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The man who is taking on Facebook (on behalf of Europe)

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By Noel Young, Correspondent

October 27, 2011 | 4 min read

Max Schrems had been using Facebook for three years when he decided to find out just how much material on him the social network had accumulated. So he asked .The response was awe-inspiring . On a CD sent to the 24-year-old Austrian student were 1222 pages of information.

Max Schrems

Awe-inspiring , that is, to everyone but Schrems. He believes there is much more. Only 23 out of 57 data categories were covered, he says, and he wants the rest.

Some material in the original 1222 pages was stuff he thought he had deleted long since. Now he is conducting a debate on his website, www.europe-v-facebook.org, on the meaning of the word "delete". (See below).

The aim of his campaign is to make Facebook stick to European privacy laws. Facebook say they are now doing just that . European law says a company must have a good reason to keep your data beyond several months .

Schrems and his group have made 22 formal complaints to the Irish Data Protection Commissioner — which is responsible for Facebook’s Ireland-based European offshoot.

Facebook do not deny they they have more stuff on Schrems but say they have given him all the information legally required. Others in his group have got the same response .

Facebook says it can hold back things that are not personal information, including Facebook’s proprietary fraud protection measures, and "any other analytical procedure that Facebook runs." A spokesman said this was not personal data, adding, " Irish data protection law rightly places some valuable and reasonable limits on the data that has to be provided."

The Irish commissioner is however formally investigating Schrems’ complaints. Schrem's group is delighted at the international press and TV coverage they have been getting - from Australia to the US. This week they celebrated what they called " the only positive prize" at of the Big Brother Awards in Vienna: the “Defensor Libertatis” prizer. Facebook also got a “Big Brother Award”, they report gleefully. The prize in the category “lifelong pain in the ass” went to Mark Zuckerberg .

THE DELETED DATA DEBATE

• „Concerning reports about deleted data which sometimes appear in the downloaded files it has to be said that it concerns, in this case, probably posts which were removed on a certain place on Facebook, but were not deleted. Or the information had to be kept for a short time for investigations. We work on preforming this process as seamlessly as possible.“ (German RTL / Stern TV, October 5th 2011)

What the Oxford English Dictionary says:

• “DELETE - remove data from a computer's memory”.

What we say:

• Removing and deleting is raising the same expectation in the user: “THE DATA IT IS GONE”. But in fact it is not: Facebook is keeping the data for years. Certain data categories such as “removed friends” are only existing of removed/deleted data.
In our data sets there were deleted messages, posts, pokes or friends from the beginning of our Facebook profile (more than three years). This is by no stretch of imagination a “short time”.

What the Irish DPC said:

• “When you delete data, it should be gone. So in fact if Facebook is holding on to data of which they have no justification to hold then that is contrary to the law.”

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