You can't delete Facebook data, and now they'll use it against you

16 August 2010

Bitterwallet - Facebook logoHow easy is it to delete content from Facebook? Not very. In fact  you can't delete information from your account; it all still exists on Facebook's servers, possibly indefinitely. This isn't a shock because it's mentioned in the site's terms of use; what you don't expect, is for that content to still be actively used by Facebook in their own interests.

You may remember than back in April, Facebook connected all of your hobbies and interests to Pages; the music you like, the books you read - overnight they changed from being text in your profile to hyperlinks to dedicated pages for the subject in question.

Communities of fans were instantly created, providing further opportunity for making new connections - increasing the amount of time users spent on the site and the number of ads Facebook could serve. My first reaction was to delete all of my interests from my profile; Facebook is already a time vampire without me spending longer on the site, but I also didn't like being opted-in without permission. So for five months I've had a very barren profile page, and I've never given it another thought.

Until last week, that is. Facebook constantly makes recommendations about people you might want to friend, or pages you might want to join, or like. It does this by applying algorithms to your existing Facebook friends to determine commonalities. At least that's what I thought it was doing, until the site suggested I might want to join the page for the film JFK, in the hope I'd spend hours consumed by conspiracy theories while Facebook racked up profit by displaying adverts.

But why did Facebook recommend that particular film? None of my friends appeared to like it. Then I remembered: I told Facebook I liked JFK - it was one of the films listed in my interests before I deleted them. Was Facebook using the information I'd deliberately deleted to coerce me into using the site more?

It wasn't coincidence, because a while later, this is what Facebook recommended to me:

Bitterwallet - Facebook will use your deleted data for their own purposes

The Radio Academy is an obvious recommendation, since I used to work in the radio industry and plenty of my Facebook friends still do. But what is "Not the Half Arsed Tv Version"? It's actually a phrase that appeared in my interests; I like the original Mighty Boosh radio series, but not the TV version. So one of my interests read as "The Boosh (the radio series, not the half arsed tv version)". When Facebook converted this information into page links, it read commas as subject separators and assumed "not the half arsed tv version" was an interest worthy of its own page. It's clear that Facebook still has all of the information I deleted, and is now actively using it for its own purposes.

In the site's terms of use, Facebook states it won't necessarily delete information immediately:

2.2 When you delete IP content, it is deleted in a manner similar to emptying the recycle bin on a computer. However, you understand that removed content may persist in backup copies for a reasonable period of time (but will not be available to others).

However, allowing content to remain dormant on a server is quite different from deliberately reactivating it to increase your usage of the service. Remember, Facebook wants you as deeply rooted into the site as possible, because the more content you click on, the more ads they can serve, and the more money they can make.

Does it matter? It does when half a billion people are using the service, and it does when it's yet another example that Facebook will use your personal data any way the company sees fit - even when you've made it very clear they can't have it anymore.

TOPICS:   Social Media   Privacy


  • Palmface
    I did notice last week that all these 'Recommended Pages' were being grabbed from my interests, and it's starting to piss me off now. It doesn't matter how many of them you delete, they just keep coming. Facebook is getting worse and worse.
  • Nobby
    Stop using facebook, problem solved.
  • me
    I must be an alien as I can't stand facebook and find twitter the most stupid think in the world!
  • Brian's U.
    Yup I agree with Nobby. If you don't like it then don't use it.
  • JP
    I just connected my FB and twitter accounts to HUKD. OMG HUKD ARE NOW GOING TO STEAL MY DATA YOU B*****DS
  • M4RKM
    I've never used facebook. they probably know everything about me though because they are eeeevil!!!!

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