Facebook Says Some of Your Personal Data Is Its 'Trade Secrets or Intellectual Property'

from the you-thought-it-was-your-life dept

A few weeks back, Techdirt posted a story about a European campaign group called "Europe vs. Facebook", which is trying to find out exactly what information Facebook holds about its users. It is doing this using European data protection laws, thanks to the fact that Facebook' s international headquarters are in Ireland.

The group's founder, Max Schrems, received a reply to his request for the data Facebook held about him in the form of a CD-ROM storing over 800 pages. But looking through them, Schrems noticed that important information was missing, and so contacted Facebook again, asking for the extra details. But Facebook refused:

To date, we have disclosed all personal data to which you are entitled pursuant to Section 4 of the Irish Data Protection Acts 1988 and 2003 (the Acts).

Please note that certain categories of personal data are exempted from subject access requests. Pursuant to Section 4(9) of the Acts, personal data which is impossible to furnish or which can only be furnished after disproportionate effort is exempt from the scope of a subject access request. We have not furnished personal data which cannot be extracted from our platform in the absence of disproportionate effort.

It seems hard to believe that a sophisticated, leading-edge company like Facebook can't pull out all the information about one user – the basic node of the social network - without "disproportionate effort", but that's not the real issue here. Alongside all that terrible effort, Facebook cited another reason for refusing to give Schrems the missing details:

Section 4(12) of the Acts carves out an exception to subject access requests where the disclosures in response would adversely affect trade secrets or intellectual property. We have not provided any information to you which is a trade secret or intellectual property of Facebook Ireland Limited or its licensors.

Claiming that certain aspects of your personal data is "a trade secret or intellectual property of Facebook Ireland Limited or its licensors" seems pretty extraordinary. Schrems is not letting things rest there, though, and has contacted the Irish Data Protection Commissioner to pursue the matter further. Meanwhile, Facebook has released a statement on the matter:

We are cooperating fully with the Irish Data Protection Commissioner who will come to a view on Mr Schrems’ complaint in due course.

I can hardly wait for that view - and for Facebook's response if it requires the release of some "proprietary" data.

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and on Google+



Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  •  
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    Andy Roon (profile), Oct 12th, 2011 @ 7:33am

    The real trade secret

    The real secret isn't his personal information per se, it's _how_much_ personal information they have and what type that information is. Facebook really, really doesn't want to reveal what kind of information they hold.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Oct 12th, 2011 @ 7:55am

      Re: The real trade secret

      Almost certainly the basis for FB's claim, and here in the US would quite easily meet the UTSA criteria for a trade secret.

      What troubles me more than anything else is not persons/companies who rely upon copyright law, but the incremental expansion of so many social media companies into the gathering and exploitation of private information.

      As of late I have noticed that Google is pursuing virtually the same path. Users are constantly filling their inventory coffers, i.e., personal data that can be marketed and sold to third parties.

       

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      Dan (profile), Oct 12th, 2011 @ 7:56am

      Re: The real trade secret

      I agree. The question that then comes up is how they got it. Not because of anything illegal, but it's a competitive advantage in the marketing sense.

       

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        Dark Helmet (profile), Oct 12th, 2011 @ 8:04am

        Re: Re: The real trade secret

        My guess as well. The trade secret is probably not in the data itself, but in the obvious method for data recording that will present itself once we know what data they actually have.

        "On Feb. 5th, Jenny Doe shaved her cha cha."

        WTF!!!?? HOW DID THEY GET THAT!!?!??

         

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      Anonymous Anonymous Coward, Oct 12th, 2011 @ 1:58pm

      Re: The real trade secret

      I think that it is much more likely that the requester asked for information after analysis. That would reveal IP.

       

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    John Doe, Oct 12th, 2011 @ 7:49am

    They apparently track everything

    Facebook knows more about you than even the government knows about you. I use to tease my friends that Google is a secret department run by the Department of Homeland Security but I will have to modify that to Facebook. Heck, it is bad enough that we volunteer so much info about ourselves, now Facebook has recruited our friends to record info about us.

    My coworker reported where I work, my family marks me as their family member, a fellow High School graduate recorded the year and school of my graduation. Talk about a playground for identity thieves.

     

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    Chris, Oct 12th, 2011 @ 8:19am

    Facebook == evil

    All public social networks are information vampires. Check-in, like, comment, listen, watch, no matter what you do: If you are on facebook you are under surveillance.

    1984 was a Disney fairy tale. facebook is the real big brother.

     

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    That Anonymous Coward (profile), Oct 12th, 2011 @ 8:24am

    Of course everything about you is their IP, it is how they plan to make money. Marketing even more hyper targeted that can't fail because they can determine exactly what will appeal to specifically you.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 12th, 2011 @ 8:34am

    Follow me @glynmoody ... on Google+

    Biased much?

     

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      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, Oct 12th, 2011 @ 11:09am

      Re: Follow me @glynmoody ... on Google+

      I guess reality has an anti-facebook bias...

       

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      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, Oct 12th, 2011 @ 1:08pm

      Re: Follow me @glynmoody ... on Google+

      Why trust Google? Will Google give you all of your data? Do you really trust Google to 'do no evil'?

      From where I'm sitting, Google and Facebook are competitors in the same game - the game of using your information to better target you with advertising.

       

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        Mike Acker (profile), Oct 15th, 2011 @ 3:26am

        Re: Re: Follow me @glynmoody ... on Google+

        FB,Google "competitors in the same game"? : ABSOLUTELY.

