When private data is made public

European Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding has recently called for citizens to have the right to proper data protection.She said that people deserve national regulators which will enforce privacy rules on social networking sites.

There has been growing awareness about social networking sites retaining sensitive, personal data on their systems; sometimes even after a person’s account has ceased to be active.

I wanted to look at an example of a social networking site’s privacy policy to highlight how data can be used without a person necessarily knowing it. I chose Facebook.


Details provided by the user includes information which is required when they register and set up a profile, such as relationship information, messages sent, searches, group joining, events and participation, and applications; in essence, private details.

Friends had told me that when they had tried to cancel their accounts, they were told that they couldn’t delete all their details. I also had personal experience with privacy problems on my facebook account.

Often facebook will change your privacy setting without letting you know. This means that someone who you might not have accepted as a ‘friend’ could gain access to your date of birth, address and age.

I looked up Facebook’s privacy policy to see exactly what it said:

‘The Privacy Policy indicates that when information is updated, a backup copy of the prior version is retained for an unspecified “reasonable period of time”. Web site information includes browser type and IP address, which is gathered for all Facebook visitors. While the Privacy Policy deals with what information is collected, it does not set out retention periods for the information. Facebook also collects and retains information of non-Facebook users that has been provided by users.’

For more information about Facebook and other social network sites click here.

Online Hacking

Some people may not be bothered by this kind of private information being in the public eye. After all, what can someone do with your name and date of birth? However a recent article in The Telegraph highlights how the web is now acting as a forum for criminals accessing highly sensitive personal details.

A 19 year-old and three accomplices admitted running a website which sold stolen credit card details and offered online tutorials in a range of lucrative scams. They were caught with details of 100,000 credit cards on their laptops. The website has been linked to international scams that plundered around £8m from 65,000 bank accounts.

More and more people are signing up for online banking and social networking sites. There are now more than 500 million active users of Facebook. Although getting data into the public eye is important, it can also be dangerous when it finds its way into the wrong hands.


A new survey has found that over half of secondhand smartphones retain personal data of the original owner.The  advisory body CPP has found 247 separate pieces of personal data on a range of mobile phones and SIM cards.

Many people choose to buy their handsets and SIM cards second hand, especially more expensive models like iPhones and Blackberry’s.

Shockingly, some of the data which was found included credit card PIN numbers, bank account details, passwords,  and login details to social networking sites like Facebook and LinkedIn.

Surely the mobile phone companies and shops selling on these devices should be responsible for wiping the data of the previous owner? This seems like a dangerous type of recycling.

Emily Lingard


About Emily Lingard

Ma Broadcast Journalism student
This entry was posted in Examples of where data journalism is used, Misuse of data and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to When private data is made public

  1. Nice overview. I wonder how much of the push for privacy has as a motivation the desire for states to use it as a reason not to publish their own data. “Data protection” is a frequent excuse for not complying with FOI requests.

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