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The Resource Center Identity Theft & Protection | post

Beware of What Facebook Knows About You and Your Children

by Joe Mason on

In case you missed it, Facebook announced last week that it now has one billion (that's with a "b") users worldwide. If you are the parents of a teenager, or perhaps a pre-teen, they undoubtedly post pictures, messages and who knows what else on their Facebook pages, and respond to what their friends post.

Facebook is "free." It's there for their use. You may see some ads from time to time, but otherwise it charges its one billion users nothing. Your kids probably think of it as some kind of gift from the gods. But ask them an interesting question: Who owns all that stuff they post on Facebook?

The answer you will likely get is, of course, they own it; it's their pictures and writings aren't they? You yourselves likely think that if you post a picture on Facebook, it's your picture.

Wrong. If you look at your user's agreement — you know, that long boring boiler-plate stuff — you will see that Facebook has an absolute right to use anything a user posts in any way they see fit. For all intents and purposes, they now own the rights to anything you post.

More to the point, they can use anything a user posts, or what they click on, or what they transmit, to compile what is essentially a dossier on each user — and then they are free to sell that data to advertisers who are willing to pay a lot to better target potential buyers of their products.

This is how Facebook plans to make a huge fortune in the future. Now at least one user thinks this is wrong, and if he can finance his effort, he plans to challenge Facebook in a European court.

Max Schrems, a 25-year-old law student in Austria, is trying to raise the 250,000 Euros he estimates he will need to take on one of the world's richest companies.

Last year Schrems used a little known European Union law to demand from Facebook copies of all materials they maintained on him. He was rather stunned when he received 1,222 pages detailing every friendship, every photo uploaded, every "poke" or comment or invitation he sent or received over three years of Facebook use. Two friends, who also requested their files, got them also. One was 882 pages, the other 1,142.

The first thing Schrems did was to post all 1,222 pages on a website asking if anyone else thought there was something wrong with this. Thousands did, and using the little noticed EU regulation, more than 40,000 Facebook users demanded copies of their files. That overwhelmed Facebook's ability to respond and now the company has made it easier, at least in Western Europe, for users to download their own files.

But Schrems is just getting started. He has drafted complaints alleging 22 privacy violations by Facebook: keeping messages after senders deleted them, sharing personal data with outside app developers, allowing users to be "tagged" in photos without their permission, and more.

He believes what Facebook is doing violates the EU's strong privacy laws (they much stronger than U.S. laws). If he can raise the money through small, online donations, he is ready to hire lawyers and go to court. Facebook is concerned enough to have met directly with him several times now trying to avert any lawsuit.

Let this serve as a cautionary tale for your children. If Facebook has 1,222 pages of data on Max Schrems, how many pages does it have on them?

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