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Technology Tip: How Much Information is Shared By Google and Facebook?

by Susan Galamba

News about Facebook’s and Google’s access to what you thought was your private information has been inundating the media the last several weeks. Although everyone seems to be caught by surprise, I expect it is more of a reaction that their hunch about Big Brother watching has become a known reality.

The issue regarding data storage of private information is not only personal, it’s professional. On a personal level I was more than just a little interested to learn how much of my private information and other data was being stored by Facebook and Google. On a professional level, it is getting easier to hone in on how to retrieve Facebook’s and Google’s Electronically Stored Information (“ESI”).

Depending on the information being sought, a computer forensic investigator my still need to be retained. However, prior to incurring the expense of an expert, a significant amount of information can be obtained by just knowing where to look.

Google:

Log in to Google. In the upper right corner you will see a circle with your profile picture or the letter of your first name. Click (left click if you are using a mouse) on the circle, and then click on “My Account”. The first place you should go to is the “Personal Info & privacy” section. First, click on “Your Personal Info”. Then, click on “About me” to see what information you are knowingly, or unknowingly, sharing with Google, Google’s partners and the public. If you have enabled “Shared Endorsements”, your name, Google profile photo and activity will be public, and will be tracked by Google. Similarly, if your “Location Sharing” is enabled, your location from all of your devices accessing Google will be tracked. 

Next, click on “Manage Your Google Activity”. This section lets you control your activity, and lets you confirm what data is or is not being stored about you. “Activity Controls” will let you review and control your web activity, while “My Activity” will merely show you where you’ve been on the web since the launch of the “My Activity” page in 2016, or possibly earlier depending on your settings.

Similarly, if you don’t want Google to share your activity and information, go to “Ad Settings”, uncheck the box that allows Google to personalize the ads, and scroll through the other sections to see if you’ve authorized Google to share your personal information with Google partners.

If you want to know all of the data being stored on you, versus going through each section individually, keep scrolling down the “Personal Info & Privacy” page, and you will see “Google Dashboard”. Click on “Go To Google Dashboard”, and then click on “Download Your Data”. The page that comes up will allow you to export a copy of all of your data by clicking “Manage Archives”.

I downloaded the archive of my data. While there was a history of where I had been on the web, I pretty much expected to see that information. However, I was pleasantly surprised to see that by not sharing my location, there was not a history of the places I visited. Conversely, I was taken aback when I realized that my home phone log from Google Fiber was contained in the archived download.

Facebook:

If you are concerned about the data being stored by Facebook, you can either download your “Activity Log” or download your data. To look at your Activity Log, simply click on the down arrow in the top right corner of your Facebook page (to the right of the question mark). Downloading your data can be done just as easily. Click on the down arrow mentioned above, and then click on “Settings”. At the bottom of the Settings page you will see the link “Download a copy”. Just click this link and follow the instructions.

Subsequent to the Cambridge Analytica catastrophe, Facebook is trying to simplify its data collection policies. One of the first steps being taken is to centralize information regarding privacy and security. Currently, the Facebook mobile app has a “Privacy Shortcuts” to make it easier to find the privacy and security settings. If you select the menu bar located at the bottom right of your Facebook page, and scroll all the way down to “settings”, you will find “Privacy Shortcuts”. Although you still have to go through each individual setting, they are at least now in one location.

Knowing that Facebook and Google ESI can be easily obtained is one thing. Ensuring that all of the information is preserved and produced is another.  You might even want to download your own Facebook and Google data to make certain that you are familiar with the process prior to issuing a discovery request.  In fact, having your client download his/her data may be a good idea. As we all know, it isn’t uncommon to get back the same discovery we propound, and knowing the answer to the question before it’s asked is the first rule we learned in law school.

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