Pop quiz: What do Facebook and the FBI have in common? They’re both keeping files on you – only Facebook’s is probably a lot more extensive.
No, this is not paranoia. Thanks to European privacy laws, Facebook friends across the pond can request their complete Facebook logs -- the same files Facebook would send to law enforcement agencies pursuant to a court order.
As Forbes blogger Kashmir Hill reports, the Europe vs. Facebook site has posted a handful of redacted copies of Facebook dossiers. The file for one user who’s been an active member since 2007 runs to 780 printed pages – and hers isn’t the largest one.
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What’s in that file? More than you might think. Aside from the usual stuff people can glean from your public account, your Facebook file lists your credit card numbers, if you’ve provided any, and a whole lot more.
As they say on TV cop shows, anything contained within your Facebook file may be used against you in a court of law – as well as by divorce attorneys, people who are suing you, or private investigators just looking for dirt.
Here’s some of the information your Facebook file can reveal, as well as how it might be used.
Whom you’ve been avoiding. The document lists every friend request and how you responded – including people you’ve quietly turned away. So my mother isn’t good enough to be in your friends list, eh?
Whom you’ve been poking. The file lists every person you’ve poked and when you poked them, as well as who’s poked you back. It seems you’ve been having a nice little pokefest with your best friend’s spouse; what other kinds of poking have you two been up to?
Where you were last summer. Your dossier notes every time you’ve logged into Facebook and the IP address you used, as well as any check-ins you made. The IP address alone can give you a general idea of someone’s location; matched up with information from an ISP account, it can get pretty exact. So you said you were in Seattle on the dates in question, but you logged into Facebook six times from Los Angeles; would you care to explain that to the jury, Mr. Simpson?
What you were really doing. The file records every Facebook event you’ve been invited to, and how you RSVP’d. It’s not proof you actually attended an event you said “yes” to, but it’s enough to raise suspicion. So you claimed to be in Des Moines on a business trip last February, but you RSVP’d to that Swinging Singles Weekend in Cancun. I’ll just have my divorce attorney draw up the papers…
Whom you’ve been chatting up. Chat and message logs, including content, are also part of the files – including messages you’ve deleted. Hope you haven’t been having naughty sex chat with someone who isn’t your significant other, because Facebook never forgets.
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Other info in the file: The unique ID of every computer you’ve used to log on, the apps you’ve installed, alternate names you use, groups you belong to, photos you’ve uploaded, political and religious views, and much more. So even if you’ve made this stuff private online, it’s there in your file for any one with a court order (or who's expert at pretexting) to read.
To request your Facebook file you have to provide a scan of a government-issued ID, as well as your mailing address, phone number, the email address you use to log on to Facebook, your correct birthdate (it has to match the one on your Facebook account – so no more lying about your age), and the law under which you are requesting the data. That last one is going to be tough for US members, since there are no laws requiring companies like Facebook disclose this information to ordinary citizens. (Though there should be one, and I bet eventually there will be.)
I made my request citing the US Constitution. In about 40 days I’ll find out if it worked. If it did, I should receive a CD with my Facebook dossier on it contained in a PDF file.
[UPDATE: Guess not. Just got a robo-email saying Facebook won't comply with my request, "as this form is only applicable in certain jurisdictions." Now I really do want a law like the EU has.]
If you just want to archive your Facebook activity, you can do that from your Accounts page. But it won’t contain any of those juicy nuggets that the cops, PIs, and divorce attorneys crave.
Got a question about social media? TY4NS blogger Dan Tynan may have the answer (and if not, he’ll make something up). Visit his snarky, occasionally NSFW blog eSarcasm or follow him on Twitter: @tynan_on_tech. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-to’s, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.