back to article Facebook comes out swinging

Facebook has come out of its corner swinging in response to the accusation that its “shadow profiles”, among other aspects of its services, break Ireland’s privacy law. The latest round in the world+dog-versus-Facebook began last week, when a group called Europe-v-Facebook picked up research by Austrian student Max Schrens as …


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  1. raving angry loony

    Ah yes, the old "let's assume our audience is ignorant" defence.

    quote: "“People can’t delete a message they send from the recipient’s inbox, ... This is the way every message service ever invented works,”

    Actually, I take it this person has never heard of Microsoft Exchange, Lotus Notes, Domino, or any number of other "enterprise" level email systems, where this is quite possible. So she's either ignorant, incompetent, or a lying corporate slimeball. Given she works for Facebook, I'm tending towards believing the latter.

    1. moiety

      You're assuming...

      ...the recipient is using the same system as you. As an extreme case, you can't guarantee that the recipient isn't copying and pasting the messages into another application.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      truth in pr spin

      The systems you mention are "enterprise collaboration systems", with rather shoddy email bridges/output modules/what have you bolted on top. In fact some of them are well-known for doing their level best to break interop with email just enough to entire more vendor lock-in. So I'd be hard pressed to call them "email systems".

      I don't disagree that facebook isn't as honest as they could be, mind. In fact it's quite arguable that their messaging thing isn't email either. As are plenty of other "social" systems that try and get you to sign up with them by stuffing your mailbox with messages that "someone sent you a message" and please sign up to read it.

      Er, no. If they'd something useful to say they could've sent me the message directly (plain text only, not flowed, no more than 72 characters to a line, properly quoted, written, punctuated, and no top-posting, thanks) instead of using my inbox as a dumping ground for content-free "notices".

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      @raving angry loony

      "Actually, I take it this person has never heard of Microsoft Exchange, Lotus Notes, Domino, or any number of other "enterprise" level email systems, where this is quite possible"

      Heard of The Register? When you make a post, it can't be deleted. Same with Hotmail, Googlemail and just about every other email service...

      It might be possible to do within a corporation's email services but that's not what we're talking about here!

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward


        "Heard of The Register? When you make a post, it can't be deleted. Same with Hotmail, Googlemail and just about every other email service..."

        Actually, yes it can. You just 'withdraw' it... message gone!

    4. Keep Refrigerated

      raving angry loony would like to recall the message...

      Ah yes, anyone remember those in your yahoo/gmail/popmail/etc... mailbox? They usually followed a marketing email announcement you'd ignored, that made you want to go back and read it!

      Don't get very many these days which is a shame.

    5. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Big Brother IS watching!

      Never mind about the CIA, FBI, NSA, NCIS, DHS, KGB, KFC, et al.

      Anyone who doesn't believe Facebook and Google are the tools of government surveillance units so secret they don't even have initials has holes in his tinfoil hat.

    6. ElReg!comments!Pierre Silver badge

      @ raving angry loony...

      ... but inspired by the replies.

      Cheers mate, have this:

    7. Tom 13

      Um... Having worked as Help Desk support in a facility that used Exchange

      you really need to stop smoking the M$ weed. It really rots your brain man.

      At our facility, where they actually had integrated fax and voice service into the Exchange system, we frequently had to explain to employees that the Recall button at best had a 50-50 shot of recalling a message that was sent to an internal user (if the recall was sent quickly enough and the recipient hadn't read the message you could recall it), and if it was sent to an external one, well that one was never coming back.

  2. Anonymous Coward

    are these PR lies or real lies?

    re: "“People can’t delete a message they send from the recipient’s inbox, or a message you receive from the sender’s sent folder. This is the way every message service ever invented works,” she told El Reg. "

    I know of several email systems (including Microsoft Exchange) that allow a sent message to be deleted from the recipient's mailbox. I do not, however, know of any system that allows a recipient to delete the sender's copy of a message.

    Based on this, everything else she has ever said/will every say is probably a lie, too.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      RE: are these PR lies or real lies?

      "I know of several email systems (including Microsoft Exchange) that allow a sent message to be deleted from the recipient's mailbox."

      Facebook isn't an email system...

      1. Captain Underpants

        No, but it incorporates a messaging system that's part of their platform which means that, unless they've accomplished some truly silly messaging-software engineering (very possible, given their move a while back to a "every message you send to a given person is part of one long conversation, even when they're not" approach) the same logic should either already be applicable or be comparatively easily implementable.

