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What Sites Such as Facebook and Google Know and Whom They Tell

By The Washington Post

June 1, 2010



When Disa Powell's husband and brother were badly burned in an electrical explosion while conducting maintenance at a Wal-Mart store and the family sued, the defense went after something she never expected: her online life.

Through a subpoena seeking information about the men's injuries, Wal-Mart was able to gain full access to her Facebook and MySpace social-networking accounts--every public and private message, contact and photo for the previous 2 1/2 years.

There were the pictures of Powell's newborn baby lying in a hospital bed after heart surgery (Label: "The hardest day of Mommy and Daddy's life"). The messages detailing problems with her pregnancy ("I got a bladder infection, which has moved to my kidneys"). And the messages dissing on friends ("Brad is a big fat BABY, and can't do anything by himself. The whole issue is that he's lazy").

"I was livid," said Powell, 35, a former hospital administrator who a few years ago moved from Maryland's Eastern Shore back to her home town in Oklahoma. "I felt like I had been seriously violated."

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