        That would be why they created Buzz and now G+

         

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    jilocasin, Oct 12th, 2011 @ 8:41am

    Perhaps this is just a plan to keep people from defecting.... ;>

    Perhaps it's all part of Facebook's master plan to fight off competitors like Google+.

    If they claim that your personal data is a Trade Secret, then perhaps they are hoping to keep you from illegally sharing it with their competitors..... ;>

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 12th, 2011 @ 8:43am

    Glyn, maybe one day people here will wake up and realize that much of the "FREE!" is just a bullshit come on to get access to their personal information. In the case of companies like Google and Facebook, it's an attempt to play middleman on everything you say, do, or see.

    "FREE!" not only isn't free, but the price is too high.

     

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      Mike Acker (profile), Oct 15th, 2011 @ 3:38am

      Re:

      people here will wake up and realize that much of the "FREE!" is just a bullshit come on to get access to their personal information.

      Their "business model" is similar to TV. In Television what is sold is audience and it is sold to the advertisers

      in FoolsBook it's the same: you are being sold.

      everytime you see something for "free" it is good to ask: who is selling what to whom.

       

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    out_of_the_blue, Oct 12th, 2011 @ 8:58am

    The frightening aspect is that masses of dolts /give/ it away.

    To Google too, of course. And intelligence agencies aren't so stupid as to ignore those giant pots of data -- if they are that stupid, they should be fired -- at, when stood against nearest wall.

    But I think the people are beginning to see the traps in these honey-pots.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 12th, 2011 @ 10:00am

    Claiming that certain aspects of your personal data is "a trade secret or intellectual property of Facebook Ireland Limited or its licensors" seems pretty extraordinary.

    I think you're jumping to conclusions. The letter says that disclosures which would adversely affect their IP need not be made. They DO NOT say that this person's personal information sought here is in fact protected IP. They are speaking in generalities. It's just as likely that information the person seeks isn't being released because of the "disproportionate effort" exception.

    That's OK, though. Good enough for Techdirt.

     

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    Alazarin, Oct 12th, 2011 @ 10:16am

    I find it worrisome that FB is claiming that parts /aspects / data of someone's own life is their property. If that isn't identity theft, I don't know what is. How soon before we start hearing of cases where people are forbidden to use their own identity because it has become the property of some social networking [or other] corporation? I fear that it's only a matter of time.

     

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    Ken Murray, Oct 12th, 2011 @ 10:22am

    You don't own your metadata

    It's just like the credit companies where you can't get the same information about yourself as they give to the corporate world to make decisions about you.

     

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    DannyB (profile), Oct 12th, 2011 @ 10:44am

    Facebook could tell you about your life . . .

    . . . but then they'd have to kill you.

    Because that information is trade secret.

     

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    bb, Oct 12th, 2011 @ 12:31pm

    come to diaspora :-)

     

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    KP, Oct 12th, 2011 @ 1:34pm

    Facebook policies don't bother me. I killed my account long ago, as others should.

     

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    PrometheeFeu (profile), Oct 12th, 2011 @ 2:13pm

    My guess is that they are referring to data which they computed about you based upon data you provided. Some of that data may reveal proprietary information. For instance they may calculate a certain number of scores about you which allow them to better target ads at you. Depending upon what disclosure means, they may have to disclose some proprietary information about what they look at or how they compute such scores... I can see why they might want to avoid doing so.

    Otherwise, I think the data disclosure requirements imposed on private companies are absurd. As long as the original gathering is legal, it's not your data anymore. It's their data.

     

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    Michael, Oct 12th, 2011 @ 4:59pm

    meh

    Facebook is gone soon anyways.

     

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      Mike Acker (profile), Oct 15th, 2011 @ 3:43am

      Re: meh

      tee hee

      someplace last week i read that 30% of the time people spend online goes to FB. and suckerberg ain't happy. like AOL of the past: he want's it all.

      AOL's model stagnated. it can't happen soon enough for fools' book

       

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    TonyRockyHorror, Oct 12th, 2011 @ 5:30pm

    Social networks are about one thing only: data mining. They serve NO other purpose. If you think otherwise, you're not thinking very hard.

    The "social" aspects of these networks are the method by which that data is generated. They are marketed based on the methods by which members can be used by them but not on what their purpose is.

     

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    Debbie Frost (profile), Oct 12th, 2011 @ 6:03pm

    Comment from Facebook

    This is Debbie Frost from Facebook. We actually provided Mr Schrems with all of the information required in response to his request. It included requests for information on a range of other things that are not personal information, including Facebook's proprietary fraud protection measures, and "any other analytical procedure that Facebook runs". This is clearly not personal data, and Irish data protection law rightly places some valuable and reasonable limits on the data that has to be provided.

     

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    Emmanuel Edino, Oct 13th, 2011 @ 9:45am

    Comment from Facebook

    They sure have their own way of treatment or what do you think?

     

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    aesop, Oct 14th, 2011 @ 6:50am

    hmm, I can imagine one type of information gathered from personal data that they wouldn't have to give up. E.g. if Google gathers data from conversations between people, and uses that to create a language model. This might be stored in plain text, like a list of N-grams:

    and then he
    then he said
    he said ,
    said , why
    , why do
    why do n't

    etc. Now, if that's been compiled somewhere, and it's all cluttered up with other data, from various other users, then they have a good reason why it's impractical to extract whatever came from you (as well as being a trade secret).

    Of course, if you don't want companies gathering that sort of data, don't give them your private info … join diasp.org or something instead :-)

     

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    rob, Oct 16th, 2011 @ 1:58pm

    its certainly interesting and makes me think how much we're actually all being watched and controlled by the big borther of this world

    Get more YouTube subscribers

     

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