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24-Year-Old Asks Facebook For His Data, Gets 1,200 PDFs 291

Posted by Soulskill
from the ask-and-ye-shall-receive dept.
chicksdaddy writes "Be careful of what you ask for. That's a lesson Max Schrems of Vienna, Austria learned the hard way when he sent a formal request to Facebook for a copy of every piece of personal information that the social network had collected on him, as required under European law. After a wait, the 24-year-old law student got what he was seeking: a CD with all his data stored on it — 1,222 files in all. The collection of PDFs was roughly the length of Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace, but told a more mundane story: a record of Schrems' years-long relationship with the world's largest social network, including reams of data he had deleted. Now Schrems is pushing Facebook to disclose even more of what it knows."
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24-Year-Old Asks Facebook For His Data, Gets 1,200 PDFs

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  • by ThisIsNotMyHandel (1013943) on Tuesday December 13, 2011 @08:21PM (#38364102)
    It should be illegal for these companies to keep user generated content once the user deletes it.
  • by earls (1367951) on Tuesday December 13, 2011 @08:24PM (#38364134)

    What if I want them to? Version control, anyone?

  • by ackthpt (218170) on Tuesday December 13, 2011 @08:25PM (#38364142) Homepage Journal

    Sure, a flood of data looks mundane, but combing it with the right filters probably tells lots of interesting stuff, like the DNA of relationships and interests. I can only hope mine is utterly meaningless. I've tried very hard to ensure that eventuality.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 13, 2011 @08:25PM (#38364146)

    Should it also be illegal for me to keep a record of your appearance in my mind once you leave the room as well?

    >Making up arbitrary emotionally motivated "this should be illegal" arguments on the fly.

  • by swalve (1980968) on Tuesday December 13, 2011 @08:31PM (#38364218)
    So they should have an army tasked with sanitizing all the backup tapes whenever I delete a photo?
  • by drcheap (1897540) on Tuesday December 13, 2011 @08:32PM (#38364224) Journal

    It should be illegal for these companies to keep user generated content once the user deletes it.

    It's legal because the user agreed to let them keep it. I'm sure it's somewhere in those 6000 words nobody reads...probably something along the lines of "content uploaded by the user of the system becomes the sole property of the system" only more legalese sounding.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 13, 2011 @08:35PM (#38364240)

    If a user shares content, it belongs to everyone who it was shared with.
    Removing it because someone deleted it isn't a clear cut as people here make it seem.

  • by Oxford_Comma_Lover (1679530) on Tuesday December 13, 2011 @08:38PM (#38364264)

    Your personal knowledge of a prior event concerning me does not raise privacy concerns. Your automatic and routine compilation of all prior events concerning me and sharing of that information with intelligence agencies, law enforcement, and commercial partners does.

  • Uh, what? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by twotacocombo (1529393) on Tuesday December 13, 2011 @08:38PM (#38364274)
    This article's summary is rather baited. I fail to see how see how this guy "learned the hard way". It's not like they rolled up with a truck and dumped reams of paper in the middle of his living room. He received a CD with files in an easily searchable format. I'm sure he knew going into it he wasn't going to read through it all in a night, and probably doesn't contain any surprises. If anything, Facebook "learned the hard way", now that they have to divulge the massive amount of data that they store, upon request, which means they must employ people to do this. Are the costs incurred outweighed by any profit produced by hoarding this particular information?
  • by dougmc (70836) <dougmc+slashdot@frenzied.us> on Tuesday December 13, 2011 @08:38PM (#38364276) Homepage

    You might be legally retarded.

    Huh?

    His point is perfectly valid. Wikipedia is, for example, all about version control. Somebody defaces a page? Revert.

  • by Oxford_Comma_Lover (1679530) on Tuesday December 13, 2011 @08:42PM (#38364308)

    It might be that the problems suggest, not that the proposed solution should be discarded, but that an alternative solution incorporating both the motivation for that solution and the problems inherent in executing it should be proposed.

    For example, perhaps all non-archival copies of the information could be deleted. Furthermore, if the backup system is constructed with the privacy goal in mind, it is possible to give the user control over the ability of the corporation to restore that user's information--a user, for example, might be permitted to order the company to destroy a key that allows decryption of backed up data entered by the user.

