Facebook cancellation no easy feat

Thinking about deleting Facebook? Think again.

Although the popular social networking site's account settings page includes an option to "deactivate," there's no simple mechanism to permanently delete an account once it has been created.

Until recently, the only way to do so was to contact Facebook administrators directly and request that a specific page be removed. Even if Facebook deleted the account, all private information remained in their system.

"Removed information may persist in backup copies for a reasonable period of time," stated Facebook's current privacy policy. "Even after removal, copies of user content may remain viewable."

The policy goes on to say that Facebook, "may use information about you that we collect from other sources, including but not limited to newspapers and Internet sources such as blogs, instant messaging services, Facebook platform developers and other Facebook users to supplement your profile information."

The lack of one-click account deletion has come as a surprise to students attempting to clean up their online image before entering the workforce.

"Because employers are using Facebook as part of the informal interview process, it is a lot more important that we are careful with what we allow the public to see," said senior Jeong Hee Sullivan. "I think that if [Facebook] gives you the option to deactivate, there should also be an option to erase your account."

The lack of such a feature has also caused quite a commotion in the online world.

Technology consultant and blogger Stephen Mansour recently wrote an article entitled, "2054 steps to closing your Facebook account," after a long and arduous attempt to have his account removed from Facebook servers.

After contacting Facebook and requesting that his account be deleted, Mansour was instructed to manually delete every single piece of information that he had posted on the site. This included mini-feed items, friends, postings, wall writing and any other interaction that the he had on the Web site; for cyber socialites, this can mean deleting thousands of entries. Only after this process would Facebook begin deleting his account.

The buzz generated from Stephen Mansour's blog posting prompted Magnus Wallin of Stockholm, Sweden to form a Facebook group entitled "How to permanently delete your Facebook account." The group has grown to include over 10,000 Facebook members.

Wallin founded the group because he was disgruntled that Facebook saved personal information without user approval.

"Most users are, or were not, aware of this," said Wallin. "Accordingly, I figured it was important that the information on how to leave was available inside Facebook."

Facebook, in response, has taken a step toward making the process more user-friendly.

On Feb. 11, Facebook updated their help pages by including a line instructing disenchanted users to e-mail Facebook using a Web form and request that their accounts be deleted.

Facebook is no stranger to controversy; the young company has spurred several public outcries regarding its privacy policies.

The most infamous of Facebook's privacy issues was the implementation of its Beacon advertising program. The Beacon application monitors and publishes targeted advertisements based around items viewed or purchased on third-party Web sites by Facebook members.

Even seemingly innocent applications can pose a security threat. According to their privacy policy, "Facebook does not screen or approve platform developers and cannot control how such platform developers use any personal information that they may obtain in connection with platform applications."

Thus, an unscrupulous developer could easily create a seemingly innocuous data mining program that would be distributed by the victims themselves.