraging video piracy by giving preferential treatment to videos hosted on its service versus those linked from YouTube and elsewhere.

The basic problem is that a video downloaded from YouTube and uploaded to the site directly will get far more views/clicks/likes/shares than one just linked from an official channel. Many, including countless celebrities, have taken to doing just that as a means of bolstering their audience.

The outcry over this has been loud and is ongoing, with sites posting tips and suggestions for fighting it. However, Facebook’s more recent copyright challenge has done nothing to help its reputation on copyright matters.

And this could have a very serious impact for Facebook beyond the law. Sites that become known as havens for copyright infringing material typically attract people who want to do nothing but infringe copyright. This is true of all types of sites, including social networks, forums, photo sharing sites, blogs and anything in between.

YouTube, for example, was originally a haven for copyright-infringing clips and videos, so much so that one lawsuit about its pre-Google behavior wasn’t settled until 2014.

But while YouTube may have been on the right side of the law, it didn’t generate a great deal of revenue nor did it grow into a bastion of creativity and originality. To do that, the site had to get serious about copyright infringement and begin to fight it using tools such as Content ID.

While that decision upset many users, it also meant that original creators no longer had to compete with clips from TV shows and movies, giving them a platform to become stars in their own right.

Facebook, however, is in danger of doing the inverse. Starting out as a site with a decent track record on copyright and letting dumb decisions and staff mistakes ruin its reputation, possibly inviting an infringement problem it clearly doesn’t want.

Bottom Line

The time for Facebook to get serious about copyright is now. Such a decision would likely start with Facebook retraining its staff, especially its support staff, on copyright issues and just what Facebook’s rights and responsibilities are.

Then, Facebook needs to take a look at the infringing content they are seeing and decide what they can do to discourage it. Whether its punitive measures against repeat infringers or using content matching to prevent unauthorized uploads, steps against piracy don’t just discourage infringement, they encourage creativity.

But the challenge, as YouTube has found, will be encouraging and nurturing fair use and creative, legitimate uses of copyrighted material. There is no perfect solution, but Facebook has the luxury of learning from YouTube’s mistakes.

In the end, if Facebook wants to be a place where people express themselves, it can’t also be a place for rampant copyright infringement. It’s time for Facebook to stand up and realize that.

Who Owns Photos and Videos Posted on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter?

Well, it depends on what you mean as “own.”  Under copyright law, unless there is an agreement to the contrary or the photograph or video is shot as part of your job, a copyright to a photograph generally belongs to the creator.  As the copyright owner, you own the exclusive rights to display, copy, use, produce, distribute and perform your creation as you see fit and approve.  As the subject of the photograph, you have a right to publicity, which allows you to get paid for the commercial use of your name, likeness or voice.

But what happens when you decide to post that picture on the Internet — perhaps on Facebook or Twitter (using Twitpic), or some other social network or photo-sharing site?

You may be shocked to find out that once you post on these sites, that although you still “own” the photograph, you grant the social media sites a license to use your photograph anyway they see fit for free AND you grant them the right to let others use you picture as well! This means that not only can Twitter, Twitpic and Facebook make money from the photograph or video (otherwise, a copyright violation), but these sites are making commercial gain by licensing these images, which contains thelikeness of the person in the photo or video (otherwise, a violation of their “rights of publicity”).


Under Facebook’s current terms (which can change at anytime), by posting your pictures and videos, you grant Facebook “a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use any [IP] content that you post on or in connection with Facebook (“IP License”). This IP License ends when you delete your IP content or your account unless your content has been shared with others, and they have not deleted it.  Beware of the words “transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license.”  This means that Facebook can license your content to others for free without obtaining any other approval from you!  You should be aware that once your photos or videos are shared on Facebook, it could be impossible to delete them from Facebook, even if you delete the content or cancel your account (the content still remains on Facebook servers and they can keep backups)!  So, although you may be able to withdraw your consent to the use of photos on Facebook, you should also keep in mind that if you share your photos and videos with Facebook applications, those applications may have their own terms and conditions of how they use your creation!  You should read the fine print to make sure you are not agreeing to something that you don’t want to have happen.