  • by bennomatic (691188) on Tuesday December 13, 2011 @08:46PM (#38364330) Homepage
    It's the flip side of the Vegas coin. "What goes on the Internet stays on the Internet."
  • by PopeRatzo (965947) * on Tuesday December 13, 2011 @08:52PM (#38364380) Homepage Journal

    So they should have an army tasked with sanitizing all the backup tapes whenever I delete a photo?

    What is this, 1985? You think it takes an "army" of people to go back and delete data?

    Tell you what, if Facebook was ever charged with some legal wrongdoing and expected subpoenas, I bet they'd be able to "sanitize" their data post haste without an "army" of people, and without deleting anything critical to their operations. Funny how that works, no?

  • by Stormthirst (66538) on Tuesday December 13, 2011 @08:53PM (#38364388)

    If they are like any organisation I've worked for, they over write the tapes. So no, they don't.

    All they have to do is actually delete stuff when a user asks them to, instead of telling the user they have, and then snickering behind their hands like naughty school kids. The buttons on the webpages are marked "delete", and any user should have an expectation that the button would do what it says it does.

  • by Aldanga (1757414) on Tuesday December 13, 2011 @08:54PM (#38364396)
    Or utilize a social network like Diaspora [diasporafoundation.org] and control your own data.
  • by tgd (2822) on Tuesday December 13, 2011 @08:56PM (#38364414)

    Your personal knowledge of a prior event concerning me does not raise privacy concerns. Your automatic and routine compilation of all prior events concerning me and sharing of that information with intelligence agencies, law enforcement, and commercial partners does.

    Your life isn't nearly as interesting as you think. Your mundanity is your privacy. Your value to Facebook is your eyeballs and the ads they can serve.

    And if your life was any interest to anyone, there'd be people working a lot harder to penetrate your privacy.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 13, 2011 @09:03PM (#38364484)

    Someone's looking for you. Thanks to information on the internet, they find you. Then they murder you.

    Okay, that probably won't happen to me personally. But guess what? It (not necessarily that extreme example) has to happen to someone. And that someone could be me (not that I don't care if it happens to others).

    Someone will inevitably be interested in someone else's life. Pretending that because it doesn't happen to you, it doesn't happen to anyone, is foolish.

  • by PopeRatzo (965947) * on Tuesday December 13, 2011 @09:04PM (#38364488) Homepage Journal

    How does a company instantly delete backups on redundant servers?

    Who said anything about "instantly"?

    And as far as deleting backups on redundant servers, it sounds like it could be done with a few lines of code.

    Furthermore, if you upload something to Facebook, and someone ELSE downloads it and saves it to a CD, and you delete it off facebook, should THEY be forced to magically know you deleted it, and delete their copy as well?

    Now that's kind of a dumb question. This isn't about what some individual does while data is available online. It's about what a company whose business model depends on collecting and monetizing such data does with it. And what they should be allowed to do with it.

    But then, I think that anybody who uses facebook has to know that facebook is all about collecting data on people and monetizing it any way they can. Which is why I will not use facebook. I once created an account there because I needed to do something that required a facebook account, but never really posted anything personal, or real for that matter. I don't have any use for what facebook does and if I did, there are better ways to get it done. I'm just not willing to pimp out my privacy that way.

  • by hawguy (1600213) on Tuesday December 13, 2011 @09:12PM (#38364562)

    What if I want them to? Version control, anyone?

    You haven't deleted it if you expect it to be recoverable from a version control system.

    But when I have a reasonable expectation for something to be deleted forever (like when I empty my Gmail trash folder), then the carrier should take reasonable steps to make said item unrecoverable within a reasonable timeframe.

  • by PopeRatzo (965947) * on Tuesday December 13, 2011 @09:12PM (#38364564) Homepage Journal

    Sounds like he's doing this for attention...

    And if the "attention" he gets convinces some people to stop using facebook or not to start using it in the first place, then he has done something worthwhile.

  • by JAlexoi (1085785) on Tuesday December 13, 2011 @09:15PM (#38364600) Homepage
    If you remove YOUr own content, there should be no going back. Wikipedia is a different beast - it's about facts being collected into a single place.
  • by Trepidity (597) <delirium-slashdotNO@SPAMhackish.org> on Tuesday December 13, 2011 @09:26PM (#38364690)

    Except for the company's own data, of course: then they manage to remember how to really delete data, e.g. old emails after N days, so that no future nosey prosecutor can dig it out of the database.

  • by mcavic (2007672) on Tuesday December 13, 2011 @09:31PM (#38364724)

    So they should have an army tasked with sanitizing all the backup tapes whenever I delete a photo?

