EPIC Asks FTC to Investigate Facebook’s “Timeline”


Last year I wrote two blogs titled Spoliation of the Facebook Timeline and Frictionless eDiscovery; social media addicts beware…

which discussed the potential privacy problems with the new Facebook Timeline feature. Yesterday the blog site: The ESI Ninja Blog posted a blog about further developments around privacy and the Timeline feature. The below content is from that blog:

EPIC Asks FTC to Investigate Facebook’s “Timeline”

Posted on January 10, 2012 at 6:44 pm by John M. Horan

When Mark Zuckerberg unveiled Facebook’s new Timeline feature at the company’s Sept. 22, 2011 f8 developer conference, he described it as “The story of your life . . . .  All the stuff from your life.”  According to a Sept. 22, 2011 Facebook Blog post,

The way your profile works today, 99% of the stories you share vanish. The only way to find the posts that matter is to click “Older Posts” at the bottom of the page. Again. And again.

. . .

With timeline [sic], now you have a home for all the great stories you’ve already shared. They don’t just vanish as you add new stuff.

The Timeline announcement came toward the end of an investigation by the Federal Trade Commission into Facebook’s privacy practices, culminating in the Commission’s Nov. 29, 2011 announcement that Facebook had agreed to settle FTC charges “that it deceived consumers by telling them they could keep their information on Facebook private, and then repeatedly allowing it to be shared and made public.”  In general outline, the FTC said, the proposed settlement

bars Facebook from making any further deceptive privacy claims, requires that the company get consumers’ approval before it changes the way it shares their data, and requires that it obtain periodic assessments of its privacy practices by independent, third-party auditors for the next 20 years.

Three days before the Dec. 30, 2011 close of the 30-day comment period on the proposed settlement, privacy rights organization Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) urged the FTC to investigate whether Facebook’s new Timeline feature complies with the terms of the proposed settlement.  Echoing some of the concerns it raised in a Sept. 29, 2011 letter to the FTC regarding “frictionless sharing,” EPIC’s Dec. 27, 2011 letter to the FTC asked the Commission to: <the rest of the blog entry can be viewed here>

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Can you wipe your twitter ramblings, and should you?


In December of 2011, the Library of Congress and Twitter signed an agreement that will eventually make available every public Tweet ever sent as an archive to the Library of Congress.


While writing a blog post last week, I began  to wonder how long all my twitter postings would
be available and who could look at them. For the fun of it, I went back through approximately 6 months of my old twitter postings, re-tweets and replies (yes you can do it, it’s relatively easy and you can look at anyone’s).

I’ve been pretty good about keeping my twitter posts “business-like” and have steered away from personal stuff like “I just checked in to the Ramada Inn on route 11…can’t wait for the evening to begin!”, or “does anyone know how to setup an off-shore bank account?” or “those jerks over at Company ABC are a bunch of losers”.  But many tweeters aren’t so disciplined and have posted stuff that could come back to haunt them later. I could imagine a perspective employer reviewing a candidate’s twitter history or even worse an attorney conducting research for a case using the public twitter archives to create a timeline.

With that in mind, could you delete your twitter postings and should you? Twitter does allow you to delete specific tweets one at a time but as far as I can determine, Twitter does not give you the ability to delete your entire twitter history short of deactivating your account. From the Twitter website:

How To Delete a Tweet

If you’ve posted something that you’d rather take back, you can remove it easily. When you hover over your Tweet while viewing your home or profile page, you’ll see a few options appear below the message.

To delete one of your Twitter updates:

  1. 1.       Log in to Twitter.com
  2. 2.       Visit your Profile page
  3. 3.       Locate the Tweet you want to delete
  4. 4.       Hover your mouse over the message (as shown below), and click the “Delete” option that appears

Voila! Gone forever… almost. Deleted updates sometimes hang out in Twitter search. They will clear with time.

We do not provide a way to bulk delete Tweets. If you’re looking to get a “fresh start” on your Twitter account without losing your username, the best way to do this is to create a temporary account with a temporary username, and then switch the username between your current account and the temporary account. Please see our article on How to Change Your Username for more info. 

On December 30, 2011, CNET published a story titled “How to delete all your tweets” which highlighted a product called TwitWipe. TwitWipe is a free tool that allows you to delete ALL your past tweets in one fell swoop. This may be handy because you can clean out your twitter account and start fresh without changing your username and dumping all your hard won followers.

This is an interesting capability but I think the more important question is why would you use this drastic of a step? The four most obvious reasons one would want to delete all their twitter postings and start fresh would be:

1.       You went through an unfortunate period in your life that you would rather forget

2.       You were regularly conducting criminal activities through your Twitter account

3.       You are considering a run for the presidency

4.       For whatever reason, you don’t want your twitter postings archived and available at the Library of Congress

The ability to delete ESI can be dangerous if done at the wrong time, especially if civil litigation is anticipated. Deleting a single tweet or every tweet you have ever posted can be construed as destruction of evidence if those tweets could have been relevant in litigation. ESI, no matter its format or where it’s stored, is potentially evidence  and should be at least considered when protecting ESI for litigation hold. Attorneys on both sides need to include social media content like twitter postings in their eDiscovery plans and be sure to warn all custodians about deleting/editing  social media content once litigation is anticipated.