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A window into Facebook’s data

Molly Wood Apr 13, 2012

So we know that Facebook gathers our personal information.  It knows our friends, our significant others, the music we like, where we work. I could go on. It’s enough to raise a lot of privacy concerns for a lot of people.

But the social media site is trying to calm some of those worries. Facebook has just announced it’ll roll out a feature that will let users check out more of the information it has gathered.

(Back in 2010, Facebook released its first archive for users, allowing access to photos, messages and chat conversations.) 

According to Facebook’s privacy page, the new, expanded archive will let you download “additional categories of information, including previous names, friend requests you’ve made and IP addresses you logged in from.” But Ryan Calo, director of privacy and robotics at Stanford Law School’s Center for Internet and Society, says that’s still only a fraction of the information Facebook has. “Now a lot of the data that Facebook has would probably not be very useful or intelligible,” Calo says, “so they have to do some balancing. What would be really useful to the consumer, what would the consumer want to see?”

But, how does it matter that I can download my old friend requests? Or check out my computer IP address history? Does access alone ease privacy concerns? Kind of yes and kind of no. As a user, there’s not much I can do with this data right now other than look at it.

But, Calo says, there are still two important reasons this matters.

The first:  the archive shows us, in a very real way, what information Facebook has about us. It’s one thing to know that Facebook has this data; it’s another to actually see a list of all the computers and places we’ve logged on to the site. The second benefit that Calo points to is more future-looking “If it turns out that eventually your data is portable from one website to another,” Calo says, “then if you don’t like the privacy practices of one social network you have the freedom to move to another.”

Also on the show: your chance at 15 minutes of online fame. Well sort of 15 minutes.  (It’s actually spread over 24 hours.)  

A website called FAME awards thousands of twitter followers, for one day only, to its daily winner. The followers are made up everyone else in the entry pool.

But before you sign up, you might want to figure out what to do with all the new-found online attention.  It appears that Thursday’s winner had a little trouble with all the traffic to his website.  @MichaelBykov  “ahh shoot you guys crashed my blog LOL.. give me 10 mins to bring it back up. Quit pounding it :0”

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