Spoliation of the Facebook Timeline


In a previous posting, I described the new feature in Facebook called “frictionless sharing”, a Facebook feature that will make sharing even easier by automatically sharing what you’re doing on a growing community of Facebook-connected apps. Potentially everything you do on the web could be shared on a timeline with your “friends” and any others (like attorneys) that get access to your page based, for example, on a Judge’s order for discoverable information.

The USA Today Tech section published an article titled “Facebook Timeline a new privacy test” a couple of days ago that got me thinking. From the USA Today article:

Up until now, Facebook accounts have focused on the most recent posts. With the new profile format, the most recent Facebook activities will be at the top. But as users go back in time, Timeline will summarize past posts — emphasizing the photos and status updates with the most “likes” or comments.

“A lot of people just don’t realize how much information they’ve shared in the past.”

This new timeline feature that takes much of what you have done on the internet and neatly organizes it into a timeline is a perfect target for eDiscovery. This brings up two questions; can you edit or hide items on your timeline and can you permanently delete data from your Facebook timeline? These two questions also highlight another question…if you edit your Facebook account and or remove something from your timeline, could that be considered spoliation in a legal proceeding?

Before I address the spoliation issue, let me address the first two questions.

1. Can you edit or hide items on your timeline? The answer is yes you can. From the Facebook help center:

How do I remove a story from my timeline?

You get to decide which stories appear on your timeline. Hover over a story on your timeline to see your options:

  • (Feature on Timeline): This allows you to highlight the stories you think are important. When you star a story, the story expands to widescreen. Starred stories are also always visible on your timeline.
  • (Edit): This gives you the option to:
  • Hide from Timeline: This removes stories from your timeline. Note that these stories will still show up in your activity log, which only you can see. They also may appear in your friend’s News Feeds.

Depending on the type of story (ex: status update, check-in, tagged photo), you may also have the option to:

    • Change the date of a story (ex: for an old photo, you can enter the date the photo was taken so it shows up in the right place on your timeline)
    • Delete a post (that you posted)
    • Report a post or mark it as spam (that someone else posted)

    You’ll notice there isn’t a “delete” capability in the edit function.

    2. Can you permanently delete timeline data from your Facebook account? As far as I can tell you can. In Facebook there is a feature called the “activity log” that is a record of all of your activity on Facebook. From the Facebook help center:

    What is the activity log?

    The activity log is a record of all of your activity on Facebook. So if you hide a story from your timeline, this story will still appear in your activity log. Your activity log is only visible to you. However, all of the stories in your activity log are eligible to appear on your timeline (unless you hide them from your timeline) or in your friend’s News Feeds.

    The stories in your activity log are organized by the date they happened on Facebook. You can access your activity log by clicking the View Activity button on your timeline.

    From the activity log you can:

    • Scroll through a history of all of your activity on Facebook
    • View and approve your pending posts
    • Filter the type of activity you see (ex: see all of your status updates or all of the links you’ve shared)
    • Choose which stories are featured on your timeline

 

  • You can also click the button to the right of each story. Depending on the story type (ex: status update, photo, app story), you may have the option to:
    • See the audience you shared
    • Delete posts
    • Report a post or mark it as spam
    • Change the date of a story
    • Remove an app from your account

    So you can potentially delete items from your timeline… So this brings up my question on spoliation of the Facebook timeline; what, if anything, do organizations have to do to safeguard against altering the organization’s or employees personal Facebook timelines if pending litigation is foreseeable?

    Obviously the Facebook timeline is potentially discoverable depending on the circumstances of the case. Organizations need to include the Facebook timeline in their litigation hold/eDiscovery process and to inform impacted employees of their responsibilities to protect potentially responsive information from within all of their personal accounts that could hold relevant ESI including the Facebook timeline data.

    As a side note, it’s always a good practice to regularly remind employees not to mix business ESI with their personal accounts.

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Frictionless eDiscovery; social media addicts beware…


eDiscovery just got a lot easier…for opposing counsel.

Facebook’s new system to auto-share what you do around the web may catch many Facebook enthusiasts off guard. Even “power” users of Facebook will probably run into trouble with this “frictionless sharing” feature. Once it’s enabled on a site you won’t get any other warnings that you “tracks” are being broadcast to large numbers of people.  In fact, even those people who know exactly how this new feature works will need to be on guard against sharing some seriously embarrassing and or compromising updates.

For those not in the know, Facebook is making sharing even easier by automatically sharing what you’re doing on a growing community of Facebook-connected apps.

Huh? It could be the news articles you read online, the videos you watch, the photos you view, the music you listen to, or any other action within the site or app. In the future it could be the “stuff “you buy on-line or the profiles of people you view, or diseases you looked or the fact that you searched for information on the term “formaldehyde” on a specific day…

To be fair, currently,  you must explicitly authorize a site or app to share your information with Facebook. How this sharing mechanism works depends on the app. Authorizing the Washington Post or The Guardian Facebook apps allows you to read those news sites right within Facebook. The downside, however, is that everything you read is shared back to your friends via a timeline… This capability may also effect those news organizations which have jumped into this partnership opportunity. These news organizations may see a drop in views because potential readers will now have to first consider how viewing a particular story will affect their reputation; Do I really want to click on this story knowing my “friends” will know I viewed this?

A timeline… REALLY! Do your friends really need to know you viewed a website titled “BieberFever.Com” at 1:13 am last Thursday morning? Or that you read an article on setting up a Swiss bank account 57 minutes after you received notice of a pending lawsuit? Talk about making the opposing counsel’s job easier…every discovery request will automatically include Facebook accounts.

Another group that needs to be careful are employees. I can imagine an HR representative viewing an employee’s Facebook page to verify, via the employee’s timeline, they have been surfing the web for the last 17 days.

I have repeatedly warned friends that social media sites like Facebook are potentially dangerous in that what you (or an application) post to your social media site could be used against you by potential employers, current employers or attorneys. One question I suggest all social media addicts ask themselves before they post is; “Is this something I would feel comfortable showing up on the front page of the New York Times?”…Because someday it could.