Preserving and Collecting Facebook Profiles for E-Discovery
The ability to download your Facebook profile was originally announced in October of last year and is now available for all individual users. There have been quite a few hyperbolic articles declaring this to be a “boon for e-discovery in the cloud.” While I don’t necessarily see it as that, it certainly does make preservation and collection of information from Facebook much easier.
How it Works
When you log into Facebook, find your account settings and click on “Learn More.” You’ll be prompted to enter your account password again, and then will see a message indicating that they will email you when it’s ready. If you’re clever, you probably filter messages from Facebook out of your inbox, so make sure to watch for the email. They must not store the download for very long once it’s prepared because it took me three tries to successfully download the file once it was done. There isn’t any error saying that the download had expired, which is kind of a pain.
The download comes down as a collection of HTML files, images and a stylesheet. It’s very well done, and you could actually just post this directory to your own webserver if you’d like.1
While I haven’t had a chance to see the output from a corporate account or organizational page, I would imagine that the process is very much the same. If this is the case, then when a duty to preserve information in anticipation of litigation arrises then it’s probably a good idea to have the admin of a company Facebook page initiate the download.2
Since the duty to preserve is an ongoing one, regular archives should be made since the data on a Facebook page is pretty fluid. One downside for those who may have to review this content prior to production is that de-duplication through the use of MD5 or SHA-1 checksums will be ineffective since all messages and wall postings come down as a single file.
Things I Thought I’d Never Say
Back when I joined Facebook back in early 2005, I was a pretty big supporter. I liked how it was clean, unobtrusive and showed no signs of allowing the customization which was one of the contributing factors to the decline of MySpace. I also really appreciated how it was private, as did many of the initial users. As the service continued to grow, I lost interest and really only maintain my account now because as an alpha-geek in the legal community I have to talk about Facebook a lot.
Facebook did something very right with this from a number of perspectives. Web based services like Facebook, Basecamp, Salesforce.com and Google Docs are going to continue to grow and users (and their lawyers) need ways to get to this information outside the browser. Even if a magic wand were waved where we could easily do pure native document productions, dynamic web pages like a Facebook profile are still extremely problematic. The only way that the Facebook download profile format could be more friendly to your average lawyer would be if it came down as a series of tiff images with a database load file.
Hopefully the same model of exporting flat, non-interactive versions of dynamic webpages will spread to other services soon.