  3. Ingwa


    While it's true that MS Exchange can delete messages that have been sent in haste that you can recall, these recalls can be overridden by the person that the email is being recalled from. I.e. I'm a sender sending to the recipient and I recall the message, if the recipient hasn't already received the message then it's easily recallable, however if it's already in their inbox and they're reading it, and then you recall it, they are promoted to accept the recall. They can also change this in the settings, or it can be changed at the corporate IT security policy level.

    It's important to note however that most email users are individuals such as you, me, Joe Bloggs, and every other user on the Internet has a personal address and those are usually hosted with one of the following: their own ISP, AOL, MSN Hotmail, Gmail, Yahoo mail, etc ad nauseam. Most users also use the email client that their computer came with, unless it's a web based interface such as Gmail. There are no such recall features built into these services.

    So based on looking at what the average Internet user has, and how they use email, it's safe to say that "People can't delete a message they send from a recipient's inbox" is a true statement. As is "... the way every message service ever invented works" is also true. Exchange added onto the normal way, as did Lotus Notes, and the other few, that decided to build this feature in.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Errm, you can do more than that..

      I recall a case of someone posting a naive but honest "to all" message in the company I worked for (3000+ people) about bonus payments. I'm probably the only one who retained a copy of that email because I pasted it out as text. Once the email got to the chairman it was removed from everyone's mailbox, and the relevant offender was frogmarched out of the building.

      He went on to become a millionaire :-)

    2. ElReg!comments!Pierre Silver badge

      "every message service"!="email"

      Usenet is a message service. Facebook's wall is a message service. Webforums are message services. etc...

      All these message services let you amend or suppress your own messages to your heart's content (even if it's frowned upon sometimes).

      As for email, corporate systems let you do that, too.

      "... the way every message service ever invented works" is indeed a dirty lie.

      In the case of FB, they control the whole process (from the writing to the reading) so recalling sent messages would be a doodle from a technical point of view. Of course allowing a message to be recalled after it's been read poses other problems (such as, messing with the recipient's head) but it's very easy, it's been done before, and the possibility is built in a lot if not most computer-based message services. Not allowing it on FB is Facebook's own political decision, surely with valid reasons; just stop pretending it's a technical requirement inherent to delivering messages.

  4. JaitcH

    Just another lying troll from FB: Deception is their business

    Some dummy I know uploaded one of my e-mail addresses into FB when it first opened up.

    I instructed her how to remove my name, which she did. I have also requested FB to delete all addresses in the domain name for my mail server.

    As I have my own e-mail server I frequently assign people a unique address through which to contact me.

    Every so often FB sends an e-mail, which proves (1) requests to delete are not honoured; (2) their staff is incompetent; (3) they are liars.

    I personally think the whole damn lot are liars and con artists.

  5. alwarming
    Paris Hilton

    Oops.. wrong article...

    I thought it was about Swingers coming out on Facebook.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      And I was about to sign up for Facebook ... oh well, back to the closet ...

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Let's get'em, lads!

    FB must behave themselves.

    I would also like to express my gratitude to El Reg for not showing us that creepy photo of MZ.

  7. ElReg!comments!Pierre Silver badge

    And then some...

    Actually most messaging systems will let you delete completely, or correct, a message after it has been sent; Facebook should know, as their "wall" thinggie lets you do exactly that. Usenet is another example that comes to mind. That's in addition to the examples cited above.

  8. David Simpson 1
    Thumb Down

    Tut tut

    *it's “shadow profiles”

  9. kosh

    Any legitimate trial form may be used in a Shadow Proclamation hearing.

  10. Roger B

    It's happened to me

    I don't have an FB account, but I have friends who do and have received friend requests from them, in the request the email will also list the previous people who have requested me as a friend, so in a way FB does know my name, my friends, my email and I guess if I have been tagged in a photo what I look like. This eventually stopped, I think I emailed them, but can't remember, as the last friend request I received only listed that one friend and not a list of previous requests.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      You can't be tagged in a photo if you don't have a Facebook account...

      1. Fuzz

        You can't be tagged in a photo if you don't have a Facebook account...

        Are you sure, it certainly used to be possible. You tagged the person and put their email address in and facebook sent them a please join up message.

  11. This post has been deleted by a moderator

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Well actually...

    Outlook outside of an Exchange environment retains a copy of every message ever received, regardless of how long it's been since you deleted it. There's even a little trick you can use to malform the mailbox file which, on recovery, pops all of the emails back into your inbox.

    Any savvy computer user these days knows that there's a huge difference between "Deleting" information and the data actually being irretrievably gone.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Facebook links non-members

    I am not on Facebook, but my email address is in many different people's address lists as they know me through my business.

