Joining Facebook Is Like Joining The Mafia. Just Try To Leave.

The New York Times says that joining Facebook is easy, but leaving is hard. In fact, it might just be impossible. Even if you delete your information, Facebook keeps a copy.

“It’s like the Hotel California,” said Nipon Das, 34, a director at a biotechnology consulting firm in Manhattan, who tried unsuccessfully to delete his account this fall. “You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.”

It took Mr. Das about two months and several e-mail exchanges with Facebook’s customer service representatives to erase most of his information from the site, which finally occurred after he sent an e-mail threatening legal action. But even after that, a reporter was able to find Mr. Das’s empty profile on Facebook and successfully sent him an e-mail message through the network.

And then there’s this bit of cheerful news:

Facebook’s Web site does not inform departing users that they must delete information from their account in order to close it fully — meaning that they may unwittingly leave anything from e-mail addresses to credit card numbers sitting on Facebook servers.

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.”

But even users who try to delete every piece of information they have ever written, sent or received via the network have found their efforts to permanently leave stymied. Other social networking sites like MySpace and Friendster, as well as online dating sites like eHarmony.com, may require departing users to confirm their wishes several times — but in the end they offer a delete option.

One person the NYT interviewed was able to close their account—only after landing an interview with the Channel 4 News in the UK.

Does Channel 4 News have enough time to interview everyone who wants to leave Facebook?

How Sticky Is Membership on Facebook? Just Try Breaking Free [NYT]
(Photo:Elaine Chan and Priscilla Chan)

Comments

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  1. “WHAT YOUR FRIENDS ARE UP TO
    Make friends: Next time you see a comment that’s brilliantly illuminating and life-changing, click the “Follow Commenter” icon next to it.”

    Why can’t I comment on the above story? I’d like to leave a comment on it complaining that it’s been at the second-uppermost position on Consumerist for days now. Enough, already!

  2. Moosehawk says:

    Fill it with porn and I’m sure they’ll gladly get rid of it.

  3. @segfault: Yes.

  4. WindmillTilter says:

    I would love to see some notion of privacy codified into law. In my mind this would incorporate ownership of personal data that would require companies such as Facebook to honor requests to destroy your data (except as where elsewhere required by law, of course). Such legislation might as well also require companies to use unique user identifiers that are not based on government-issued data (such as SSNs).

    Uggh.

  5. At least Facebook doesn’t know where you live, or you could expect a black Lincoln following you at night.
    Not that I know people hired by It’s associates to do this.

  6. mac-phisto says:

    34 & you like the eagles? *shudders*

  7. Toof_75_75 says:

    @Moosehawk:

    May have to give that a shot… HAHA

  8. mac-phisto says:

    @segfault: that’s from gawker network. if you have any friends on any gawker-affiliated site (see bottom links), their most recent convos will show up in the 2nd position.

  9. snowmentality says:

    I don’t know — I did painstakingly delete every single little thing on my account, then emailed to be permanently deleted. They emailed me back within 8 hours saying my account had been deleted. I tried to log back in and couldn’t.

    I agree that it’s a huge pain that you have to personally delete everything. Shouldn’t be that way. Even Myspace, which you’d expect to be super-sleazy about it, has a simple “Delete my account” option. But it is possible, and I managed to get Facebook to delete my account. I recommend it to one and all.

  10. Upsilon says:

    That’s actually pretty good, because I think like the Mafia… Yup, Facebook and I should get along just fine…

  11. f0nd004u says:

    Just take a look at the ToS, and violate everything possible. Then have your friends report your profile. It’ll get gone fast.

  12. Snarkysnake says:

    Here’s an idea:

    Get into your time machine and set the date to February 3,2004 (the day before Facebook was launched) and vow that you will never sign up for something as vain ,shallow and stupid as a “social networking site” .Then there’s nothing to regret !

  13. Sure I could agree with you, but then we'd BOTH be wrong. says:

    hey Facebook rules!

    Its so much better than Myspace

  14. Christovir says:

    This seems like a pretty clear violation of the UK’s Data Protection Act, and I would not be surprised if this went to a UK court within the next few years. The question is, if Facebook adjusts its policy to be in line with the DPA, will this just be available to UK users?

  15. UpsetPanda says:

    It’s really not had to delete everything on there if you don’t tell the world your information to begin with. Why people put their home addresses on their profiles, I don’t know.

  16. UnStatusTheQuo says:

    I can’t quantify in words how much I distrust facebook. I can proudly say I’m not a member of myspace, facebook, twitter, or any of those sites. It’s articles like these that make me glad I’m not.

