How Much Digital Privacy Do You Really Have?

Parry Aftab, a privacy and Internet safety lawyer, answered "Good Morning America " viewers' questions about digital privacy. From e-mails to texts and instant messages Aftab explains why your personal correspondence may not remain private.

Question: Are the chat conversations on Facebook recorded somewhere, like the texts are on your cellular phone?

Parry Aftab's Answer: Facebook has a cell phone application that allows you to converse on Facebook on your cell phone. If you use that the application will store those communications on your cell phone.

If you are doing it from your computer, then Facebook stores those communications, and it depends on what kind of communications they are as to how long they hold them.

I am on the Facebook advisory board, and people need to understand that there are always three people on every conversation on Facebook; you, the person you are talking to and the Facebook server. If you delete your end of the conversation, there are still two copies: the Facebook server until Facebook deletes and the person you are talking to. So you need to understand that a simple deletion will only delete one piece of it.

Think of it as making photocopies, every time someone else is involved in the conversation there is a photocopy. To complicate things further if you are using a work computer, then the network server at work will back up your communication. So even if your part of the conversation is done and you delete it on your computer, the other person deletes it from his or her Facebook page and it is past the time that Facebook keeps its data, your boss may have a backup on the server.

Question: How long do telephone companies keep text messages on file? I am going through a divorce and am afraid of my husband requesting that my text messages be opened.

Parry Aftab's Answer: It depends on the cell phone company. They do not keep text messages as long as companies keep instant messages and e-mails because there are so many.

Text messages are generally not kept by the cell phone company for more than two weeks. That said if they are on your cell phone or if the person you are texting has them on his or her cell phone it is the same photo copy concept. You have to find all of the copies, not just how long the phone company keeps them. And you have to remember that they may have been printed out, saved on a computer or stored somewhere.

And to add one level of complication, when you are texting sometimes you are probably also calling that person. So although the company will not have records of the words you are saying, it will have a record of the phone numbers.

In a divorce the first thing a divorce lawyer will do is subpoena the phone records and subpoena the person he/she has called to testify about the affair.

Question: Can instant messages through e-mail addresses be retrieved and copied?

Parry Aftab's Answer: Although I am not exactly sure of your question, let me answer what I think you meant to ask. Both instant messages and e-mails leave trails of cyber bread crumbs and can be subpoenaed from the IM and e-mail providers. E-mails are typically kept for up to six months and more. So if you are doing something you don't want others to see, the simple answer is either don't do it or don't do it in writing, digital or otherwise.

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