Facebook Retains Users’ Deleted Data; Creating “Shadow Profiles”

Facebook Ireland accused of creating ‘shadow profiles’ on users, nonusers
Source: CNET
By: Laura Locke
Facebook Ireland is under fire for allegedly creating “shadow profiles” on both users and nonusers alike.

The startling charges against the social-networking giant come from the Irish Data Protection Commissioner (IDC), which, Fox News reports today, is launching a “comprehensive” investigation against Facebook Ireland for extracting data from current users–without their consent or knowledge–and building “extensive profiles” on people who haven’t even signed on for the service.

Names, phone numbers, e-mail addresses, work information, and perhaps even more sensitive information such as sexual orientation, political affiliations, and religious beliefs are being collected and could possibly be misused, Irish authorities claim.

On August 18, the IDC received a formal complaint against Facebook Ireland made by Max Schrems, a 24-year-old Austrian law student. In June, after attending a talk by a Facebook executive at Santa Clara University in California, while on a study abroad program, Schrems apparently asked Facebook for his data. To his surprise, the company sent him a CD with 1,200 pages–three years worth–of highly personal “deleted” material ranging from friend requests to his history of “Pokes” to lists of people he had “defriended” to entire chat messages.

Schrems, in turn, filed 22 discrete complaints about Facebook to the IDC. That has led to an official “statutory” audit of Facebook Ireland that’s going to get underway next week and could possibly lead to “immediate charges” if Facebook is found to be in violation of data protection laws, a representative for IDC told Fox News. Facebook could also be fined up to $137,000 (U.S. dollars) according to the U.K.-based Guardian.

“I’m not saying there was anything criminal or forbidden there, but let’s just say that, as someone wanting to work in law, there was stuff which could make it pretty impossible for me to get a job,” Schrems was quoted as saying in The Guardian. “By holding on to data its users assumed was deleted, Facebook was acting like ‘the KGB or the CIA,’ said Schrems…. It’s frightening that all this data is being held by Facebook.”

In his “Shadow Profiles” complaint, Schrems explains how Facebook goes about eliciting data from users and nonusers:

“This is done by different functions that encourage users to hand personal data of other users and nonusers to Facebook Ireland (e.g., ‘synchronizing’ mobile phones, importing personal data from e-mail providers, importing personal information from instant-messaging services, sending invitations to friends, or saving search queries when users search for other people on facebook.com).”

“This means that Facebook Ireland is gathering excessive amounts of information about data subjects without notice or consent by the data subject.”


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