Twitter’s photo sharing service, Twitpic, just updated their terms of Service on May 10, 2011 (which, of course, can and will be updated at any time, from time to time).  By uploading content using Twitpic, you are giving “Twitpic permission to use or distribute your content on or affiliated sites.”  You are also granting “Twitpic a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free, sublicenseable and transferable license to use, reproduce, distribute, prepare derivative works of, display, and perform the Content in connection with the Service and Twitpic’s (and its successors’ and affiliates’) business, including without limitation for promoting and redistributing part or all of the Service (and derivative works thereof) in any media formats and through any media channels.”

The terms go on to state that you also grant “each user of the Service a non-exclusive license to access your Content through the Service, and to use, reproduce, distribute, display and perform such Content as permitted through the functionality of the Service and under these Terms of Service.  The above licenses granted by you in media Content you submit to the Service terminate within a commercially reasonable time after you remove or delete your media from the Service provided that any sub-license by Twitpic to use, reproduce or distribute the Content prior to such termination may be perpetual and irrevocable.”

Twitpic/Twitter is probably more problematic than Facebook — They can sell your images and videos if they want!

First, there is no definition of “Service” on their site (they need to find a more detailed oriented internet attorney to draft their terms (Twitpic, call me)), so your photo could be used throughout the Internet.  More troubling is that your photos and videos may be reprinted and used in anythingwithout your getting paid a dime — books, magazines, movies, TV shows, billboards — you get the picture!

Second, Twitter can create derivative works from your creations.  A derivative work is anything that is built upon your work (like adding your video to a TV show, putting your photo in a montage, etc.).

Third, even after you delete your photos from Twitpic, Twitter and Twitpic can still use your creations for a “reasonable” amount of time afterwards.  So what would be a reasonable amount of time to continue using your photo after you terminate the “license” if your photo or video is incorporated by Twitter or Twitpic in a larger work — perhaps forever if it would cost them money to remove!

Lastly, since Twitter/Twitpic can grant others to use your photos (and make money from it without paying you (remember the nasty word “œroyalty-free”)), even if you terminate your Twitter/Twitpic account, the rights they grant to others can never be terminated! Twitter has a deal with World Entertainment News Network permitting them to sell Twitpic content with no money to you!

Celebrities and celebrities-to-be, beware!  Your right to publicity (e.g. your right to get paid when others use your name, likeness, voice for commercial gain like product or sports endorsements) is stripped away each and every time you post on Twitter!  You or your intellectual property attorney should read the fine print before you post your photos or videos on Twitter or Facebook!

December 19, 2012 UPDATE


Well Facebook was at it again (changing their terms of service for their latest acquisition, Instagram).  The proposed changes are to take place on January 16, 2013.  Basically, Instagram had a brilliant idea to generate money off the backs of their members.  The proposed terms of service explicitly state “To help us deliver interesting paid or sponsored content or promotions, you agree that a business or other entity may pay us to display your username, likeness, photos (along with any associated metadata), and/or actions you take, in connection with paid or sponsored content or promotions,without any compensation to you. If you are under the age of eighteen (18), or under any other applicable age of majority, you represent that at least one of your parents or legal guardians has also agreed to this provision (and the use of your name, likeness, username, and/or photos (along with any associated metadata)) on your behalf.”

This means that Instagram can make money from advertisers that want to use your face or pictures of your loved ones on any advertising (TV, web, magazines, newspapers, etc.) and never pay you a penny!  Even worse, if you are under 18 (which means you don’t have the legal capacity to enter into a contract) you are making a contractual agreement that you have asked your parents permission to agree to the Instagram terms.  This not only is an egregious position (see discussion above about rights of publicity), but defies logic — Instagram acknowledges that minors can’t enter into a contract, but nevertheless for the under-18, force them to agree by (unenforceable) contract that they have permission anyway.  Go figure!  [Finally there is a reason to go back to the old 2-hour Kodak Carousel slide shows of aunt Sally’s vacation.]

