Quitting Facebook: What Happens When You Deactivate?

Tech blog says more seem to be searching for how to delete Facebook accounts.

May 10, 2010, 4:15 PM

May 11, 2010 -- For most of us, it will likely never be more than an idle threat. But what happens if you actually do decide to sign off from Facebook -- for good?

Frustrated by privacy changes or perhaps simply overwhelmed by the non-stop online chatter, Facebook users sometimes say it's time to go cold turkey. But a few really do follow through.

After Facebook's most recent changes and the discovery of a (now-fixed) security hole that let users see friends' chats, complaints from Facebook users erupted last week in comment threads and even a dedicated protest page on the site.

But Peter Rojas, co-founder of the popular user-generated gadget site gdgt, announced on Twitter that he was actually going to cut the cord.

"I was spending more time managing my account than actually using my account," he toldABCNews.com. "Having to constantly monitor the privacy settings was way too complicated. You can never be sure if you actually caught everything."

Rojas said that though he never expected others in the tech community to respond to his action, he thinks the Facebook privacy issue is a big one.

"I'm happy to use the site, but I don't want to be sharing my private updates [and] personal information with other Web sites," he said.

After hitting the "deactivate" button listed under "Account Settings," he said the site tried to convince him to stay.

Before completing the process, Facebook asks the question "Are you sure you want to deactivate your account?" and displays pictures of a few friends, captioned with the lines "[Friend's name here] will miss you."

"It just seemed really desperate in a way that Facebook doesn't need to be desperate," he said.

Maybe someone at Facebook thought it might be a clever way to bid departing users farewell, he said, but it "just seems kind of weird to be so almost pathetic. They certainly don't need to do that. It's not like they're hemorrhaging users."

But according to the tech blog Search Engine Land, more and more people seem to be at least curious about how to delete their Facebook pages.

Tech Blog: More People Searching for How to Delete Facebook Accounts

In a blog post Monday, editor-in-chief Danny Sullivan said that while doing a "how do I" search on Google he noticed that "how do I delete my facebook account" was one of the top suggested search topics.

According to Google, suggested search topics are based on the queries of others and are determined algorithmically without human intervention. The popularity of search terms is one of the factors used in the algorithm.

To see how recent the Facebook trend was, Sullivan used Google Trends, which shows the popularity of certain searches over certain periods of time.

Although there was not enough search volume for "how do I delete my facebook account," he said he found something interesting when he entered "delete facebook account."

"Yes, there is definitely a rising trend," he wrote. "Over time, more and more searches at Google have involved it, it appears."

He also wrote that if you start typing in "delete" into the Google search box, the first suggested topic is "delete facebook account."

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.

Facebook Waits 14 Days Before Deleting Account

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."

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