True or false - You can never really delete your Facebook data

With concerns about Facebook data privacy, recent data breaches and the Cambridge Analytica scandal, consumers want to know more about deleting Facebook and their data online. But, scary as it may be, is it true or false - You can never really delete your Facebook data once you create an account.

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You can’t guarantee control of any information you let outside of the confines of your own head … today … who’s to say the situation wont get even worse in the future … (Minority Report).

I reality we, as users, don’t really know what it means to ‘delete a post’ or ‘unlike’ something - what Facebook does with attempts at data removal is completely up to them - but given information is what they are all about, I believe the smart money would be on assuming nothing being truly deleted, ever - and that’s within the confines of Facebook infrastructure, not taking into account external parties that might work in collusion or work independently to ‘back up’ our Facebook data… for posterity of course …

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The answer is a cold and unsatisfying True you don’t delete your data. You can delete access to the data as it stands today and this just means they remove it from the public sphere. But much/most/all of your data has been scraped by Facebook and if not them, however unlikely that is…and that’s so unlikely as to be improbable, then it has been done by other companies, people, search engines and so on. Your messages to friends etc remain live while they hold accounts. Your likes etc remain. Then there are the backups that Facebook and others have of all their data…basically whatever you typed or placed on that site will never be gone until all that data wherever and by whomever held is destroyed (and again this is so unlikely as to border on the impossible).

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You can’t delete all your data… there are thousands of backups that you do not have access to. You can close your account and that’s about it. Especially with websites like facebook which “shares” information between “friends”… you can delete your own exisiting data but all the copies your “friends” have wont be deleted. Once your profile is online, it’s been captured for ever.

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Will we ever be able to expect legislation that can protect us?
And will any power ever be able to measure and control personally related data collection?
The prior comments suggest it’s far too late to expect to do this at the source!

Already you might make me feel a bit like a murder victim. We can’t stop every murder but we can catch who did it and send them to jail for a bit. For our personal data I hold a glimmer of hope we can get legal revenge after the damage is done.

Does this question also extend beyond what you can or can’t delete to what you don’t know? I assume there is lots about me on Facebook and others through friends who have me in their catalogue - despite me never having been part of Facebook.

I also now wonder about all those sites including the ABC and my local Council that give you the option to log in using your FACEBOOK credentials.

OR if not on Facebook
You may use some other details such as one of your general email accounts to create a login with a unique password. Have some of these sites done deals with Facebook to process this alternate ID? Is Facebook secretly giving you a hidden account they can use to track you via that ID and sharing details back to the site you just connected to?

IE In not being part of Facebook you have still created an ID on Facebook without agreeing to it. One you don’t know about, can’t track or control in any way? Perhaps not, but it could be very true in some form given Facebook and others are loath to fess up to anything!

I’m not paranoid, just annoyed the room I went to sleep in is not the one I woke up in - Janet!

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Many are tracked by Facebook without ever having a FB account. FB has cookies on many sites and you will have a unique id that means as you visit other sites this unique identifier is passed between those sites and FB. It helps build an overall picture of the user. But many businesses beyond FB do this unique id stuff Doubleclick etc etc etc. You can be tracked site to site, page to page, line to line. Some of this is using a single pixel on a image/screen/email/letter (I mean as in a character eg a or b) to see when you have looked at an item.

Yes if you sign in using your FB account to a site they do share your data from FB. Do Facebook create and have an actual account on you if you don’t use them…Not in the sense of what you see on FB but they certainly have data that can and is linked to you, but so do so other many others with whom you have no real link.

Using the private browser option can help with avoiding some of this tracking and there are other steps you can take to minimise the collection. The Tor Browser bundle can be a good tool but it does limit what you can experience while browsing. Some other tools to consider are Privacy Badger, HTTPS Everywhere, uBlock Origin, NoScript but there are others as well.

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Thanks for solving this one and for sharing your thoughts. @mark_m, very interesting to read your ideas about possible forward thinking legislation and how it could potentially be constructed.

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Thanks Brendan,

Not as enlightening as the US Congress and Mark Zuckerberg, though.

