Facebook to Make More Personal Data Available to Users

The social networking giant says it will expand access to the personal information it's collected on its 845 million users, a move that may not quiet many critics.

Facebook officials, looking to quell ongoing concerns over the amount of personal information they store as the company draws nearer to its expected initial public offering, said they will let their more than 845 million users access more data about themselves.

After privacy concerns were raised, Facebook in October 2010 let users download some information about themselves that the giant social networking company had collected, including wall posts, messages, photos and videos they€™d shared on Facebook; chats; and the names and email addresses of friends.

In an April 12 blot post on the Facebook site, company officials say they are now expanding the kinds of personal information users can access.

€œStarting today, you will be able to download an expanded archive of your Facebook account history,€ they said in the post. €œNow you can access additional categories of information, including previous names, friend requests you've made and IP addresses you logged in from.€

Facebook officials said the expanded feature will be €œrolling out gradually to all users€ and that categories of information will become available for download in the future. Users can access their information through the €œDownload Your Information€ from their Facebook Account Settings.

As of late afternoon ET April 12, there were almost 500 submissions in the Comment section after the post, and while many were pleased with Facebook€™s move, others questioned why the company had to keep all of the personal information at all, and urged the company to delete old data.

€œWhat€™s sad about this is that they actually had and still have all that information,€ one commenter said. €œ[D]elete, delete, delete is what I say do with it.€

The move also drew a negative reaction from those running the Europe-v.-Facebook.org Website, which was created last year after an Austrian citizen€”24-year-old law student Max Schrems€”who asked to see his Facebook file was surprised about the amount of data the company had collected on him. He filed a slew of privacy complaints with the Irish Data Protection Commission, which deals with Facebook-related issues in Europe. The commission in December 2011 ordered Facebook to be more transparent regarding user information.

€œFacebook keeps fooling its users,€ the Europe-v.-Facebook group wrote in a blog. €œInstead of handing out a one-on-one copy of all 84 data categories Facebook is holding about every user, we will only get to see a fraction of this information. Many data categories are going to be not in the download tool but spread all over the webpage. This means that users have to hunt for it by digging through the €˜timeline€™, the €˜activity log€™ and other sorts of pages.€

The group is demanding that Facebook give up all the user data it has collected, and is urging users who are dissatisfied to complain to the Irish commission and the European Commission, the enforcement arm of the European Union (EU).

Facebook and other tech companies that collect vast amounts of personal data from their users€”such as Google and Apple€”have been under fire in recent years for their handling of the information, which is often used by advertisers to create more personalized ads targeted at the users.

The issue has gained attention from both consumer advocacy groups and government agencies, in the United States and Europe. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission last month released a report calling on a combination of federal laws and self-policing among the tech companies to protect user online privacy. Facebook has been a key target of criticism, though more recently, Apple and Google have come under fire for enabling iPhones and Android-based smartphones to share personal data€”such as photos and contacts€”with mobile apps that are downloaded onto the devices.

EU officials also are looking at updating its privacy laws.