    Facebook joins the dots. All these idiots are uploading all of their email contacts to Facebook when they join. This means my email address is then associated with hundreds of different people. And none of them asked my permission to give my personal details to Facebook.

    Facebook then sends me random invites. Someone invites me to join. (I guess there is a "invite all your contacts to join" button or something).

    What always concerns me when I see these invites is what is also on that email. That email will include a list of "other people you may know on Facebook". The scary thing is, this list is always 6 to 8 people I DO know from different walks of life. Facebook has already made the links for my email address and who my "friends" may be!!

    I get more concerned that they have also done this with my phone numbers via some new user. Each new user is adding a little bit more of the picture of my personal data, without my permission.

    And then there is the photo recognition... when you are an outsider, you have no control over who is tagging you.

    Even if you try and contact Facebook to ask them to stop sending the invites, you just end up in a deadend of web links which only work if you have a facebook login.

    So I can see the point of the case. Not sure if they will get anywhere as how can you "prove" that Facebook is building profiles on us "outsiders"? It is not something I am massively concerned about, but it is annoying that it is going on. This is MY private data that they are abusing.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      That's the point that Facebook seem to be either missing or (more likely) ignoring. They retain the name and email address but link potential 'Friends' to that single record every time a Facebook user imports it as a contact. Hence the "shadow profile" - it's already becoming a tentative user account with links to other real user accounts, which you then adopt when (if) you actually sign up to Facebook

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Facebook links non-members

        What is concerning me the most is that when I get the invites turn up, the list of names at the bottom are from VERY different parts of my life. I really would not want my Business and Personal Life linked up in the manner that Facebook is already doing. There are some skeletons I would rather leave in the closet, and certainly don't want my clients knowing about.

  14. Inachu
    IT Angle

    Facebooks pro neocon agenda

    You can spout out any kind of vile rhetoric against any sort of christian faith or muslim faith but if you try not just defend the muslim faith but instead try to defend the argument of trying to save humanity no matter who slanted for or against muslim faith then the facebook admins will cancel your account and will use words such as repugnant/vile/against TOS and so forth while vile froth can build up to a staggering pilar of excrement against the muslim faith using all sorts of disgusting words that also violate the facebook TOS but because facebook admins must in spirit be supportive of the neocon agenda they will banish your account to appease AIPAC members.

    1. Drew V.

      Not necessarily saying you're wrong (it wouldn't surprise me at all to hear that FB's own in-house censorship policies are generally selective, arbitrary and unfair) but do you have any evidence of this?

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Random Selection

      It has been well reported that there is a random selection of Facebook staff who check all the "flagged" posts and each of those people have their own ideas about "policy" of deleting data. Look at the trouble the Breast Feeding mothers keep getting into.

      What I expect you are seeing is the personal politics and religion of this censor board coming to the fore... anonymous censors mean no come back. And once the account is banned\deleted shouting against a machine is kinda pointless. Worse than dealing with a call centre.

      Anyway... Facebook is a marketing machine designed to sell you crud and silly games. Not exactly the home of "serious debate".

  15. Drew V.

    "All just a bit of ground work for when we finally subjugate every potential user in the world, chaps. Omelette, eggs, all that."

    Are we just collectively insane, as a society, that we allow draconian information-gathering businesses like Google and FB to operate as they please with only the barest minimum of regulation and oversight? Seriously, it's an increasingly pertinent question.

  16. joe.user

    Suggestion here

    What I did was simply create a SPECIFIC email just for Facebook. That way, people that upload their address books with my personal email address DO NOT find my Facebook profile unless I add them.

    I also use this "feature" to locate people by using their email address.

    My suggestion is to create an email specifically for Facebook and never share that address with anyone - for any reason.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      You missed the point. Not all of us want to be on Facebook. I don't have a Facebook account. Yet whenever some idiot who has my work email address in their address book joins, and hits that "invite everyone" button, I get emails from this idiot inviting me to join.

      Facebook has links to other people who have my business email address also in their address books and pops these names on the bottom of that invite email. So this shows me that not only are facebook sending joining requests to people like me who don't want them, but they already know who else on Facebook has my email address listed in their contacts.

      If I reject or ignore an invite, I would expect Facebook to delete my details from their databases after 28 days or so. Instead all those invites are kept and cross referenced with other times they see my details.

    2. Cpt Blue Bear

      Nice suggestion, but misses the point: if you don't sign up to Facebook, they are still profiling you by linking all the people who gave them your real email address...

  17. tekHedd

    So they *don't* create shadow profiles...that doesn't matter.

    I only matters that they could. All the data is there. An intern could write the script. Seriously. How stupid do they think we... oh right. Never mind.

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