Facebook does not erase user-deleted content

Facebook does not erase user-deleted content

Summary: When users upload content, pictures and video to Facebook, it is not erased from their servers even when the user 'deletes' it. Video and experiment.


Nearly a year on since Cambridge University researchers discovered that Facebook, along with other major social networks, doesn't erase server-side copies of your uploaded data, the world's biggest social network is still guilty of such a sin.

Since then, the site has nearly doubled in size. It's now has the population of the third biggest country in the world, with tens of thousands of servers holding your data, which as soon as it is uploaded, belongs to them to do as and what they wish with it.

Four US Senators are jumping on the privacy bandwagon concerned over users' privacy. As Sam Diaz points out, profile data by third-party developers (ie. anybody who can write an "application" for the site:

"...used to be limited to 24 hours but that was recently lifted by Facebook. At the f8 conference last week, the executives said this was more of a technicality and suggested that it wasn’t as big of a deal as it might sound."

So, it's fair to say while Facebook is growing exponentially larger every day, issues around privacy, user data and information is becoming more difficult for individual users and account holders to police. Facebook, on the other hand, is rolling in it and absolutely loving it. Their privacy policies and terms of conditions covers their arse, so end users cannot complain as they would have been expected to read them before signing up.

Pretty much the same experiment enacted by the Cambridge University researchers a year ago, I have tried this myself - nearly one year on, just to be sure - but only with Facebook.

I uploaded one picture and one video with restricted permissions so only I could access them through Facebook wherever possible, then deleted them. Even though the user has specifically deleted the content, they are still stored on Facebook's servers and content delivery network by accessing the direct hotlink.

The video proves that the content was uploaded and deleted. Using the links below, you can see that the picture and video is still available to access, and if you wish - for further proof - match the URL's used in the video (it's in HD so you can see) with the full direct links below.

The kitten picture that was uploaded and deleted: http://bit.ly/aUiteD (Full direct link) The Tango video that was uploaded and deleted: http://bit.ly/dimpbD (Full direct link)

Now granted, it could take a while for Facebook's content delivery system to getting around to deleting all cached files, different versions and backups of the files in question. But no, this isn't the case.

This is something you lovely people can try at home. Upload a picture, copy the direct URL of that picture, save it somewhere for future reference, delete the file and see how long you can directly access it for. I can bet my bottom dollar that in a months' time, or even six months' time, you'll still be able to access it.

This is a quickly-done experiment of which only time will tell. There are two likely outcomes:

  1. Facebook sees this post, isn't happy, trundles through my account and manually deletes any copy of the above content. I wouldn't be surprised, actually, but I have a backup plan. The same experiment was done yet again - including video and links but using a friend of mine's account, stored offline and not to be published - which corroborates this story should Facebook pull the plug.
  2. Say in a week or a months time, the links remain live and proves that the content doesn't get deleted.

A year ago, a Facebook spokesperson responded by saying:

"When a user deletes a photograph from Facebook it is removed from our servers immediately. However, URLs to photographs may continue to exist on the Content Delivery Network (CDN) after users delete them from Facebook, until they are overwritten. Overwriting usually happens after a short period of time."

... and this morning, when I received an email from a Facebook spokesperson, they said:

"As stated in Facebook's Statement of Rights and Responsibilities, the governing document for the site, 'when you delete IP [your intellectual property, including pictures and videos] 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).

It is possible that someone who previously had access to a photo on Facebook, and who saved the direct URL from our content delivery network (CDN) partner (this is different from the Facebook URL) might still have access to that photo.  We have been working with our CDN partner to reduce the amount of time that these backup copies persist."

They did not explain how long "a reasonable period of time" is. Also, when you upload a picture or video, not only do you sign away all rights of property to Facebook, but they pass it on to their content partners and can be (and are) used for advertisements. Nobody seems to know, or want to talk about where photos are actually uploaded to - so for all we know, they could be beneath the Facebook head office, in a data center somewhere or on the Moon.

Either way, it's a harsh reality and that the students of this world need to be extremely cautious. Once something goes on Facebook (or the web), it doesn't come down again. Ever. Just because you cannot directly access it through your Facebook interface doesn't mean that the content isn't lurking around the corner for your next employer to stumble upon, and not give you that dream job as a result of the drunken photos you uploaded.

