March 3, 2008

Facebook? Evil?

Thought quitting Facebook was easy? Think again.

Facebook, the profoundly popular social networking website, created by Harvard University student Mark Zuckerburg in 2004 currently boasts over 66 million users according to a statement released by the company. What users may not know is that joining the site is much like joining a gang: once you’re in it is extremely difficult get out.

Until now it has been nearly impossible for users to quit the site, and delete their personal information. Unlike like other popular networking websites, such as Myspace and Friendster, Facebook does not offer a one-step deletion option. Many Facebook users bemoan that the deactivation option is unclear, because it leaves users under the presumption that their personal information is completely erased.

Currently, the website only offers a one-step option that allows members to 'deactivate' their accounts. According to the Facebook privacy policy, after a user deactivates an account, “removed information may persist in backup copies for a reasonable period of time.”

Members who want to reactive their accounts can do so effortlessly. Spokeswoman for Facebook, Amy Sezak, told the New York Times,“Deactivated accounts mean that a user can reactivate at any time and their information will be available again just as they left it.”

Fed up Facebook users have turned to unofficial guides like the Facebook users group “How to Permanently Delete Your Facebook Account”, which provides group members with step-by-step instructions for deleting their profiles. The group currently has over 12,800 members.

Amid concerns of Facebook's use of personal data from many site members, on February 12, 2008 the company modified its help pages to tell users how to permanently delete information from the website and company servers. In order to do so, Facebook users must contact the company directly via e-mail.

The updated help page includes a section called “How do I delete my account?” Prior to the update, Facebook users who wished to close their accounts had been unable to do so, even after directly contacting the company.

Steven Mansour, a Canadian blogger, spent two weeks in July 2007 attempting to fully delete his Facebook account via e-mail contact with Facebook's customer service center. Mansour humorously details his ordeal in a blog entry entitled “2504 Steps to closing your facebook account.”

Prior to February 12, 2008 modification, Mansour and others like him found that the best way to rid of their profile information was to do so manually. That meant going through a painstaking process of deleting pictures, friends, messages, wall-posts, posted items, mini-feed action, interests, groups, applications, gifts, news-feed action, and more.

Although Facebook has made a big step toward impleting an easier deletion process there’s no valid reason for not giving site members the ability to cancel their accounts in a straight-forward, one-step process. It also does not excuse the fact that members must look through the website's fine print, fill out an e-mail form, and explain that they no longer want to use the site. While it is understandable that social networks want to keep their members, it is not okay to make incredibly difficult for users to leave.

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