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Must admit i enjoyed watching the chat with Mark Zuckerberg.Answered everything well.May even look after 4 different districts that have a poor internet lol.You could tell which people were Facebook people and those that were not in the line of questions.The people who knew nothing were always very negative and hated everything about Facebook,and couldn’t understand anything that was said but it’s just not Facebook other social media sites as well.I am a Facebook fan and on regularly.As specified in Terms and Conditions people have to be wary about what they post what they share and what sites they have liked.It’s never been a secret just people don’t read.I do believe eventually all your data would disappear but naturally any photos you may have shared with friends,communication on friends pages.And outside sources you may have clicked onto like apps or websites etc that you had shared with your friends.But your actual page would disappear for good.As i say you just got to be careful.Be interesting to see what the next step will be

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Will never know. But for me (as I am Faceless) it is a False, as I have nothing to delete, so nothing minus a Facebook option deleting everything still equals nothing.

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… nothing that you know of :wink: maybe a ghost profile or two - Sugarmountain denied they had such a concept at Facebook, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he is found to have been economical with the truth …

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What about all the SMS, MMS, personal info etc you sent to people who are on FB? I’m sure Mr Z has them all stored away somewhere out of reach, never to be deleted!

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Never done this either…I am (un?)fortunate not to have a mobile as well😉.

Maybe only thing might be a nondescript/unauthorised photo taken by someone else and shared on FB. If I am asked if okay to put on FB, my response is no.

Only other info FB may have is that already available in the public domain, such as Whitepages online or work related reports.

Due to past career, I was very careful on what I made available on the web.

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Hopefully if there is, there won’t be any information other than that which is already available online.

What the real concern is FB has been collecting data from non-users through either its FB plaform (mining user data) or through covert ways such as use of cookies etc. These non-users have never consented to FB capturing such data. Those who use FB I imagine would consent to the collection and use of such data through the agreement and Terms and Conditions upon signing up to use or to continue to use their platform. While the data collection may be excessive and potentially invasive, at least FB users have a choice to signup/continue to use their platform. Non-users have no such luxuries.

Secretly capturing non-user data is a little bit like spying on someone for an ulterior purpose.

This area of FB operations possibly need to be regulated as I personally wouldn’t want FB to collect information about me since I specifically have not chosen to use FB for various reasons, including privacy and data collection/ownership. I have also not consented to FB collecting any data on me.

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I regularly go through my cookies on FF and delete huge numbers of them, including from FB and Twitter, only leaving ones for sites I have to log in to.
I’ve noticed when watching SBSonline that the text that appears on the bottom every few mins generally includes FB, so no doubt SBS are complicit in FB’s dodgy activities.:unamused:

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FB are not the only ones collecting and using this data. I can quote the names of a number of businesses whose role in this world is to collect internet user data and then use it for themselves and often also on sell it to anyone who wants this “marketing” information, the list is very very long but to name a few:. They do it pretty much unseen to the normal user and now some sites require you to accept them before you can use a site.

Google has itself eg Google Analytics, DoubleClick (https://support.google.com/adwords/answer/2472739?hl=en-AU) and has a large number of “pups”.

Acxiom (https://marketing.acxiom.com/DataintheBalance.html) and if you want to see what they know about you, you can register to do so at https://www.aboutthedata.com/portal/registration/step1

Adform (https://site.adform.com/)

Centro Basis DSP (https://www.centro.net/products/dsp-programmatic-advertising)

Webtrends (https://www.webtrends.com/)

and the list goes on…

Then there are Web bugs/Web Beacons (https://searchmicroservices.techtarget.com/definition/Web-bug-Web-beacon)

Super cookies which contain much more data than the simple Web cookie txt file

Then there is the User Agent and Browser fingerprinting

So if you want to see how possibly traceable you are visit https://panopticlick.eff.org/ and take the test. Most of us users are fairly unique.

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I was eventually persuaded to create a Facebook account a couple of years ago. I created it, and found very little use in the site. After seeing some silly posts ‘shared’ by people I thought knew better, I decided to leave the platform - and ‘deleted’ my account.

Facebook states that in deleting your account they will delete all of its data, so suggests you download a copy - which I did.

A month or so later, I thought of a setting in FB that I did not want on my ‘deleted’ account. Sure enough, everything was still there when I tried to log in.

