Should Facebook Shadow Profiles Scare us?

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Should Facebook Shadow Profiles Scare us?

In Europe there is a controversy over the creation of shadow profiles of users who haven’t consented to using Facebook. Through a mix of information gathering via Facebook like buttons coupled with address book sharing and related means they are able to piece together identities of users who don’t use Facebook quite often because they don’t want to be tracked.

Of course Facebook has access to information just like other companies do – those who supply toolbars, show cookie-placing ads and sites who allow uploading of address books. But what makes the situation so scary is that Facebook has so much information on so many users that their cross-referencing capability makes it a major threat to privacy.

Moreover, think about it from a government perspective… They could subpoena Facebook records on people who aren’t Facebook users and if they have the ability to match a cookie on your computer to the identity they believe is yours, in a moment they could learn a tremendous amount about you including your browsing habits.

And as a reminder, you don’t need to be a Facebook user to have this happen – every time you see a Facebook Like button go by, it’s as if a little more of your personal data is being archived in computers stored miles away in the bowels of a data center.

Slashdot  alerted me to an Austrian group called Europe Versus Facebook whose is filing numerous complaints about the social network’s privacy policies. Facebook has responded in the past but not in a way that is satisfactory to the group. In fact, ZDnet reports that Facebook at first was argumentative – saying that personal data was more or less a trade secret of the company.

In August a complaint was filed against Facebook Ireland citing that shadow profiles and other data retention policies violate Irish privacy laws. One of the points has to do with the fact that shadow profiles are being held without the permission of users and moreover that they never consented to the company’s user agreement relating to Facebook use.

In a recent response, Facebook Ireland explained how users can download a copy of their data and moreover that the company is working with the Irish Data Protection Commission.

Europe Versus Facebook is not impressed – in fact they have document which has information they believe Facebook has relating to users that is not disclosed. Items such as meta data of videos, photos a user is tagged in, information pertaining to user searches, synchronization data from address book uploads, face recognition information, click flow data and much more.

The video above is from the Europe Versus Facebook site is in German and details the travails of a 24 year old law student who wanted to find out if delete on Facebook really means delete. After searching for some time for a hidden form allowing him to request his stored information, he was able to obtain a CD from California which had 1,200 pages in 57 categories. The video continues saying that since Facebook has an office in Dublin it must be held to more stringent privacy laws of the EU. The rest is history.

So should these profiles scare us? Well privacy advocates will likely say yes and the challenge the world will have this next decade is dealing with privacy issues as big data becomes huge data and analytics technologies get even better than they are today.



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