How to Access Data from a Party's Facebook Profile
By Brian Deitch – October 23, 2012
Recently, Facebook announced that it had one billion worldwide users logging in at least once a month. Facebook’s ability to store, process, and provide detailed data to those one billion users is quite a feat. Less well known is that for each user’s action, information is collected and stored. Few users think about what information Facebook keeps and makes readily accessible. As a litigator, this can be both a blessing and a curse.
What Information Is Stored?
Facebook has made it very simple to discover what information it keeps track of and how users can access this information. There are two primary sources for this information—the user’s Personal Archive or their Expanded Archive, a series of files that are emailed to the user, and the Activity Log, where you can see a list by month. To see the list of available information, you can click the link above. Or go to your Facebook page and click on the arrow at the top of your home page. Next, click on Help, then Privacy, then “See more Help about Privacy.” Finally, click on the link titled Accessing Your Facebook Info. That page lists what information is available, what that information is, and where you can find it.
All of the basics are listed from the information the user has provided, including work, relationships, education, and hometown. Additional information that is available, but often not thought about includes (1) stored active sessions—this consists of the date, time, device, IP address, and browser information; (2) deleted friends; (3) information the user has hidden from his or her news feed; (4) pending friend requests; (5) phone numbers; and (6) user-submitted name changes.
There are countless uses to this information when involved in litigation. For employment litigation, an employer could determine how often an aggrieved employee was logged into Facebook during the workday or whether the employee was actually at home on a claimed sick day. For business litigation, a party could discover whom the company’s principals are in contact with or if they have been discussing business matters through Facebook messaging. The possibilities are endless.
Of course, what a party is actually required to produce will be limited by the applicable discovery rules. Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(1) provides the general scope of discovery:
Parties may obtain discovery regarding any nonprivileged matter that is relevant to any party's claim or defense—including the existence, description, nature, custody, condition, and location of any documents or other tangible things and the identity and location of persons who know of any discoverable matter. . . . Relevant information need not be admissible at the trial if the discovery appears reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence.
The requesting party will need to ensure that its requests do not run afoul of Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(2)(C). Electronically stored information is further limited by Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(2)(B): “A party need not provide discovery of electronically stored information from sources that the party identifies as not reasonably accessible because of undue burden or cost.” A narrowly tailored request can meet these qualifications and obtain very useful information in either electronic or paper format.
How to Download Profile Information
An attorney must understand how to access this information, whether he or she desires to prescreen his or her own clients’ information before filing suit or wants to instruct opposing counsel how to obtain this data. Unless there has been sanctionable conduct or other circumstances, the requesting party is not likely to be the one directly collecting the information for the respondent.
To obtain this data, log in to the user account. Next, click on the drop-down menu next to the word “Home” at the top of the page and select Account Settings. It will take you to this page:
Click on the “Download a copy” link. The default sends you to the entry-page for the personal-information archive.
You can click on the expanded archive link to enter the user password for that information. The requesting party will want both. The personal-information archive provides profile-page info, including photos, videos, links, friends, and wall postings. The expanded archive provides more detailed information such as log-in history, IP addresses, and browsers. Once the password is entered, the user reaches this page:
The user clicks “Start My Archive” and a link is mailed to his or her email address. Both the expanded archive and personal-information archive provide a compressed file that will contain the information kept.
The Activity Log provides a complete history of a user’s actions on Facebook, including likes, posts, tags, and even searches. To access it, the user clicks on the Activity Log button on his or her profile page. In the top corner, the user can select “All.” The page can then be saved or printed. All parties need to be aware that much of this specific information can be manually removed. The effects of deleting information and spoliation are outside the scope of this article.
The growth of Facebook in less than a decade is truly amazing. It has become a cultural and generational staple. However, our clients or the parties our clients sue don’t always remember that with each action, information is being collected and stored. For now, simply navigating through a few menus can provide readily accessible data on which a litigator can build his or her case.
Keywords: litigation, technology, Facebook, social media, discovery, privacy, electronic data
Brian Deitch is an associate at the Law Offices of Michael Deitch & Associates in Austin, Texas.