  17. Black Bellamy says:

    People who don’t know how the back end operates have this idea that stuff is deleted or removed. No one erases anything. Every little thing you type into some form and every time you hit submit or publish, and whatever “privacy” precautions you take, it all just remains on some server, and it’s never encrypted or “protected” or anything. And when they get some email yapping about opting out or deleting yadda yadda the only steps taken are those to make sure the complaining party can no longer access anything.

  18. Go4EVA says:

    MySpace is exactly the same way. But honestly, it took me all of about 15 minutes to delete my friends, empty my inbox and sent messages, clear my wall comments, remove my pictures, clear my personal data, and change my name to Bill. It’s not that hard people. Yeah there is probably a cache somewhere but it won’t last forever, and most importantly, people searching for you won’t find it.

  19. rabiddachshund says:

    @Snarkysnake:
    I’ll make sure to buy stock in Google and Blu-Ray, too.

  20. quentin says:

    @Moosehawk:

    My brother did that in order to close his MySpace account. Google up Pain4.jpg and your social network page will be closed in no time!

  21. deadlizard says:

    @Moosehawk: Best advice on this matter. Case closed.

  22. SacraBos says:

    @Moosehawk: I’m sure setting goatse as your background would do the job nicely, as well as demonstrate how they are making you feel.

  23. MYarms says:

    Cool, I’m glad I setup that Facebook account in the name of my girlfriend’s ex suggesting he is of a different orientation. He’s so computer illiterate he can’t even delete a file. There is no way he is going to be able to figure this one out.

  24. bustit22 says:

    This is a great reason to not put anything on a Facebook that you don’t want the entire world to see.

  25. itsnotsobad10 says:

    @UpsetPanda:

    Agreed, the fact of the matter is once it is on the internet for half a second it is no longer private information. Who cares if facebook deletes it once you want to delete your account, it was still public information for a time so it could have been proliferated a million times already.

    Oh and don’t give me that “Only my friends can see my pictures/information” bull. The pictures are not encrypted, and if you direct link to them you can see them even if you are not friends with the person (the same with myspace) if you know what you are doing you can get a spider to find all of a persons picture.

    Best advice is if you don’t want people to know about you, don’t put it on the internet…either that or stop being so damn paranoid, not enough people care about you to really stalk you…lol

  26. TWinter says:

    Privacy is concern with social networking sites, but it’s not such a huge deal if you exercise just a little bit of judgment in what you post. Don’t post anything you really wouldn’t want your mom, boss, or priest to see and you’ll be just fine.

  27. Myron says:

    @segfault: Amen to that. At least tell us what the fuck follow commenter does.

  28. B says:

    Can you just post a bunch of porn on your account to get it deleted like with MySpace?

  29. arby says:

    @MYarms: Ooh, people might think he’s gay. How depressing that you think someone should be bothered by that.

  30. Prosumerist says:

    Why would ANYONE be so stupid as to put important data on a public site? Credit card numbers?! Would they give their SS# if ‘required by terms of service’?

  31. zolielo says:

    wikipedia is also the hotel CA

  32. Squeaks says:

    One of my friends actually tried to leave facebook because some creepy guy was stalking her. She “got rid of” her account as well. Later, after all that drama was over, she signed back up…and immediately all her old information, friend connections, etc. were restored. I guess it depends on if you are trying to remove your data for good, or if you actually want to get all that information back up there later.

  33. Mr. Gunn says:

    Myron: It kinda does what it says. Have you tried it, or did you think you’d have better luck posting a comment in an unrelated thread.

    segfault: FAIL

  34. ganjagadget says:

    I wonder if Bill Gates’ account will be removed:

    “MICROSOFT billionaire Bill Gates has had to delete his Facebook account after being hassled by thousands of fans.”

    [www.thesun.co.uk]

  35. CapitalC says:

    I found the same thing when I abandoned FB two weeks ago. It’s probably somewhere in their terms & agreement (you know, the big long one nobody reads) that your information will be held.

    I manually deleted everything and changed any information I couldn’t delete (eg. birthdate / email) to false information before closing my account.

    It’s still bullshit that they don’t wipe it when you close it the first time, or at least offer the option to do so.

  36. hexychick says:

    @CapitalC: That is actually a pretty good idea. I might have to do the same.

    @Coming Into The Game, ♪♪ ♪♪♪ #J23 – The Superstar Receiver, ofyourupperdeck TORONTOOOoo BJSss ®: Your user name is absolutely ridiculous.