Facebook (and others) may keep your deleted photos

Despite deleting photos, they may still exist on Facebook or MySpace's servers

Remember that time you slathered yourself with body glitter and went running through the streets of your hometown? Well, despite deleting those pictures already, they may still exist on Facebook or MySpace's servers and be readily accessible for all who want to scope them out that.

A study conducted by the University of Cambridge discovered that social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace do not immediately remove from its servers photos that have been deleted by users. The study audited 16 different social networking sites by uploading photos, noting their URLs, and then deleting them. Thirty days later researchers checked the URLs, and in the case of 7 sites, the photos had not been removed from content delivery networks.

The 7 sites are: Bebo, Facebook, hi5, LiveJournal, MySpace, SkyRock, and Xanga.

Other sites were able to remove pictures immediately, and surprisingly, frequent security offender Microsoft was one of them: Windows Live Spaces had immediate removal of photos. Also on the ball were Orkut, Photobucket, and Flickr.

Content delivery networks are used by massive sites like Facebook and MySpace as a cached storage bin for elements such as photographs. Basically, that body glitter shot is all over the place.

Facebook, the most popular social networking site, defended itself: "When a user deletes a photograph from Facebook it is removed from our servers immediately." The problem comes from content delivery networks and their slowness in wholly deleting photographic footprints. Facebook claimed that photo overwriting "usually happens after a short period of time."

But thirty days? That's enough time for your future employer and grandmother to scope out your less-than-becoming snapshots.

The Cambridge report blames money. Photos are infrequently deleted from sites such as Facebook, so it's hard for companies to "justify the overhead and complexity of removing them from the content delivery network." The report calls this the "lazy approach."

Facebook has had plenty of problems with online privacy in the past. For the sake of user privacy and the ultimate experience of the site, Facebook should begin immediately deleting user photographs from content delivery networks and not hesitate at the sight of dollars in doing so.

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Brennon Slattery

PC World (US online)
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