Facebook, I Can't Quit You

Users seeking a divorce from Facebook are finding their personal data may be kept as alimony payments.

Several users who have tried to leave Facebook have posted unflattering tales of their experiences online, with some saying it has taken weeks or months to extract themselves entirely from the popular social networking service.

A Facebook spokesperson told eWEEK that users can remove their information from Facebook by deactivating their accounts. Once a user deactivates the account, their profile becomes inaccessible on the main Facebook service, and the data is kept by Facebook only to allow easy reactivation.

For those users not interested in any further relationship with the site, they may delete their profile, which means their name and all e-mail addresses associated with the account are deleted from Facebook servers.

What Facebook doesn't explain in its statement, or in its help section, is the hoops users have to jump through to delete their accounts.

Steve Mansour, a programmer from Canada, wrote a post on his Web site that details a protracted back-and-forth process with a customer service person. Ultimately, Mansour was told he had to delete each of his mini-feeds, wall posts, incoming and outgoing messages and other bits of profile information.

What Mansour learned was this: You can remove yourself from Facebook, but only after you go into your account and manually delete each detail, an inconvenient process for a site dedicated to making it easier to find people.

Why is it so hard to remove oneself from Facebook? Why isn't there a simple button that allows users to "nuke" their profiles from the site?

Social networks use personal data to target consumers with digital advertisements that play off of their online behaviors, a lucrative but challenging ad niche that Google, Yahoo and Microsoft are struggling to figure out.

Facebook's ad system, Beacon, ran into trouble earlier this year as an opt-out service that informed users' friends about their online activities. Chastened by complaints and privacy watchdogs, the company made Beacon purely opt-in.

By making it difficult for users to break free, Facebook could increase the time that consumers' data is nestled in its servers, leaving the door open for more ad opportunities.