Facebook is facing a possible fine of €100,000 ($138,000) for storing data of the users even after their account data was deleted. In one of the latest developments to shock the social networking world, Facebook’s Ireland offices are being audited after a 24 year old Austrian law student, Max Schrems; who filed 22 individual claims about Facebook’s practices.
It all began when the 24-year-old asked Facebook for a copy of all his private data in the month of June. Facebook acknowledged the request and sent him a CD containing 1200 pages of data which included his likes, ‘friend’ and ‘unfriend’ history and also chat logs. The information provided to him was broken down into 57 categories which included log-ons and email addresses, which he assumes were discerned from another user’s profile. The Austrian law student was taken aback as some of the data returned to him had already been deleted. The CD also consisted of a list of photos of himself which he had de-tagged, the names of everyone he had “poked”, which events he didn’t attend and much more. His 22 individual claims were a part of the Europe vs. Facebook initiative taken by him. His claims include the ways Facebook retains deleted user data and also puts a lens on the social networking site’s Terms of Service and business shortcomings.
Some of the complaints as stated by Mr. Schrems include, deleted postings were reported to show up in the set of Facebook’s received data. Another complaint says that the privacy settings control the permission for the link to a picture to be seen by people. The picture being ‘public’ on the internet, it becomes quite easy to evade these settings. It is reported that Schrems’s complaints have already shown results as Ireland’s Data Protection Commissioner has ordered for an audit of Facebook’s offices. These audits, according to reports, are scheduled to take place before Christmas. If the DPC finds Facebook to breach the Irish data protection law, it might ask the company to change the way it handles personal data; failing which it could face a fine up to $138,000. In February 2009, Facebook changed its Terms of Service which permitted it to use or modify user data in any way it wants even if the user quits the service. This change caused a furore among the users causing the company to backpedal a bit.
In a blog post, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg explained that it’s indeed tricky to permanently delete the message sent by a user. This, he feels is because the receiver has every right to keep their copy of the message. This latest incident may once again bring to the forefront Facebook’s self-declared liberties with user data.
For Facebook, it is not the fine that will worry the company bosses. What will indeed trouble them is the negative publicity that will arise from this incident. Users will think twice before they put forward any information on the social networking site.
This incident will again put forward debatable questions – Are we really safe online? Can the data of your Facebook Profile bother you later? For information is power, and information about people is power over people.