Nine years after the Privacy Commissioner of Canada requested that Facebook make its account deletion option more accessible, the link to do so remains as hidden and hard to find as ever.
Meanwhile, the legal organization that issued the complaint triggering that report is still not satisfied that Facebook addressed its concerns.
When we last wrote about how to delete a Facebook account in 2009, it was following a report from the Commissioner on its investigation into a complaint made by the Ottawa-based Samuelson-Glushko Canadian Internet Policy & Public Interest Clinic (CIPPIC). The report contained two key findings and subsequent recommendations about Facebook’s policies around account deactivation and deletion:
- Because account deactivation and deletion are not explained in the same part of the site, some users may believe that their only option is to “deactivate” their account. The report suggested making the account deletion option more prominent.
- Facebook retained account information indefinitely. The Commissioner recommended deleting the data of deactivated accounts “after a reasonable length of time.”
Today, the situation remains much the same. Visiting the settings page on Facebook shows the option to “Manage Account” under your General Account Settings. This brings up options about what will happen to your Facebook account when you die. You can set a legacy contact or just choose to have your account permanently deleted.
There’s no clear option on how to delete your account while you’re still alive. The option to “Deactivate your account” is still prominently displayed here. This is how Facebook explains this option:
“Deactivating your account will disable your Profile and remove your name and photo from most things that you’ve shared on Facebook. Some information may still be visible to others, such as your name in their Friends list and messages that you’ve sent.”
Clicking on the “Learn More” link leads to a tutorial with graphics detailing the steps to deactivate an account. This tutorial addresses permanent deletion and links to the “Help Center,” where the link to “Delete my account” is shared. In Facebook’s help centre, it says it may take up to 90 days for Facebook to delete all account data from backup systems. In 2009, that timeline was 14 days.
Despite the commissioner’s recommendation to eventually delete data of deactivated accounts, Facebook continues to hold it indefinitely. Facebook maintains that most users that choose to deactivate will reactivate their accounts within a few weeks, and expect their social connections to be maintained upon returning.
Many Canadians are looking to delete their Facebook accounts after a #DeleteFacebook campaign became popular following the news breaking about Cambridge Analytica. But with Facebook refusing to follow the guidelines of privacy regulators, you wonder how many of them will succeed in purging their personal data from Facebook’s servers.
CIPPIC makes the point that its 2008 complaint raised concerns about how Facebook provides access to user data to developers. Tamir Israel, a staff lawyer with CIPPIC, says Cambridge Analytica was able to access 50 million users’ data because Facebook’s API allowed access to all data deemed ‘publicly available’ at the time.
While Facebook’s list of information considered ‘public’ by default is now shorter, it still includes age range, language, and country, in addition to name, gender, user ID, profile picture, cover photo, and networks.
Developers still have access to this public information, Israel says.
“This is an ongoing example of the pressing need to turn PIPEDA into an enforceable regulatory regime,” Israel says. “When limited to non-binding recommendations, the OPC is simply not able to enforce the law the way it should be applied.”
For its part, Facebook provided information on background when it was asked to comment on this story. It says it added a new section to its help documentation that makes deleting an account easier to accomplish. It confirms that deactivated account information is still retained indefinitely.