Saturday, October 20, 2012

Law student in Vienna chases Facebook for keeping so much "personal data"

A 25-year-old law student from Austria, Max Schrems, is trying to raise money to sue Facebook in Europe, after he got Facebook to cough up the 1200-plus pages of information it had kept on him, according to a Washington Post story Saturday morning by Craig Timberg, link here

The story could be studied in conjunction with reports that the European Union is pressuring Google about the way its new combined privacy policy (implemented in March 2012) works (on my International issues blog, Oct. 16).  

European law is more protective of privacy than American law.  Schrems is reported as saying he is surprised American homes don’t use privacy hedges the way homes in Germany and Austria do.  (Hedges are considered a security threat here, hiding possible intruders.)

I’ve wondered what Facebook’s file on me would look like.  Since I’ve allowed my Twitter feeds to run on Facebook, those (maybe all 1570 of them) would be included.  Maybe even some retweets and answers.  Of course, some pictures (with data, although geolocation in my cameras are turned off) and videos.
But I don’t post online for restricted audiences – except in personal emails, or in occasional emails sent to listservers (GLIL, and I used to use the LPMN, Libertarian Party of Minnesota).  Oh, yes, I’ve made postings on Independent Gay Forum (not active with boards since about 2001), Project Greenlight (Miramax Pictures, not active since 2004), and, back in the 1990s, a lot of AOL discussion boards (especially one about “don’t ask don’t tell”).  Generally, emails sent to listservers, while technically public, are not likely to be widely seen outside of the list; and that comment tended to be true of forums in the past (before social media that we know today came into being).  However, I know (from “forensics”) that others who have not been “friended” who have not signed on as “followers” do see my Facebook posts and tweets, and of course I do have fully public audience for my blogs, books, and older flat sites.   My point here is that anything I post on Facebook or Twitter is intended to be seen by the whole public.  If something is personal enough to need restriction, I don’t post it anywhere.  (Essentially, Facebook and Twitter are supplementary microblogging platforms in my practice.)  I keep it on paper or on private files on my hard drive (which could be hacked, but not likely).  And I don’t even open  (spam) emails or attachments that I have reasonable suspicion of being “illegal”. 

Yes, the photo of Schrems makes him look “attractive”.  His Facebook group appears to be closed. 

Again, the public (and politicians) on both sides of the Pond need to appreciate the tradeoffs between privacy, openness, and free and user-generated content.  Companies can’t provide these platforms without advertising revenue to pay for them. Remember how we used to hate commercials on “free” broadcast TV?

Here's a little more "personal history": picture of the Biltmore Estate, NC, from 1991 visit, before my entry (not a return) to "public life".  (Wikipedia attribution link). 

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