Commentary

Just An Online Minute... More Privacy Complaints -- But Facebook Reacts Quickly This Time

Confronted with yet another privacy debacle, Facebook this week revised its site to make it easier for members to delete their profiles.

What's surprising isn't that Facebook made the modifications as much as that it happened almost immediately after The New York Times highlighted how difficult it was for members to erase information. Monday, the Times recounted how New York resident Nipon Das unsuccessfully tried to purge his data from the site. After two months of e-mail messages and threats of litigation, he was able to delete most material -- though the Times was still able to find him on Facebook and contact him through the site.

As is now par for the course on Facebook, a group dedicated to the problem -- "How to permanently delete your Facebook account" -- soon formed and, Tuesday, had ballooned to more than 7,000 members. By the next day, the company made it simpler to delete profiles. Previously, users had to expunge their profiles by removing items from the site manually, but now Facebook offers a link.

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By contrast, when dealing with Beacon -- an ad program that told members about their friends' purchases -- Facebook let complaints fester for weeks before revamping the platform. By the time Facebook changed the program to opt-in only, more than 50,000 people had joined an on-site protest group.

Still, while U.S. outcry about profile deletions only started this week, Facebook has previously been confronted with identical complaints abroad. Last month, the U.K. Information Commissioner began an investigation after receiving a complaint that the site retains information even after users have deactivated their accounts.

So, while Facebook responded quickly to the Times article, it's not as if the company was blindsided by the controversy. Which might account for why it was able to respond unusually quickly.

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