Facebook knows what you did last summer (and will never “forget”).

After Elisa talked a lot about Google and I talked about all kind of different platforms in my last post, I decided to dig deeper in the Facebook topic. 800 Million people use Facebook nowadays. They post photos, videos, their location, write birthday greetings and chat to eachother.
Nearly everyone knows about the controverse privacy policies of Facebook which as you can see here have been increasing incredibly in words in the last years:


Why would they need so many words to explain their privacy policies if everything were legally correct?

Well I guess Facebook does not really have to care, as despite of all the controverse issues concerning the user’s privacy, everyone goes on posting and sharing all kinds of things about themselves, their friends and family and their whole life. I mean, you can always delete your messages, your status and other settings, can’t you?

The background

Well, apparantly you cannot. In Autumn 2011, 23-year old law student Max Schrems’ from Vienna wanted access to the data Facebook had saved about him. Facebook denied him the access which is why he sued the company 22 times at the Irish governance agency for data privacy. This board is responsible for Facebook in Europe as Facebook has set their European center in Dublin. Therefore Facebook now has to consider the European privacy policies which are much stricter than the American ones.

The initiators

Richard Gutjahr, journalist and blogger from Munich and Max Schrems’ foundation “Europe vs. Facebook” publicized a manual which explains how to force Facebook to give you access to all your saved data.
The foundation demands more transparency and especially the possibility to delete photos or texts irretrievably, but according to Schrems “this is still not possible”.

The official form of requesting access to your data

The manual the Europe vs. Facebook foundation originally offered, consisted of an official Facebook form which could be filled out and sent off in order to request all the data they had about you. By means of this form Schrems too eventually received a CD with 1200 pages containing profile data and chat protocolls he had actually deleted ages ago. This shows, that Facebook saves personal data forever and does not delete them efficiently even when the user has pressed “delete”.

Analysis of Facebook’s official form

As Facebook had chosen a very complicated way of giving access to their users’ data they did not manage to meet the legal deadline of sending the data within 40 days. By not keeping this deadline, the global corporation actually ignores effective laws just because it cannot efficiently fulfill it’s complicated procedure with the current personnel.
On top of that, even the CD Max Schrems received, which already contained background information and data, was still missing some things. Schrems was hopelessly looking for all the data concerning everything to do with the “like-button”. When he contacted Facebook about the missing data, their statement was that they could not give any information about these data, as they are Facebook’s “business secrets or intellectual property”.

New ways of requesting access to your data

Facebook deleted the official form for requesting your data on November 4, 2011, probably because they could not cope with the high demand. Now users are led to a “download tool”. Everyone can easily access that download, as Facebook explains in this video.

This tool though only offers a copy of the profile – not the data Facebook saves or generates in the background. The “download tool” therefore only offers about 30% of the data Facebook saves. Europe vs. Facebook strongly advises not to use this tool but now suggests to just e-mail Facebook directly. The website also offers a prewritten form you only have to fill out.

The amendments

According to an article on RTL.de from December 2011, the Irish board for privacy policies has demanded various amendments and achieved that Facebook agreed to amongst other things remove data which has been deleted by the user quicker and effectively from their servers.
In July 2012 the Irish government agency wants to proove to which extent Facebook has followed the amendments.

Followup

All in all I think it will just become incresingly difficult to keep track of what happens to your data, as our world is becoming more and more digitalized. In my opinion, everyone who uses Facebook should be aware of the fact that all the things you post and share will become public or Facebook’s property as soon as you press the Enter button. Nobody forces you to do it, it’s your own decision, so you cannot really blame anyone who uses the fact that people tend to make their private life public nowadays.

Think of the new timeline concept Facebook has introduced. It is supposed to tell your whole life story. Facebook is not anymore just a platform for chatting and sharing some things with your friends, it has become a profilisation center of your entire life, containing vast amounts of information about you and your surrounding in only one place. Nevertheless, anyone can decide by free will if they want an online “journal of their life” or not.

