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