Facebook Lets Users Download More Data -- But Critics Still Underwhelmed

Facebook said this week that it will allow users to download more data from their accounts -- including their friend requests and IP addresses used. In the past, users could only use a tool to download a more limited set of data, including photos, posts, lists of friends and chats.

"Starting today you will be able to download an expanded archive of your Facebook account history," the company said in a blog post. "This feature will be rolling out gradually to all users and more categories of information will be available for download in the future."

Facebook clearly hopes the new tool will win it some points with privacy regulators in Europe -- where sweeping laws limit the amount of data that companies can collect and retain.

But some of Facebook's toughest critics remain dissatisfied.

The group Europe-v-Facebook.org, headed by 24-year-old Austrian law student Max Schrems, says the new tool doesn't give users nearly enough information. The organization estimates that Facebook retains data in 84 categories -- including searches, pageviews and tags that have been removed. The new tool still won't give users access to all of those categories, Schrems says.

"Facebook keeps fooling its users: Instead of handing out a one-on-one copy of all 84 data categories Facebook is holding about every user, we will only get to see a fraction of this information," the group says. "Many data categories are going to be not in the download tool but spread all over the webpage. This means that users have to hunt for it by digging through the 'timeline,' the 'activity log' and other sorts of pages."

Among the missing items, Schrems says, are information about pages with "Like" buttons that are visited by users. “We found Like buttons on porn pages. Facebook holds this data in a personal form for 90 days and then -- according to Facebook -- depersonalizes it,” Schrems told GigaOm.

Still, it's not clear that most users want to be able to access that data. If anything, privacy-conscious users might well prefer that Facebook destroy the information, or anonymize it, than make it available as a downloadable file.

Last year, Schrems drew attention to questions about how much data Facebook retained when he asked the social networking service to disclose information about him. The social networking service responded by handing over more than 1,200 pages worth of friend lists, photos, chat records, pokes, event invitations, and the like.

“After studying the privacy policy of Facebook for months, I can still not tell you what they do with my data,” he said at the time. “It is our data that we put on Facebook, so we should have the right to do whatever we want with it.”

Tags: facebook, privacy
Recommend (7) Print RSS