Use it and lose it (your information, that is)

Facebook information isn’t private. Miss New Jersey knows it, November’s bank-intern-turned-Halloween-fairy knows it, and the rest of the social networking website’s 64 million users probably know it, too. But what many may not realize is that even when you leave Facebook, your information doesn’t.

On Feb. 11, The New York Times published an article revealing long-term privacy concerns for Facebook users. According to the Times, users have the option of deactivating their accounts, but the website keeps a copy of all profile information left at the time at deactivation. Thus, unless users delete all of their information (including photographs, “wall” posts, and messages), it remains on the company’s servers.

The Times article mentioned a 34-year-old man who succeeded in having the majority of his personal information erased from Facebook — following repeated e-mails to the website over the course of several weeks. Even then, though, a reporter was able to dredge up the man’s deactivated profile and even wrote him an e-mail through the site.

To permanently delete a Facebook account, users have to e-mail Facebook directly. This can be tricky; the Times told of another disgruntled user who was unable to get Facebook’s attention via e-mail until he sent them a video of himself griping about the website in an interview with a news station in England. (After that, Facebook willingly deleted his account.)

In the wake of this concern, websites and groups have sprung up in and out of Facebook to help users delete their accounts. We applaud these efforts, and encourage users of the site to be aware of the short- and long-term risks of sharing personal information on the Internet.

In a perfect world, Facebook would make it easier for users to delete their accounts, or at least be upfront about how hard it really is. But in the meantime, be informed, and make sure your friends, Facebook and otherwise, are too.