May 21, 2009

Social Sites Retain Photos After Being Deleted By Users

Even after being deleted, user photographs remain on several social networking sites, Cambridge University researchers announced.

The researchers placed photos on 16 sites and then deleted them. The team found them on seven of the sites, counting Facebook, by using the direct addresses of the pictures.

Facebook insists that the deleted photos are taken off its servers immediately.

The Cambridge University researchers noted that Flickr and Google's Picasa, and Microsoft's Windows Live Spaces deleted the photos immediately.

To carry out the experiment, the researchers wrote down the direct URLs to the photos recorded from the content delivery networks.  When reviewed 30 days after the pictures were removed, these links were still operational even though users believe the photos were, in fact, gone.

Joseph Bonneau, one of the students involved with the study, said: "This demonstrates how social networking sites often take a lazy approach to user privacy, doing what's simpler rather than what is correct. It's imperative to view privacy as a design constraint, not a legal add-on."

However, a Facebook spokesman backed the company's policy stating; "When a user deletes a photograph from Facebook it is removed from our servers immediately. However, URLs to photographs may continue to exist on the Content Delivery Network (CDN) after users delete them from Facebook, until they are overwritten."

"Overwriting usually happens after a short period of time."


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