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Jul. 27 2010 - 9:53 am | 386 views | 0 recommendations | 8 comments

Facebook developers accidentally excite the Internet with a ‘Delete Account’ option

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Yesterday, several of the privacy thinkers that I follow on Twitter tweeted a piece on Slashdot about a big change at Facebook:

Facebook have quietly added the ability to delete you account. ‘Deactivate Account’, under Account Setting, has become ‘Deactivate or Delete Account’, and when checked it purports to permanently delete your account and all information you have shared. Facebook is actually willing to erase your data permanently? They must be counting on very few people doing so.

People seemed quite excited about this. As Nick O’Neill put it on AllFacebook, the “Web [went] crazy.”

Apparently, they overreacted…

I checked my “Deactivate Account” page and it was the same as always, with little photos of my friends telling me they would miss me. I checked in with a spokesperson, who told me:

We’re constantly testing new ideas, including placement of various features. One of these recent tests included variations of the delete account option for a small percentage of people. It’s very likely you aren’t part of the test.

Why anyone would delete their Facebook account is beyond me. It’s part of the new world people; embrace it. Well, unless you’re dating multiple people and don’t want them to know about each other — a novel reason for not having a Facebook account that was shared with me recently.

If you are currently spending your nights with a bevy of attractive people, here’s the lowdown on deleting your account — a topic that came up in an interesting talk about online privacy on the New York Times Bits blog. When you delete your account, you have two weeks to change your mind (just in case one of those flings develops into a monogamous relationship). And in fact, you’ve always had the option to “permanently delete” all your data.

A Facebook spokesperson told me a couple months ago with regards to the long-standing “Deactivate Account” option:

We wait 14 days between receiving the request from the user and deleting the account. Since deletion is irreversible, this allows people who mistakenly submitted a request to let us know before their information is deleted. It also give us time to send an email notification to the account owner in the event that the request was made maliciously by someone who has access to the person’s login credentials. After the 14 days are up, the account is deleted. Personally identifying information is purged, and the account can’t be reactivated or restored.

I then asked whether the information completely disappears or whether it stays on Facebook’s servers somewhere, like a ghost that’s not publicly accessible:

When a photo or video is deleted, or when a person deletes his or her account, we delete all of the metadata for the content as well as any and all tagging and linking information. For all practical purposes, the photo or video no longer exists, and we wouldn’t be able find it if we were asked or even compelled to do so. This is similar to what happens when you delete information from the hard drive of your computer. Technically, the bits that make up the photo persist somewhere, but, again, the photo is impossible to find.

If you do want to commit Facebook suicide, you can do that here. Though if you keep reading the NSPP, I will keep trying to talk you off that digital ledge.


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  1. collapse expand

    So, here’s what I never understood. Why can’t you delete? If the hope is that you’ll come back, it isn’t that difficult to create an account.

  2. collapse expand

    Why would someone delete their Facebook account even if they’re not single and mingling? Here you go: http://annatarkov.posterous.com/im-leaving-facebook

  3. collapse expand

    For the sake of disclosure, I left facebook about six months ago. No associated drama, I just didn’t want the worries over privacy.
    With that said, if the reasons for leaving it are truly beyond you, besides salacious two-timing, I respectfully urge you to understand the privacy abyss you are lurking within.

    http://www.rocket.ly/home/2010/4/26/top-ten-reasons-you-should-quit-facebook.html

    And the potential real-world consequences of any social misstep or misguided word. We are human after all.

    http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1904147,00.html

    In the end, I’m confident the benefits of facebook outweigh the potential harms in your particular situation, in which case I think staying on is a great idea. More often than not though, people don’t think about the potential harms until it is too late.

  4. collapse expand

    New development today…if you change your mind and want to make your facebook profile private, too bad if you are one of the lucky 100 million people whose profile was encoded into a searchable database and put on Pirate Bay.

    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/38463013/ns/technology_and_science/

    And to revisit some oldie but goodie reasons to stay off facebook, see below. My pick for most scary is the “algorithm that successfully pinpointed gay users by analyzing how many of their friends were gay.” Those crazy MIT kids.

    http://www.newsweek.com/blogs/the-human-condition/2010/07/20/10-ways-facebook-can-ruin-your-life.html

  5. collapse expand

    citifieddoug
    You can still delete a facebook account, most thing will be permanently deleted after 14 days.

    http://www.facebook.com/help/contact.php?show_form=delete_account

    Deactivation, is a temporary and will restore all your info, friends and other stuff.

    If you posted on someone else wall, your post
    For deleting, will show anonymous facebook user.

    For deactivation, you name will be there, but it will be unclickable until you return to reactivate.

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    I am a writer, reporter, editor and blogger. I'm an editor at Above The Law, where I blog about lawyers, judges, law firms and the legal industry. Here at True/Slant, I write about our changing notions of privacy.

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