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6 Comments

  1. Hi Jessica! Thank you for an informative post! I can’t believe that Facebook’s privacy policies are longer than the Constitution of the United States of America! I’ve heard about this form before where you can access your data and that it’s problematic. Yes, you should be able to access the information someone is keeping of you but I think that you have to be prepared that if you put content on a page that page will keep that information (probably even here on WordPress) for a very, very, long time. I don’t mind Facebook keeping my data, and I do put a lot of data onto Facebook, but I fear that someday Facebook will sell all my data (I know they are already giving out some of it) and I will end up with problems. On the other hand, if I would be working for a company that turns to Facebook for information about me, that would be a company I would not want to work for anyway because they are not respecting me as a person and my privacy,

    How about Twitter and MySpace? Especially MySpace seems to have a pretty long privacy policy as well, are they deleting data?

    Reply
  2. Thanks a lot for your comment Caroline!
    The imagine is actually taken from 5/13/2010 New York Times, so I guess until now the text may have even increased more. To make sure you did not get it wrong; the imagine is not stating that Facebook’s privacy policies are longer than the Constitution of the United States, but longer than the privacy policies of the Constitution.

    I totally agree with you, as I already mentioned in my post, as soon as you put your stuff online you yourself have to cope with the consequences, thats why people – in my opinion – should be quite a bit more careful with their data than they tend to be, although a lot of things that are posted can probably hardly harm anyone. Another thing I want to point out is that I think that if your future employer looks for you on the web and does not find anything at all, that will make maybe as bad an impression as finding wild party photos or whatever. I think a presence on the web is becoming more and more important in the business world.

    Concerning the privacy policy of the other platforms such as MySpace, I guess that they do not have quite as much to say about that, because they will not have as many users and as many features and developments as Facebook which currently simply is the most largest and common social platform.
    Nevertheless I think all these platforms somehow filter the useful and interesing information and do also save it, but that is just a guess, it is very difficult to find that out in detail…

    Reply
  3. Ly N.

     /  January 23, 2012

    This post is so interesting, Jessica! Since I’m a facebook user as well (of course), it was really interesting to read that they keep EVERYTHING. Of course, everyone’s responsable for their own actions on facebook and cannot blame others for saving the information. I have never thought about what Caroline mentioned in her comment: That company’s don’t respect your privacy if they look for information on Facebook about you. After having thought about that, I actually agree with that statement!
    And can Facebook just sell your data without your permission?!?
    Coming back to your post: very informative, great post title, great graphics!

    Reply
  4. Lilian

     /  February 12, 2012

    Very informative and nicely written post, Jessica!
    Your catchy title and the structure of your post make it very inviting to read it. I liked how you provided a great composition of different facts concerning your topic and concluded with an interpretation and a future outlook! Good job!
    Actually, Caroline’s statement had a thought-provoking effect on me too. Is it a sign of disrespecting the privacy of an applicant if the company scans the personal background of the potential new employee and tries to find information on the web about him/her?! And would I want to work for an intrusive firm like this at all?! – Well of course I would not want to have my private life scanned by a potential employer, but in fact I can never be sure and I think more firms than we think are doing background checks. So it is always important to use the web carefully and thoughtfully, as it doesn’t “forget”, how you put it.
    On the other hand I think it can be a chance as well to use the web in order to create professional profiles online. Online recruiting is becoming more popular and offers new chances to internet-users.
    I’ve also just learned about an app that has been created in the course of it: when you apply online for a job, it enables you to connect your Facebook profile with the firm you would like to work for, leaving out unwanted information and pictures that are not of interest for the employer or better to say that are not of interest for the applicant to be seen by the employer ūüėČ
    Here is the article: http://blog.bravenewtalent.com/2010/11/new-recruitment-facebook-app-respects-candidate-privacy/

    Reply
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