Monday, November 14, 2011

Face to face with Facebook

Vienna, November 14, 2011(Tehe)

Austrian law student Max Schrems may be just one of about 800 million Facebook users, but that hasn\'t stopped him tackling the U.S. giant behind the social networking website over its privacy policy. The 24-year-old wasn\'t sure what to expect when he requested Facebook provide him with a record of the personal data it holds on him, but he certainly wasn\'t ready for the 1,222 pages of information he received.

This included photos, messages and postings on his Facebook page dating back years, some of which he thought he had deleted, the times he had clicked "like" on an item, "pokes" of fellow users and reams of other information.

"When you delete something from Facebook, all you are doing is hiding it from yourself," Mr. Schrems told AFP in his home city of Vienna.

Shocked, Mr. Schrems decided to act. Hitting a dead end in Austria, he took his complaints in August to the Data Protection Commissioner (DPC) in Ireland, where Facebook has its European headquarters.

Believing that Facebook was contravening European Union law, and had more data on him that it is not releasing, Mr. Schrems has filed 22 complaints with the DPC, details of which can be found on his website

"It\'s a shock of civilisations. Americans don\'t understand the concept of data protection. For them, the person with the rights is the one with the data. In continental Europe, we don\'t see things like that," he said. "If a company wants to operate in a country it has to abide by the rules."

Facebook, he says, has agreed in Germany to stop keeping records of users\' IP addresses — information showing where someone is connected to the Internet — but in other European countries the practice continues.

"This is Facebook strategy. When someone gets really annoyed, they back off one step, but continue advancing in other ways," said Mr. Schrems. The problem is that most people don\'t take the time to read the small print in Facebook\'s terms and conditions, he says.

"For the average citizen data protection is too complex and subtle," he says, believing it is therefore the responsibility of the state to ensure that users\' rights are upheld.

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