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Is Facebook Hoarding Data Like “The KGB”?

Submitted by on October 24, 2011 – 12:53 pmNo Comment

An Austrian law student filed a formal complaint against Facebooklast week, alleging among other things that the social networking site is creating “shadow profiles” of non-users with sensitive personal information.

Max Schrems, 24, requested a copy of his complete Facebook archive, and the company obliged, sending him a CD with 1,200 pages of personal data. But he was disturbed to find that much of it was information he had deleted, sometimes years earlier, including untagged photos, message chains, pokes, and de-friendings. Schrem compared keeping deleted data to acting like “the KGBor CIA,” according to British newspaper The Guardian.

Schrems filed the complaint with the Irish Data Protection Commissioner, as Facebookoutside the U.S. and Canada is administered by an Irish subsidiary. European privacy laws are notoriously more strict than in the U.S., where Facebookis headquartered. The complaint has already resulted in a formal audit of the company, which is to begin next week.

Schrem describes the shadow profiles as data that is collected or stored without the knowledge or consent of the person. He claims that Facebookgathers the private data of both users and non-users by encouraging users to import contact lists, synchronize devices, and invite others to join, and alleges that this is what allows Facebook to “suggest friends” or urge non-users to join by showing people they may know already.

According to CNET, a Facebook spokesperson called the shadow profile allegations “false.” Andrew Noyes, Facebook‘s manager of public policy, acknowledged that Facebookkeeps the names and e-mail address of people invited to join, but called the practice “common” among services ranging from “document sharing to event planning.”

Noyes was less emphatic about the deleted material. He explained that messages and pictures can be deleted or untagged on one profile, but remain on another.

Neither Noyes or Schrem seemed to mention Facebook‘s controversial Terms of Service, which were altered in 2009 to allow the site to use all content ever uploaded, even if users completely delete their profiles.

If found guilty of violating data laws, Facebookcould face fines of about $130,000. That’s small potatoes for a company worth more than $80 billion. The real risk for the social network is that their European privacy issues will continue, cracking down on the data collection that is the cornerstone of Facebook‘s profitability.

What do you think? Is this any serious trouble for Mark Zuckerberg and Co.?

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