April 12, 2012

Facebook's New Archiving Feature

Today, Facebook announced a new feature, “Download Your Archive” on their blog

Ironically, one of the first comments on the blog post by a Facebook user is, simply, “Who cares?”  That’s exactly the right response, though probably not for the reasons the commenter intended.

What does the new functionality do?  Is it any good?  We’ve had a chance to look at the output.  Here’s a what you get:  a current catalog of all your friends, pictures, videos and wall posts.  Nothing else.

We have basically agree with Max Schrems:

“We welcome that Facebook users are now getting more access to their data, but Facebook is still not in line with the European Data Protection Law,” said Mr. Schrems, a student at the University of Vienna. “With the changes, Facebook will only offer access to 39 data categories, while it is holding at least 84 such data categories about every user.”

As we detailed in blogs earlier this week on Facebook hacking, there is a lot of data in Facebook.  This new capability still keeps a good chunk of this data out of users’ hands.  For example, Facebook tracks all the websites you visit.  Where are the logs?  Also, the archiving only shows current information.  So if you deleted, say, a photo, that won’t appear in the archive.  What about deleted content?  We know Facebook retains this information as well.  Credit card information is in Facebook if you bought dumb game stuff.  (For a full list of the data Facebook contains, Europe vs Facebook has done a nice job itemizing the list).

Overall, Facebook has only provided the bare minimum.  Why?  One can speculate that:

  • They want users to see just how much data they have—it would freak consumers out.
  • It’s a lot of work to make this content available.
  • They don’t wish to expose too much data for security reasons.

Chances are it’s a combination of the above.  (In fairness, the last bullet above is a legitimate reason to post too much information into an archive.  But I suspect various governments worldwide will force Facebook to include this information in future versions.)

We hope users understand what it means to have a lot of personal data stored in one location.  Cyworld, a social networking site in South Korea, was breached last year and 35M South Koreans had their data exposed to hackers.  No one is sure who hacked the site, theories range from a foreign government to private, for-profit hackers.  Today, Facebook claims 800M+ users.  Privacy is a big driver behind the new archiving feature.  Ironically, many consumers don’t’ seem to care about privacy.   Perhaps security concerns could make them more sensitive to the data they put online.

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