As others have pointed out, Facebook - along with many other web companies - make money from tracking you online. Everywhere you see a Facebook ‘like’ button, they know you have been on that page; whether you ‘like’ it or not. The same with Twitter and Google, Amazon, and many companies that don’t even have a consumer presence, but buy and sell your privacy as a business in itself.

As @grahroll mentioned, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has a ‘Panopticlick’ that (once it has run its tests) will tell you under the ‘fingerprint’ heading all of the characteristics it can get about you from your browser - characteristics that make your online presence pretty much unique - whether screen resolution, time zone, browser plugins, or the variety of fonts that are installed on your computer.

What all of this means is that we, the individual users, need to take certain steps to protect our own privacy. I have several extensions enabled just for this purpose. Note: these may require fiddling to ensure your favourite sites keep working, and two of them give an error on startup because they are both trying to block the same thing - I figure it is better blocked twice than not at all. Most of these are available cross-platform/browser:

  • Ghostery has been around a long time, and is regularly updated to block new trackers
  • AdBlock (or AdBlock Plus - both do pretty much the same, I think
  • Privacy Badger is published by the afore-mentioned EFF
  • uBlock Origin, by Gorhill
  • HTTPS Everywhere, which seeks to force encryption wherever possible.

Call me paranoid.

What I have not yet set up is a browser ‘liar’ (or emulator). This is an extension that is designed to allow developers to test what a web page will look like on various platforms (e.g. phone, tablet), but has more recently been adopted to lie to fingerprint trackers like the EFF’s Panopticlick. Unfortunately, I cannot at this time find one designed for privacy, and that will change the browser-reported environment on a regular basis to maintain anonymity. They are often referred to as ‘user agent switchers’. Wait… found one. It is called Random User Agent, and is hosted on GitHub. There is a link from there to the Google Chrome extension.

Unfortunately, web users are in a war with exploitative, secretive entities that want to use our information for their purposes. It is important to fight back with tools such as those I have listed here.

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Well put grahroll. Is FACEBOOK just the canary in the cage?

Facebook data is not the only issue here. We don’t truely know all who may be collecting our personal data?

Is It best to assume all online activities do in one form or another?

What is collected despite assurances is never truely secure or anonymised. IE stripped of all identifying data.

Simply put - Someone must be able to access the data that is kept otherwise it is of no use. You are trusting some one you know nothing about to do so.

Secondly all data needs some identifying elements eg gender, suburb, age, credit provider, concern, etc. Without context there is nothing to connect the data points. The data is meaningless and useless for analysis without.

Warning - “Technical Content”
It’s no surprise that the industry professionals who write for the IT publications sprout their knowledge of - TOR, VPN use, and sand boxing with Virtual Machines. All tools useful for getting around illegally on the web, but also great for secrecy and security. It’s also great to have the benefits of end to end encrypted and secure corporate email and data servers. Of course work will be keeping on eye on all your words and pics just to be sure you stay safe too!

As individual home users we too can access some of these tools. Choice’s advice on VPN providers is a good start. But not all of us consumers are that tech savvy or literate. (Ps I’m not inviting a reply now on how to.)

I’d hope though that end to end encryption and other privacy tools should be the minimum standard for any new device or service. Our current crop of politicians are behaving a bit like weeds in this direction, spruking privacy concerns while wanting access to encrypted data. They are choking the life out of the argument that individual privacy needs are fundamental.

I can’t delete my Facebook data, as like others I am faceless, (Ghost ID’s etc excepted).

I refused to register and use the photo and saving software that came with my Sony camera. It also has a facial recognition and tagging tool and web access options.

Did I register the camera warranty on line using the same software install? Perhaps only my name, address and who knows what else?

Anyway Apple already has all that and my credit card just to make my phone turn on! What does Apple do to all my data and ID when I get a new phone from someone else? (Nothing - it’s still all there for the one day I might come back.)

I’d like to think I have nothing to delete!

So far no one has suggested a reliable path to find all my faceless data and do so. Once data is retagged and stored in a secure system who knows what to ask or of whom.

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There is nobody central that you could approach to ask what data ‘they’ have about you. That said, the largest single collector is undoubtedly the US government - and we have known about its data collection programs for decades.

