Don't panic about Facebook outages, the NSA has your back

Jun 20, 2014 by Ray Corrigan, The Conversation
Lucy had only added half her gloating honeymoon snaps when disaster struck. Credit: Nate Steiner, CC BY

Twitter made hay this week as Facebook suffered what has been described, perhaps a tad hyperbollically, as "the longest outage in recent memory". That's if your memory doesn't stretch back much further than four years – when the last major outage happened.

The biggest social networking site in the world went down for 20 agonising minutes on Thursday 19 June, leaving users frantic. Some were reduced to sending their morning selfie to contacts via text message and others reported forgetting what all their friends' babies looked like. Some may even have sent password reminder requests to MySpace.

My favourite tweet came from stoic social media user @SimonThomsen:

"Where were you in the Great Facebook Crash of 2014, dad?" "On Twitter son, but I Instagramed about it"

What brought the world to the edge of panic for 20 minutes? We don't know yet and we shouldn't really speculate without evidence but let's give it a go anyway.

Meanwhile, in Ireland

On the morning of Wednesday, June 18 2014, Mr Justice Hogan gave his ruling in an Irish High Court hearing that saw the government accused of failing to investigate Facebook International – which is based in Ireland – for transferring data about its customers to the US National Security Agency.

Could there be a connection between this tricky case and the outage that shocked the world just one day later?

It's no secret that US politicians and the media think the European Court of Justice has been getting a bit uppity about privacy in recent months. In April, it annulled the data retention directive and in May, it told Google to respect a limited right to be forgotten, specifically relating to name searches. In both cases, the court ruled the fundamental right to privacy, guaranteed by the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, was being undermined.

With killjoys ruining the NSA's fun in Europe, maybe it took drastic action after Hogan's ruling and decided to do an emergency back up before the European court could lock all that lovely Facebook data away. Maybe some newbie spy accidentally blew a Facebook fuse in the process.

OK, fine. This isn't really what happened but there is a serious point here. Facebook is a large corporation controlling a wealth of personal information on an unimaginable scale. When it goes down, we suddenly think about what we might have lost.

For many, Facebook is the internet. It's where their digital identity resides. What do they do if it goes down and never comes back? What do they lose?

Yet they don't seem to think about what they lose when Facebook hands that personal data over to the NSA, or to any other security or intelligence authorities, such as GCHQ in the UK.

Max Schrems, the Austrian activist who took the matter to Hogan's court, was thinking about it. Hogan, for his part, said there was a serious case to answer. The good judge suggested that the Irish Constitution would effectively block Facebook from handing personal data to the NSA except for the fact that a European Commission privacy Safe Harbour decision from 2000 bypassed those protections.

The Safe Harbour scheme effectively enables the transfer of EU citizen data to the US. Justice Hogan's decision amounts to a serious critique of technology giants' facilitation of mass and undifferentiated surveillance by state authorities, particularly those in the US.

He's now offering the ECJ another opportunity to lay down some rules on this surveillance. Specifically he wants a review of whether the Safe Harbour decision is still defensible in light of not only what we know about the NSA but also the new privacy rights introduced in the EU in 2009.Of course these protections won't do much for you if you willingly post all your most personal information on a social media site that will then take ownership of it. If you broke out in a 20-minute sweat this week, perhaps its time you did a back up. Or just ask the NSA if they've got any of your messages.

Explore further: Facebook shift steps up privacy for new users

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Germany lobbies for UN online privacy charter

Jul 24, 2013

(AP)—Senior German officials are seeking European support for a new global charter safeguarding personal privacy online, as the country's data protection watchdogs called Wednesday for the suspension of a key agreement ...

Group says kept in the dark about Facebook case

Jul 30, 2012

An Austrian group fighting for clearer privacy policies on Facebook complained Monday that the Irish Data Protection Commissioner (DPC) was keeping it in the dark about proceedings.

Brazil fines Facebook for not deleting profile

Sep 19, 2013

A court in the Brazilian capital of Brasilia has fined social networking site Facebook the equivalent of more than $2,000 for failing to delete a false profile of a user who had asked that it be removed.

Recommended for you

Study: Social media users shy away from opinions

Aug 26, 2014

People on Facebook and Twitter say they are less likely to share their opinions on hot-button issues, even when they are offline, according to a surprising new survey by the Pew Research Center.

US warns shops to watch for customer data hacking

Aug 23, 2014

The US Department of Homeland Security on Friday warned businesses to watch for hackers targeting customer data with malicious computer code like that used against retail giant Target.

Fitbit to Schumer: We don't sell personal data

Aug 22, 2014

The maker of a popular line of wearable fitness-tracking devices says it has never sold personal data to advertisers, contrary to concerns raised by U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer.

Should you be worried about paid editors on Wikipedia?

Aug 22, 2014

Whether you trust it or ignore it, Wikipedia is one of the most popular websites in the world and accessed by millions of people every day. So would you trust it any more (or even less) if you knew people ...

How much do we really know about privacy on Facebook?

Aug 22, 2014

The recent furore about the Facebook Messenger app has unearthed an interesting question: how far are we willing to allow our privacy to be pushed for our social connections? In the case of the Facebook ...

Philippines makes arrests in online extortion ring

Aug 22, 2014

Philippine police have arrested eight suspected members of an online syndicate accused of blackmailing more than 1,000 Hong Kong and Singapore residents after luring them into exposing themselves in front of webcam, an official ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

not rated yet Jun 20, 2014
Facebook users need to get a life. It's the old saying, "if you wouldn't want to see it on the front page of the newspaper, don't say it or do it." People who put personal information on the biggest online social media site, and then expect any sort of privacy, have host their minds.