    No, backups are fine. But if I tell Facebook to delete something, they should delete it so that it fades out of the backups. Not keep it in their working data, but marked as deleted.

    This goes 10 times as much for email providers, as well as credit card numbers, SSN's, etc, once the legitimate need for that information is finished.

    Yes, someone may have already copied (or stolen) the data. But this is just about a service provider acting like we expect them to act, not secretly collecting personal information for their own purposes.

  • by hawguy (1600213) on Tuesday December 13, 2011 @09:34PM (#38364752)

    I find this attitude so ignorant. How does a company instantly delete backups on redundant servers? How do they delete redundant hard copies kept in closets separated by meatspace? Furthermore, if you upload something to Facebook, and someone ELSE downloads it and saves it to a CD, and you delete it off facebook, should THEY be forced to magically know you deleted it, and delete their copy as well? Does Google have to delete their caches of your facebook page? Or maybe you are saying that Facebook, Google, etc should never make backups?

    Few large companies are using tape when they already have redundant disk storage in redundant datacenters, so typically deletes happen at the speed of replication.

    But if there was interest in enforcing a non-retention policy, regulators could say that no user deleted data can be retained longer than XXX days (maybe 90 or 180 days). This gives time for off-site tape backups to be rotated back and recycled. And plenty of time for remote disk replication to occur. A smart company could think of even more clever ways to quickly and securely delete data. Maybe instead of deleting the data itself, the pointer to the data is deleted (which also holds the decryption key to decrypt that piece of data). Then once that pointer is deleted (along with any backups), the data is unrecoverable even if it's on a WORM drive.

    The truth is that once you upload something to a site like Facebook, it becomes publicly viewable and accessible and ANYONE can download it. The unfortunate truth is that you can never really UNDO that action, and no matter what arbitrary laws or draconian regulations you force companies to abide by, you can never truly take it back, even if you hit the delete key.

    That depends on where I upload it. If I upload an photo where the visibility is set to only allow my girlfriend to see it, then I delete it 2 days later, why should it be recoverable at all? I understand that she may have downloaded it and emailed it to her mother, but I trust her not to do that. So why can't I trust Facebook to not allow it to reappear later in a legal subpoena? Or to resurface 2 years later in a new "undelete" feature that makes all of my deleted content visible?

    The paradigm shift needs to be in how people view sites like Facebook, Photobucket, etc: Don't upload anything you want to keep private. If you want to keep it private, upload it to a company that guarantees your privacy... NOT Facebook.

    Why not a paradigm shift for companies that acquire personal data that requires them to protect that data.

  • by Algae_94 (2017070) on Tuesday December 13, 2011 @09:39PM (#38364798) Journal
    No, backups will eventually get overwritten. Deleting a photo should actually delete it in the live system, not just tag it with some metadata that marks it as deleted so no one sees it. I'm not exactly sure how Facebook marks things deleted, but I am sure they don't delete it.

    A simple confirmation prompt for a delete would be enough to prevent most unwanted deletions. If you happen to delete a photo you want back, you should have done your own local backup of that file to re-post.

    This really comes down to an issue of data trust with organizations you give your data to. Facebook has shown little reason to trust them with personal data, yet people keep sending it to them. Facebook's entire company value is based on how much information they amass on people. It is therefore not surprising in the least that they don't let people arbitrarily delete data and thus reduce their value.
  • by KhabaLox (1906148) on Tuesday December 13, 2011 @09:46PM (#38364830)

    -a user, for example, might be permitted to order the company to destroy a key that allows decryption of backed up data entered by the user.

    +1 insightful.

    GP deserves his Informatives too, but P makes a very good point as well.

    Rather than pick positions (e.g. delete it instantly vs. it will be around forever) and evaluate the relative merits or possibilities, it is perhaps more fruitful to understand the motivations for a user to want FB to delete his data, and for FB to keep redundant backups for long periods of time. Once we understand the motivations behind the positions, we can come to a better negotiated outcome (such as the examples P gives) that satisfy both parties. This is the essence of Principled Negotiation [colorado.edu].

    (My boss made me read "Getting to Yes.")

  • by VortexCortex (1117377) <VortexCortexNO@S ... t-retrograde.com> on Tuesday December 13, 2011 @09:48PM (#38364840) Homepage

    I find this attitude so ignorant.

    I find you so ignorant...

