Facebook will no longer tell you everything it knows about you

Filed Under: Facebook, Featured, Privacy, Social networks

Facebook CDIn the face of an ocean of users demanding their personal data as required by European Union law, Facebook has sharply constricted the amount of data it's handing over.

Instead of sending CDs, Facebook is now directing users to a page where they can download a personal archive, but that archive is now covering only 22 categories — less than half of the 57 categories received by early requesters in the Europe vs. Facebook campaign, according to a report from ITworld.

The new stinginess comes in the midst of an audit by Ireland's Data Protection Commissioner. The audit is the result of 22 privacy-based complaints (to view the list of complaints, go to Kim Cameron's Identity Weblog) lodged by Europe vs. Facebook.

That campaign is led by Max Schrems, a 24-year-old law student from Vienna who secured 1,200 pages of personal data on a CD months ago by using a European requirement that entities with data about individuals make it available to those individuals if they request it.

The Irish agency is auditing Facebook for compliance with the country's Data Protection Acts of 1988 and 2003, which transpose the E.U.'s Data Protection Directive, known as 95/46/EC.

Europe vs. Facebook contends that Facebook is withholding personal data in violation of these laws, which require companies to disclose data to users on request.

Lisa McGann, a senior investigations officer, on Tuesday told IDG News Service that the agency has received an additional 150 complaints about Facebook’s inadequate response to data requests and 10 complaints over data protection, according to ITworld.

Stack of emailMr. Schrems told ITworld that he’s exchanged e-mails with Richard Allan, Facebook's director of European public policy, who’s indicated that Facebook is contemplating a system modification that would allow a more in-depth batch of information if the agency finds fault in the company's current strategy.

In the meantime, Facebook is throttling back the data volume it releases. While Facebook is defending its actions, claiming that it is "fully compliant with E.U. data protection laws," the categories of data it’s releasing has nosedived.

Mr. Schrems told ITworld that the CDs Facebook initially sent out when he and others first requested their personal Facebook dossiers contained 57 categories of data. Now, Mr. Schrems said, Facebook is excerpting between 19 and 24 categories of data.

In addition to cutting back on the data it releases, Facebook has turned to a do-it-yourself model. Facebook recently created an email address, datarequests@fb.com, for people to request data. An autoreply from that account directs users to an archive download tool.

Facebook Download Archive site

The autoreply also curtly snips off further conversation, stating that “We will not enter into further correspondence about your specific data through this email address.”

The latest move by Facebook is just "a way of getting rid of people," Mr. Schrems told ITworld, since more transparency would "freak people out," he said.

Facebook, if what Mr. Schrems believes is correct, I’d like to propose that you’re wrong. More transparency would have the opposite effect to freaking us out.

As it is, we’re already freaked out. Hundreds of legal complaints are a visible symptom of freak-out.
What’s going to continue to freak us out is if you keep tightening your sphincter.

The more tight-fisted you are with our personal data, the more you will cause your users to suspect that you plan to do things with it that we would rather you didn't.

If you're on Facebook and want to keep informed about privacy issues, scams and internet attacks, join the Sophos page on Facebook, where over 150,000 people regularly share information on threats and discuss the latest security news.

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12 Responses to Facebook will no longer tell you everything it knows about you

  1. Ian · 1422 days ago

    What is the point of this? In the end, what you say on the Internet stays on the Internet and the same is true for Facebook. I find this sort of article a little tabloid and not really the normal standard I expect from Sophos.

    • But still when we post some thing on facebook it belong to us.we have the right to download our data.what right does facebook got to keep our data,our posts to themselves

  2. eric blackpot · 1422 days ago

    have asked for this 'cd' of 'data'.. but nothing came of it?? has been many months now!! would like to get the 'whole 57' categories of info they have & not just the 22 (max) in the download.. is there any other way of doing this?? having only the option to get a 1/3 of the actually data is b.s.!! it is our info.. want it all!!
    any help much appreciated..

  3. g-c · 1421 days ago

    why does facebook want to keep all that data anyway?

    • Most likely, the data in the other categories is "dirty" data -- meaning that they'd be violating privacy laws to release it, as it reveals private information not just about you, but about people you interact with on Facebook.

      Just a guess, but the percentage of categories looks about right to me.

      However, using this as a blanket excuse to keep back further categories that they just don't want people realizing they've extrapolated from the existing data is also possible, and it's entirely impossible to know without Facebook commenting on it themselves.

  4. Nancy · 1421 days ago

    I'm not very computer or internet literate, but somehow, this just doesn't seem right. Makes one wonder why FB doesn't turn over whatever data it has on each & every person on FB................

  5. Linda · 1421 days ago

    I requested the Download then when I got it, Windows can't open the file it says it's invalid. Why is that?

  6. Tony · 1421 days ago

    I am much more concerned to know that my personal data (what little I have posted on FB) will actually be deleted, as distinct from just being hidden, if I choose to close my account.

  7. Clare Cosgrove · 1421 days ago

    Facebook sells our data..to it's customers and that information is used to sell advertizing. We have no choice in what type of advertizing it is used for and they (FB customers) in turn sell our information on too.

    The original agreement that we agreed to at the beginning of Facebook has nothing to do with the one they have changed it to,but we are still binded to because we agree to all changes. Any other agreement of this nature would under normal circumstance not hold up in a court of law as binding.

    We have less and less control over what information is used and WHO gets to see it. Apps are designed that EVERYONE can see what you are doing,reading,eating,where you are sitting and who you are with. You don't have to name your photo's they have already illegally scanned and identified your face and any photo's that you appear in can be automatically tagged with your name.

    It has been proven that Facebook follow you after you have logged out all over the net.They say they corrected that and deleted the info....REALLY? there are some experts that say that is not the case.It has also been proven that they have not deleted some information that the user themselves deleted.They may not see it anylonger on the profile but it is still on the server.

    IT is unclear what information is used by Facebook exactly and for what. It is nearly impossible to protect oneself completely if Facebook are allowed continually to move the goal posts and to change everything without informing the user. They have an opt out policy for some changes but not for all. The policy should be opt in. And we should be made aware of who the customers are and be allowed to block information to certain customers too.

    It's hard enough as an adult to keep track of internet information and what we put out there. There are not enough controls to protect young people who freely and naively put there information and every thought out there.

    It is time that the Governments around the world start placing laws that will protect users in internet and stop the blatant abuse of privacy and freedom to choose.


    • Lock · 1421 days ago

      I love that you put out great information, but the fact remains I'm sure you still have a facebook account.

  8. Pierre · 1421 days ago

    Lol, FB is getting even worse than Google. Where did those 35 categories of information go? Evaporated, just like that?

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About the author

I've been writing about technology, careers, science and health since 1995. I rose to the lofty heights of Executive Editor for eWEEK, popped out with the 2008 crash, joined the freelancer economy, and am still writing for my beloved peeps at places like Sophos's Naked Security, CIO Mag, ComputerWorld, PC Mag, IT Expert Voice, Software Quality Connection, Time, and the US and British editions of HP's Input/Output. I respond to cash and spicy sites, so don't be shy.