Facebook gives users the option to deactivate or delete their accounts, though listed under "Account Settings," the deactivate option is much easier to locate. To find the delete option, users have to search for the option in the site's "Help Center."
If a user decides to deactivate an account, the profile information is no longer available on Facebook, but the site still saves all of the information in case the user returns.
"We preserve the account in its entirety. People often deactivate for temporary reasons and expect their content and information to be there for them when they return," a Facebook spokesman said in a statement.
The user is taken off Community pages, photos tagged with her are de-tagged and status updates or other information posted to her own page are taken down. Posts on friends' walls remain, but the person's name appears in unclickable text.
Still, Facebook said third-party applications or sites might be able to hold on to that information "to the extent permitted by our policies." If a user turned over credit card information on Facebook to buy virtual gifts or make other purchases, that information is also retained by Facebook.
The social network said there is no limit on how long a user can keep her account deactivated.
But if a Facebook user really wants to make the separation permanent, she can choose to delete the account altogether. If a user goes to the "Help Center" and searches for "delete account," she is directed to a link that lets her send a deletion request to Facebook.
Once they receive the request, the spokesman said the site waits 14 days before deleting the account.
"Because deletion is irreversible, this allows people who mistakenly submitted a request to let us know so we can cancel it," the Facebook spokesman said.
After the 14 days, Facebook said it purges the user's information from the site. The policy says copies of some materials may remain for "technical reasons," but Facebook did not immediately explain this further.
Though Facebook said it collects information about how many users have deactivated or deleted accounts, the spokesman said it generally does not publicize that information.
Still, despite user complaints and possible curiosity about leaving the site, industry watchers say Facebook appears to be attracting even more people.
"The site is still growing really fast as far as we can tell. It's growing fast, especially some of the younger [users], men and women in their 20s," said Eric Eldon, co-editor of the Inside Network, which runs the Inside Facebook blog.
He said Facebook grew by at least 4 million U.S. users in March to reach 117 monthly unique visitors and added about 20 million global users to reach more than 400 million users worldwide.
"One concern at this point is that Facebook can do so many changes that eventually people get fed up and delete their accounts, or at least stop using the site regularly," he said. But "that's always a concern but it hasn't happened yet."
"Maybe Facebook is so ingrained in people's lives so it's not a risk," he continued. "This is all such new territory."