Nearly one in three social networking sites make it onerous or impossible to delete accounts

STOCKBy Simon Davies

Social networking sites with a combined membership of hundreds of millions of users are refusing to allow members to delete their profile data, in violation of the privacy laws of dozens of countries.

Concerns about this denial of user rights was first raised by Privacy International (PI) in 2006 when the organisation lodged data protection complaints against eBaY because users found it impossible to delete their accounts. PI also took aim at Facebook, Amazon and Friends Reunited over the same issue.

A portion of the justdelete.me assessment

A portion of the justdelete.me assessment

Unlike the other organisations eBaY responded by assembling a team of engineers who – after six months of work –  resolved the problem.

The issue of data deletion has become more pressing in light of government spying revelations of recent months. European-style data protection laws provide a right for users to have their account and transaction data wiped out on request. While some of the major players have been moving toward such a facility many of the small and medium sites intentionally obstruct that process. This includes almost all online gambling sites.

In the course of their day-to-day operations online gaming companies collect vast amounts of sensitive personal information related to behavioural patterns and finances. Second, the industry has a collective archive of personal identification records that would eclipse all but the largest government agencies. It is routine for sites to demand the transmission of passport and credit card scans, drivers licenses, utility bills and other personal documents. All the available evidence indicates that this information is stored permanently.

The issue of data deletion has become more pressing in light of government spying revelations of recent months.

In recent times a number of sites such as Account Killer offer a one-stop deletion process. However they are hampered by obstructive tactics of sites that either bury account deletion systems or require an arduous manual process via customer services.

Now a service called justdelete.me has assessed nearly three hundred other sites to determine just how hard it is to delete your account. The results may be surprising.

A handy colour code makes the assessment a simple matter. In black are 32 sites which make it impossible to delete your information. These include Blogger, BodyBuilding, Code Red, Gawker, CouchSurfing, GMX, ICQ, GoDaddy, NetFlix, Picassa, Slashdot, Starbucks, Wikipedia, and – ironically – Technorati and Hacker News.

justdelete.me also names 52 other sites which it assesses as making it “hard” for users to delete their data. This includes Amazon, which seven years ago stridently attacked PI over the deletion issue, arguing that users could remove themselves from its site.

The good news is that a slim majority of sites make it easy for users to delete their data. This includes Airbnb, AOL, Dropbox, eBaY, Flickr, Gumtree, Hi5, Meetup, Microsoft, MySpace, Monster, Reddit and Tumblr.