    How does a company instantly delete backups on redundant servers? How do they delete redundant hard copies kept in closets separated by meatspace?

    By deleting the fucking encryption key. This shit isn't rocket surgery folks.

    Oh, it's not encrypted? WHY THE FUCK NOT? Seriously, Best Security Practices Rule #1: Don't Be Sony
    Even my Media Library's SQL metadata is encrypted. I keep that database backed up, but if I want to INSTANTLY DELETE BACKUPS THE WORLD OVER ON REDUNDANT SERVERS, I simply wipe the decryption keys. Now, if I can do this, there's really no reason for them to not be able to. If you're concerned about scaling, that's not an issue, (additionally, scalability isn't my problem). They could store the decryption key in a separate table in the same DB, or right in with the other row data, I DON'T CARE, SO LONG AS YOU DON'T SAVE THE DECRYPTION KEY IN THE BACKUP ARCHIVE. That's data that's small enough to have it's own separate archive that's easy to delete on demand. If they can track all that crap they're tracking, they could take the (CPU) time to do it securely... of course they're not required to by law, yet.

    Furthermore, if you upload something to Facebook, and someone ELSE downloads it and saves it to a CD, and you delete it off facebook, should THEY be forced to magically know you deleted it, and delete their copy as well?

    Of course not you TWIT. That's not remotely as feasible as wiping out a few bytes of key-data; Besides, I don't have a 1st party relationship with them. I DO HAVE a 1st party relationship with Facebook, and in their TOS it says they'll delete shit that I tell them to, but that it may not happen "immediately", and that it may temporarily enter a refuse bin like system. Do you empty your recyling bin once every quarter decade? Do you flush your toilet once a century? WHAT'S A REASONABLE LENGTH OF TIME TO NOT DELETE AN ENCRYPTINON KEY?!

    Does Google have to delete their caches of your facebook page? Or maybe you are saying that Facebook, Google, etc should never make backups?

    Once again 1st & 3rd parties. Since Facebook says they WILL DELETE your content once you've deleted your profile (unless it's been shared on another's wall, etc), THEY SHOULD BE ABLE TO DELETE IT. Now, they haven't done so in what I'd consider a reasonable amount of time... indeed, they show the opposite effect. This is my opinion. Perhaps you're more unreasonable than I.

  • by hawguy (1600213) on Tuesday December 13, 2011 @09:49PM (#38364860)

    "backups"

    That's why I said "reasonable timeframe". I don't expect them to delete the data immediately, maybe provide for 90 - 180 days to allow off-site tapes to be recycled. I'm not even asking for a secure delete, I'm ok with the data being technically recoverable from a disk or tape using forensic analysis.

    Maximum retention times are nothing new in the corporate world.

  • by Capt. Skinny (969540) on Tuesday December 13, 2011 @10:15PM (#38365006)

    Your mundanity is your privacy

    Perhaps, as long as you remain obscure. But once you become a research target -- being suspected of a crime, mentioned in a news story, or applying for a security clearance, for example -- then all that data can provide seeds for speculation about your motives, integrity, or personality.

    The public IP addresses of my servers are buried in relative obscurity, just another 32-bit number among millions. But if I post a log file to a support forum then you can bet that I'll strip that IP address out.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 13, 2011 @10:37PM (#38365182)

    Your life isn't nearly as interesting as you think. Your mundanity is your privacy. Your value to Facebook is your eyeballs and the ads they can serve.

    And if your life was any interest to anyone, there'd be people working a lot harder to penetrate your privacy.

    In other words, if you behave yourself, act like a good little citizen, pay your taxes, and don't complain you have nothing to fear, right? And of course, if you don't, you have no rights, and you shouldn't, either, because you are a Bad Person.

  • by Chris Pimlott (16212) on Tuesday December 13, 2011 @10:51PM (#38365290)

    Everyone is interesting to somebody, even if it's just their local bartender/coworker/pizza delivery guy/romantic rival... Now it used to be the case that it didn't matter as none of these everyday "mundane" acquaintances had the time, access or expertise to pull together a dossier but today it's pretty trivial.

  • by Galestar (1473827) on Tuesday December 13, 2011 @10:55PM (#38365348)
    Except for the fact that you come to me on a daily basis and intentionally and willingly disclose this information to me, after I warned you in my EULA that I reserve the right to do exactly that.

