Back to all blog posts

Facebook knows a lot

A few weeks ago, I was auditing a CIPP/US class that Bob Siegel was teaching on behalf of the IAPP.  Someone brought up the idea of openness and allowing individuals access to the data you have about them.  At this point, Bob discussed the principles behind this, such as how the OECD Guidelines approach it.  Bob also mentioned that under GDPR (and the EU Privacy Directive) a user should be able to see and correct information an organization has about them.

Bob then mentioned it would be interesting to see what would happen if I asked a company about what data they had about me.  I immediately thought of Facebook.

As you know, Facebook is a social networking site where individuals post photos, status updates, and their interests as well as connect with friends.  Facebook profiles have astounding amounts of personal data, some more sensitive than the rest.  This includes locations you have been, your hobbies, employment information, your family, and more.  So how do you get this massive trove of information?

Getting my data

Facebook is surprisingly easy to get your data from.  In fact, they have automated it.  All I had to do was go into my account settings, and request a download of my profile.  A confirmation email is sent to the address associated with the account, which includes a link to get the profile.  That is how easy it was.  I give credit to Facebook for this, because it really wasn’t burdensome to me in any way.  In total, it took roughly 5 minutes for this to happen.

What Facebook knows

So what did I get?  A ZIP file.  I opened it up to look and was surprised by the amount of information.  In all honesty, I mostly use Facebook to organize events or hanging out with friends, such as the softball team I am on, so there isn’t a lot on my profile compared to most users.  That said, I did find the following things:

  • A list of every IP address I had logged onto my account from;
  • A list of all the friends requests I had, sorted by accepted, pending, and deleted requests;
  • A list of “active sessions”;
  • All of my posted pictures;
  • The list of ads or other sponsored content I had clicked through;
  • My entire timeline on Facebook; and
  • Complete transcripts of private messages.

There was more than that too, but that is the big stuff.

Why this matters

The important factor here is GDPR, or the General Data Privacy Regulations, taking place in the EU.  They require requests for data to be handled without fees and take no more than a month to respond.  A multinational organization located in the US, providing products or services in the EU is required to comply with these rules.  Having a concise and efficient way to handle data requests, such as Facebook has in place, is something to consider if you are looking to expand to the EU or are already there.

More importantly, making personal information you collect accessible provides a service to your more privacy minded customers, showing transparency or openness that helps build trust.

Training for everyone on your team