[December 21, 2012 UPDATE]

Instagram announced today that it was backing off of its proposed T&C’s to be able to sell content without paying the members.  But a closer look of their replacement terms of use are just as bad.  “Instagram does not claim ownership of any Content that you post on or through the Service. Instead,you hereby grant to Instagram a non-exclusive, fully paid and royalty-free, transferable, sub-licensable, worldwide license to use the Content that you post on or through the Service, subject to the Service’s Privacy Policy. . .”  This means that Instagram can still sublicense your photos to any company for a fee (without paying the member)!  And it gets worse.  For instance, let’s say a posted photo is of a celebrity.  Instagram then licenses that picture to an advertiser.  But then the advertiser gets sued by the celebrity for violation of their right of privacy (who in turn sues Instagram).  You the poster would have to indemnify Instagram because in section 4(iii) of the terms, “(iii) you agree to pay for all royalties, fees, and any other monies owed by reason of Content you post on or through the Service.”  Bottom line – Instagram stil gets to sell your pictures without paying you and you can be liable in the event they have to return that money to the advertiser!

3.1 Fundamentals of algorithms

3.2 Programming

3.3 Fundamentals of data representation

3.4 Computer systems

3.5 Fundamentals of computer networks

3.6 Fundamentals of cyber security

3.7 Ethical, legal and environmental impacts of digital technology on wider society, including issues of privacy

3.8 Aspects of software development

Glossary and other links

Glossary of computing terms.

AQA 8520: The 2016 syllabus

General content


Ethical impacts

Ethical Problems in Computing 1

Ethical Problems in Computing 2

Ethical Problems in Computing 3

Ethics versus morals

Ethical issues

Ethical cases

Legal impacts

The 8 principles of the Data Protection Act

Police misuse of Ripa powers to spy on journalists is systemic, MPs told

BBC and Royal Mail 'using Ripa terror powers to spy on public'

RIPA: Passwords

The Grim RIPA

Five Welsh councils used undercover surveillance on staff

The Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 – an overview

How Protection of Freedoms Bill will work

Protection of Freedoms Act 2012

Guide to Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations

Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR)

What is the Freedom of Information Act?

 A Short Guide to the Freedom of Information Act

Plain English Guide to Freedom of Information

Freedom of Information - a summary

Computer Misuse Act

Computer Misuse Act prosecution numbers falling

Computer Misuse Act 1990 cases

A brief history of Copyright.

Equality Act 2010

Equality act 2010: What do I Need to know?

Section 127 of the Communications Act 2003: Threat or Menace?

Communications Act 2003

Digital Economy Act

A Guide to the Digital Economy Act 5 – Summary

Malicious Communications Offences

What is Sending Malicious Communications?

The UK’s 15 most infamous data breaches

Forrester Research Data Privacy Heat Map, 2015

India: Data Protection Laws In India: The Road Ahead

Data protection in India

Data Protection Laws Of The World (interactive)

Data Protection Laws Of The World (pdf)

ICLG comparisson tool

The Investigatory Powers Act 2016 And Internet Connections Records

Data protection not just about personal data and compliance

Jargon buster guide to GDPR

Does Facebook own my pictures?

Pirate bay

Envirormental impacts

Environment issues

Environmental impacts

Useful links for Green IT

What is Green IT?

What Is Green IT, and Why Should You Care?

Green IT: Changing IT without it costing the earth.

Whatever happened to Green IT?

Pictures: India's Poor Risk Health to Mine Electronic "E-Waste"

India: The Rising Tide of E-Waste

BCS commentary on Greening Government ICT

Privacy issues