    Should people think twice before they post every stupid detail of their lives on Facebook? Yes
    Should it be illegal for Facebook to do what they do? No.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 13, 2011 @11:27PM (#38365572)

    Let's see, in my mundane life I work IT at a big ass bank, think old timey horse and coach stuff, and I spend my spare time occupying the local downtown as part of the We Are the 99% movement. We coordinate events and efforts and host discussions via FaceBook.

    So of course I believe you are correct, there is nothing in my life interesting enough to warrant anyone actually paying attention to me.

    Now, to unfriend all those anarchists, union members, homeless robo-signing victims, and commies who are screaming on the sidewalk to tear down the big banks and end too big to fail, so I'm not such a boring wallflower.

    Oh, wait, there's still a record kept you say?

  • by ganjadude (952775) on Tuesday December 13, 2011 @11:45PM (#38365722) Homepage
    and when "insert random person here" accesses your account and mucks it all up on you..."you" deleted it, but YOU didnt.... than what?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 14, 2011 @01:25AM (#38366386)

    1) You could revert the next day. The OP didn't say it should be deleted instantly, just within a reasonable amount of time. Keeping data for 1 month to allow user reversals and another 5 months for backup tape recycling is reasonable. Keeping your data for years like they do now is a different matter.

    2) This backup/restore function you speak of is not available in Facebook anyway, despite them having the data available forever.

  • by avgjoe62 (558860) on Wednesday December 14, 2011 @02:14AM (#38366644)

    You are special AND unique, just like everyone else...

  • by Patch86 (1465427) on Wednesday December 14, 2011 @04:04AM (#38367160)

    It doesn't have to be deleted instantly, as long as they're making good steps to delete it. In the UK, we have data protection laws that stipulate that data must be retained for a certain period after it is no longer in use, and then must be permanently deleted after that. The vast majority of "grown up" companies (such as the big banks) are bound by this and manage to do it just fine. If Facebook can't do this, it's their problem. They shouldn't be in the data centre game if they can't abide by data protection laws properly.

    One problem is that data uploaded to Facebook is not always uploaded by the person who it concerns. There are dozens of pictures of me on Facebook, every single one of which uploaded by one of my friends or family. If one of my friends uploads a picture of me I disapprove of (a picture of my bank statement, say, with all my private data clearly visible) and I ask them nicely to remove it, I should have every expectation that the hosting company (Facebook) will not only "remove" it, but also set about deleting it in line with data protection laws. No excuses.

  • by Solandri (704621) on Wednesday December 14, 2011 @04:54AM (#38367360)

    Your life isn't nearly as interesting as you think. Your mundanity is your privacy. Your value to Facebook is your eyeballs and the ads they can serve.

    If I'm really that uninteresting, and my only value is in my interests and the ads respond best to, then why the hell is Facebook retaining practically everything about me?

  • by N1AK (864906) on Wednesday December 14, 2011 @05:20AM (#38367510) Homepage
    How about you stop trying to decide what should happen to other peoples data for them. I'm perfectly happy with Facebook keeping everything I delete by default. I would however appreciate the ability to actually delete something if I ever wanted to (which thus far hasn't happened). I would also like it if they were up front about what they're doing. It is misleading to call it deletion, which most people understand to mean it will cease to exist at some point, and then keep it indefinitely.
  • by angel'o'sphere (80593) on Wednesday December 14, 2011 @05:32AM (#38367568) Homepage Journal

    It's legal because the user agreed to let them keep it.

    No, that is only true for the US. And I would bet it is in fact only true for the US. For Europe and that is not only the EU but nearly every country I ever heard about, this is not true. Law > "any agreement", already the fact that a company writes such a "proposal" wanting you to "agree" is arguable illegal. Nevertheless, regardless to what you agree (by checking a check box) if it is illegal by law, the agreement is void.

    Just because you americans are used to your retarded law/legal system you should not assume the rest of the world is equally backyard stuck in 1750 ...

  • by JAlexoi (1085785) on Wednesday December 14, 2011 @10:23AM (#38369452) Homepage

    How about you stop trying to decide what should happen to other peoples data for them.

    My reaction to that statement is - WHAT!?!?!?!
    It's the owner who is removing it, not someone else. Just because you want your data to be stored for years, doesn't mean that I should be deprived of the option to remove it permanently. If anything, current situation takes away my choice to remove the information permanently, while not affecting you in any meaningful way.

    PS: And if they want to do business in EU, they have to comply with the rules people of EU set out.

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