Facebook’s Troubling Policies

Posted by Keith McMillan

February 13, 2008 | Leave a Comment

Caveat: I’m not a big user of social networking sites. I’ve always thought of myself as a bit more private than that. Perhaps this amplifies my concern over this story in the New York Times (found via Slashdot, where there’s more commentary) about Facebook subscribers inability to remove their information from the service when they decide to “deactivate” their accounts. Per the NYT story:

While the Web site offers users the option to deactivate their accounts, Facebook servers keep copies of the information in those accounts indefinitely. Indeed, many users who have contacted Facebook to request that their accounts be deleted have not succeeded in erasing their records from the network.

This is very troubling in the age where companies are compromised every day, and personal information routinely and illegally disclosed. Many enterprises are adopting the position that if they don’t need information about you, they’re simply not going to store it. In the event of a compromise, the less information a company has about you, the less it can lose.

Against this tide goes Facebook. Their privacy policies state that they may maintain backup information for “a reasonable period of time” but are not very forthcoming about exactly what’s going on. If you contact customer service, it apparently becomes somewhat clearer what you have to do:

Only people who contact Facebook’s customer service department are informed that they must painstakingly delete, line by line, all of the profile information, “wall” messages and group memberships they may have created within Facebook.

“Users can also have their account completely removed by deleting all of the data associated with their account and then deactivating it,” Ms. Sezak said in her message. “Users can then write to Facebook to request their account be deleted and their e-mail will be completely erased from the database.”

The arguments are that you may want to return in the future, but these seem like hollow reasons to me.

“Deactivated accounts mean that a user can reactivate at any time and their information will be available again just as they left it.”

Much more compelling is the argument that they want to continue to sell your information to their ad partners.

The network is still trying to find a way to monetize its popularity, mostly by allowing marketers access to its wealth of demographic and behavioral information. The retention of old accounts on Facebook’s servers seems like another effort to hold onto — and provide its ad partners with — as much demographic information as possible.

Perhaps I’m just too used to the fact that I have a personal side, and business/public side, and that the two shouldn’t mix. It would scare the willies out of me if I discovered I could not change my mind, and easily leave a site like Facebook if I wanted to.

Update: Apparently Facebook has added instructions on deleting your profile to their help page, in the face of public pressure. From the sounds of it, it’s still not entirely satisfactory.


RSS feed | Trackback URI

Comments »

No comments yet.

Name (required)
E-mail (required - never shown publicly)
Your Comment (smaller size | larger size)
You may use <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong> in your comment.