Is it about time governments intervened to scrutinise Facebook's privacy issues?

Topics: Collaboration, Networking, Social Enterprise

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Just Stop Using Facebook!!!!

    They are an evil organization. Stop now and become free from worry.
    • Or stop using Google, Microsoft, Apple...

      They're all the same, just in different ways. We can't just stop using them; it's how we use them that's the issue.
      • ....

        [i]it's how we use them that's the issue.[/i]

        Absolutely right. No matter what they do with deleted data... if I don't put compromising photos/videos/information out there, I'm at less of a risk.
        • Paypal and Ebay are even worse

          I'm surprised that this is news to people since it has been happening with every free site. They make their money from selling your private info. I mean you didn't think they spent all that money to get the site up and running and then spent even more to keep it up out of the goodness of their hearts?
          What I am really shocked about is that eBay and Paypal keep your personal account and credit card information for at least a year after you cancel your account. That is their official time limit but it has been longer. For any company that deals in financial matters and makes you pay to use there service, keeping private financial information is unconscionable. I would be way more worried about that then a picture that I uploaded to facebook.
          • I use paypal and never had to pay to use it??? nt

          • Sellers Do

            You don't have to pay to use it to send money; just to receive money. Under most circumstances. There are some exceptions.
          • eBay is among my 3 worst companies

            So, I'm glad to see when others speak the truth against this evil empire that will take any advantage to pee on their clients' leg and say its raining.
      • No, actually....

        ...it's how they use US is the issue.
      • What do you mean you cant stop using them?

        What do you mean you cant stop using them? Would you allow someone to smack you upside your head every day?? No off course not. Facebook is smacking you upside your head but in another way. You and those who say that cant do without are weak and probably have addicted personality's.
      • Nope

        It's how they use YOU that makes the difference.
    • Good luck with that

      With such a huge user base, that ain't happening.
      The one and only, Cylon Centurion
      • Well, I've never used ANY social networking sites...

        ...and have no plans to ever do so.

        I don't really give a crap what some loser on Twitter is thinking about at any give second.
        I've got far better things to do with my life than spend my hours "following" some moron.

        And I could really care less about some twit on Facebook wanting to "friend" me with an unsolicited email. If I want a new friend...I'll get a dog.

        I find ALL of these social networking sites to be a complete waste of time.
        • Well I guess...

          a dog is the only friend you're ever going to have, considering that any human friends you may have, are to be considered losers or morons (in your words) if they use a social networking site.

          But of course, the absolutely hilarious irony, is that you hang around forums, following other people's posts, and responding to them with a rant about "interacting with idiotic strangers across the internet". In one fell swoop, you've appeared as one of those people you wouldn't want to interact with... you have to laugh really.

          Maybe you'd be better off without the internet completely. Paint your windows black and board all your doors up if any kind of social interactivity is beneath you.
        • You must be

          older in age than me, kids today are always connected, and this tool provides them with another means of accomplishing just that. I use Facebook to KIT with people I graduated with, and to share content.

          If you don't want to join Facebook, then don't.
          The one and only, Cylon Centurion
          • What does KIT mean?

            I'm sorry, but using an acronym for every little thing is just NOT proper English. When will people learn this? I believe we should all stop posting on the web, as it is dangerous and makes us look stupid.
            Now, what DOES "KIT" mean?
            Kill Internet Technology?
            Please, spell it out for me.
          • KIT

            Keep In Touch
        • Privacy is job #1

          Some people believe it's ok to broadcast every byte of personal info about themself's on the web.

          Those people are known as victims.

          Social networking is data-mining gold, ready for "Big Brother" harvest.
        • Losers, Morons, & Twits? lmao

          Somebody get up on the wrong side of the bed/internet today or just out of coffee? ;)
          • Losers, Morons, & Twits - Oh My ! ;)

            We're off to see the wizard . . . .
            JK of Seattle
        • Says the person using a message board

          Get a life man! Although I personally find Twitter to be useless, Facebook is a great way to keep in touch with distant friends and family.