Earlier this month I wrote about Max Schrems and the Europe vs Facebook initiative. In a nutshell, the Austrian law student asked Facebook for a copy of his personal data (which they are legally obliged to provide), yet when it turned up the hard copy also contained data from his profile that he had deleted – information that Facebook had clearly retained. So Schrems set up Europe vs Facebook and filed 22 individual claims about the social network’s practices.
And it seems as if the complaints are already having an effect. Ireland’s Data Protection Commissioner has called for Facebook’s offices in Ireland to be audited. If the findings of the audit are that Facebook has breached Irish laws surrounding data protection, the DPC has the right to ask the company to change the way in which is handles personal data. If Facebook refused to comply with the DPC’s request then they could be looking at a fine of up to €100,000 (roughly $138,000). Given the size and net worth of Facebook, a fine that size is a rather paltry sum, but they’d more likely be concerned with the negative publicity.
But it is worth saying in the defence of Facebook that the issue of deleting data is not as clear-cut as one might imagine. The case of messages is an obvious one: if you delete a message from your inbox or from a chat, the other users involved in the conversation will still have the right to keep their copy of it. Since the new Facebook Timeline feature was rolled out, people have been complaining that it is dredging up content that they thought had been deleted in the past, and was now exposed for all to see on their wall once more. It could be argued that anything you post on the internet is vulnerable to data theft, and if you were that concerned with privacy you’d never have joined a network that connects you with another 700 million people, the overwhelming majority of whom you do not know. These two comments from a Mashable Article on this topic show how people really do have a choice as to how and what they share:
I have been using Timeline and I have had NO ISSUES with anything that I do not want being public appearing on my Timeline. Facebook clearly gives you the option to view your own profile as “public” to see and then adjust (if needed) exactly what the public will see on your Timeline. I L♥ve Timeline. If you are a very private person maybe Facebook is not for you.
- Micaela Vermillion
Who cares. Do not post anything online for the world to see if you do not want the world to see it. Everyone trying to make a buck on Facebook success. I chose what I post on a free service site. They are not forcing me. If you are not wanting the world to know forever then do not post it. Many services harvest everything you post from Facebook so even if Facebook deleted it, then it could still be available from another data provider.
- Justin Jones
So there you have it. While Facebook’s offices in Ireland may be subject to an audit, there is still an onus on you – the user – to make sure that whatever you post online is something that you are happy for the world to see, or instead find another method for private sharing that gives you ultimate control and ownership of your data.