Thursday, February 14, 2008

Facebook Stickiness or Sticky Mess?

Sometimes I read something in the newspaper that makes me feel better, not because it is good news, but because it lets me know I am "not the only one" or "not imagining things." So it was with a recent New York Times article about Facebook focusing on the difficulty people have had deleting their data from Facebooks's computers.

The article plays on the term "stickiness" as in "the amount of time users spend at a web site over a period of time." This can be a major factor in selling ad space on a web site or otherwise monetizing it. But the sticky-ness described in the article is the problem of closing a Facebook account, which basically you cannot do. I found this out when I realized I had two Facebook accounts. Not sure how that happened (but it would seem to be a flaw in the Facebook design that it could happen).

I figured I would delete one account. I could not. I could close it down, somewhat, but the stuff, the data that was associated with it, remains in the Facebook server farm, ostensibly so I can revive that account at some point in the future. I assumed this difficulty in deleting an account was driven by security concerns, as in: make it hard for people to close accounts they are not unauthorized to close, i.e. one's belonging to other people. Apparently that might not be the case. Could it be they want to keep mining that data forever? Here are a few points to note, from the Times article:

  • Facebook’s terms of use state that “you may remove your user content from the site at any time,” but also that “you acknowledge that the company may retain archived copies of your user content.”

  • Its privacy policy says that after someone deactivates an account, “removed information may persist in backup copies for a reasonable period of time.”

  • 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.


Seems to me Facebook is still growing up in terms of understanding data privacy issues. After all, the retention policy in the terms of use is pretty much in direct contravention of the basic principles of data privacy.

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