I do not trust politicians to get this stuff right - they have a lot of pressure coming from ‘interests’ ranging from the people collecting, using and selling our data, to their own security agencies. The security agencies, in my opinion, are crying ‘wolf’ - and have been doing so long and loud for the last 20 years. For a brief period of time they had incredible access to information about everyone, and now the web is ‘going dark’ on them. They never had it so good, and one can only hope that they never gain so much power again!

I must object to this language. Tor, VPNs, sand-boxed virtual machines and similar tools are just that: tools that are useful for avoiding unwarranted privacy intrusions - the fact that a small percentage of users conduct illicit activities using such tools should not be used as a descriptor for them. Governments and security agencies love to spread the idea that ‘if you are hiding your online activity you must be doing something bad’ - we need to remember that privacy is a right, not a privilege, and the fact that I have ‘nothing to hide’ does not mean I want to share my life with a stranger.

Sometimes I think that the best way to deal with this endless spying is to feed it garbage. As most of the data is only ever seen by machines, and even analysts can be duped, I like the GIGO principle (garbage in, garbage out). Unfortunately, I do not think it is that easy to obfuscate one’s online presence - and once you are online, various organisations are able to use all sorts of data to keep tabs on you.

On the positive side, security and privacy experts continue to work towards a more secure web. We should be able to use encrypted DNS (Domain Name System) in the near future, meaning that our ISPs will be unable to see every website we search for and visit. Assuming you are not still using the ‘default’ DNS server - which is normally your ISP. There are some very smart people working on easier to use and more secure alternatives to user name and password. Maybe one day we will live in a work where online privacy is a given - as long as we can fend off the three letter agencies and commercial companies that so desire to know everything about everyone. (Russia’s Internet privacy has been abolished; China never had it; other countries are moving in the wrong direction.)

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Is this a role for Choice and “consumer activism”?

For me Choice is a consumer services business. It has been successful where greater direct member servicing organisations have not. EG the NRMA, RACQ etc in their lack of interest in representing motorists against the vested interests of the automotive, travel and insurance industries. Anyone for a ten year old Takata airbag to chew on?

Where do Choice’s subscribers/members and management draw the line between consumer delivered outcomes and political activism? When does activism become political lobbying? When does Choice act more like a political party than a business primarily providing consumer advice, services and support?

I note that Choice is a “Business”. It is not a club. Choice members subscribe, and are neither share holders or voting members of an organisation like the RSL or RACQ or a registered political party.

I see the issues around privacy as political outcomes. Australia Post (the old GPO) nor any one else can open your mail to see what you think or collate who you correspond with. That’s the law. The laws around privacy in your own home have not evolved much since Shakespeare was a standup comic. There were no drones over your house then, although only the select few ever owned land then. I agree there are standards that should apply to our digital correspondence and the maintenance of confidentiality. I also lack confidence that we should rely on centuries old legal traditions (many from medieval times) for all the answers.

The few legal requirements around all these other aspects of our lives that we might call privacy appear to have derived mainly through business needs than any need for protection of personal obscurity. EG Patents, IP, financial security, commercial in confidence, copyright etc. Yes - OZ does have a privacy commissioner who is looking at the Facebook issue. I hold my breath!

I don’t know how to put my question the best way.
So-
Should Choice be seeking to extend consumer law and a so called “consumer right” to confidentiality of all information? Does any and all information exchanged in any personal consumer purchase or contract, offer or bid or quoting process need to be explicitly regulated through consumer law? Who owns, has the controlling rights/privilege to the information and what are the minimum legal standards necessary in any agreement transferring any right to access or use of same?

I’d suggest the law is unclear, uncertain or absent. Which is why Facebook and many others have been free to write what ever they choose in their T&C’s. And it is our broader community (largely out side of Choice) that has chosen in ignorance the “free sandwich”. Which also excuses the law from needing to act.

That the Facebook T&C’s may be seen by some as not fair, not reasonable, and without consumer protection does make this in my humble view a valid target for consumer activism. I am not sure if it is in the best interests of Choice (aside from providing a forum for this discussion) to take such a bold step. What does Choice management desire?

I don’t want a work around to the problem through a VPN (great advice) etc to become the fix. Consumer law and personal privacy law, which are two different aspects need a massive overhaul. Otherwise I can look forward to a future of Google and Uber drones buzzing without restraint over my house 24x7.

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