Report: Go ahead, quit Facebook, but they'll retain and data mine your info

construct2_e0.gif John Moe and the new public radio show Future Tense did a segment this week about people quitting Facebook over privacy concerns. They report that quitting doesn't really resolve those concerns. First, deleting is different from deactivating, and the deletion process isn't easy for everyone to figure out. Still, even if you do manage to truly delete your account once and for all, John reports: "You'll never see that data again. But Facebook will. They still have that information and will continue to use it for data mining." Will the data at least be anonymized, the reporter asked? The Facebook rep wouldn't say. Caveat Facebooker.


  1. But they’ll get out of date information, which means it will lose value.

    The biggest problem is to actually have a significant number of people leaving Facebook to have any effect.

      1. That’s such a great idea for a group that it’s worth my finally entering Facebook in order to join it.

    1. No it isn’t, you’re wrong. This is a new show using the name of the old show. Read the website.

      1. There’s a new public radio program on tech stuff and I wasn’t informed? To the nerdmobile!

        (That is, my Kia.)

  2. Although what was there will be always be theirs, by deleting your account you will accomplish one or more goals…

    1) You will be making a stand/statement against evil (yes, evil).

    2) You will be standing up for your privacy (and others privacy rights) with actions (not words).

    3) You will not be prone/accessible for future evil/nefarious doings. As an example, there is a known exploit for certain “instant personalization” features. This is just one such possibility.

    4) You will be able to get out while you still can. I would not be surprised to see deletion impossible.

    5) You will find out that you really hated Facebook after all.

    1. having used facebook nearly from its inception, i fail to see how its evil. its a market research engine that happens to also let people talk to their friends. what is mark zukerberg or facebook as software doing that is so evil? do you use google software like gmail? how is the data mining google does to your emails and internet searches less evil or different from what facebook does?

      there are plenty of 3rd party apps that can give you viruses, steal your data, spam your friends…..and its really easy to never use any of them. i have, in fact, never used a 3rd party ap (including twitter apps) in my facebook life.

      data mining is the way we pay for these services. this is america, shit doesn’t come free. unless you can show how the data itself is used for evil (showing an ad to someone is not evil) then your statement is hyperbolic.

      1. It’s partially because Facebook is known for changing the way they handle security, and default allowing even data that had been made private previously.

        Also, data mining is fine, as long as it’s up front how that data is used. Google makes clear claims about how they use the data that they get (if the claims aren’t factual, or they change their stance, then they deserve all the flak they get for it.) Facebook doesn’t.

        1. whatever dude. i’m not making an apology or an excuse. i’m asking people to quantify exactly what is lost be facebook stealing your dataz. its not useful to help or harm anyone, other than market research firms. none of the privacy issues raised here are invalid. its just that no one has said anything that shows that the *consequences* of the misuse etc of that data is all that harmful. show me one person that has lost money, or been the victim of identity theft because of facebooks data policy.

          OOOoooorrr you could just get snooty with me for not agreeing with the rest of geekdom that facebook = bad because we’re all too cool to admit we use it like everyone else.

          1. its just that no one has said anything that shows that the *consequences* of the misuse etc of that data is all that harmful.

            Let me give you an example. In the 1920s and 30s, it was fairly hip to be a member of the American Communist party. Lots of people joined; many more people didn’t join but continued to be friends with those who did, not thinking anything of it.

            Fast-forward to the 1950s, when these people (who had never attended a Communist Party meeting in their lives, many had no strong political beliefs of any kind) had their lives destroyed because a friend (or former friend, family member, etc.) had at one time attended a meeting. They were disgraced in their community, shunned and not able to find work.

            Now, think about how much easier the witch hunt would have been if there were a clear record of exactly who associated with who and when.

            Of course, such a thing could never happen today, right?

      2. For me, the issue isn’t broad data mining. I could give two shits if a company finds out that there are a lot of 22-35 year olds in the Cambridge area that like to bike. The problem is when my personal name starts coming up in searches. I use Facebook to stay connected with friends. My boss or future boss is NOT my friend. I don’t need to Facebook spewing pictures of me across the Intertubes or reporting that my favorite quote is Ben Franklin declaring beer kicks ass.

        True, you could just not post this stuff, but that defeats the point of Facebook, or at least the point as it was originally conceived. Facebook originally was a friends only club where you could more or less dump the stuff that you do with your friends into an area where they can all see it at once. These days, it is getting to the point where if you wouldn’t declare it at a meeting at work, you probably shouldn’t put it on Facebook. That is all well and good, but WTF is the point of Facebook then?

        Eh, I’ll just listen to TWiT, wait for them to declare what the new thing is, and jump ship the first chance I get. Facebook can get relegated internet ghetto where we stuffed MySpace and AOL.

        The average user doesn’t even need understand why people are leaving. It just takes a few trail blazers to declare they are out, go to “the new thing”, and the migration slowly begins as it did from MySpace to Facebook. First the crazy early adopters achieve a critical mass at some other place, the next wave of the techno savvy looking to bail start to migrate, and a little while longer only mom and dad are still on Facebook and wonder where the kids went. The average user won’t even know why everyone started leaving.

        Facebook takes its dominance for granted and don’t realize just how much of a fad they are. Fads change. In tech world, they change faster when you spend all of your time trying to piss off the techno-savvy.

        1. in response to your comment as well as others, i would say that to this date, it is entirely possible to make it so nothing of any personal relevance (not even your profile pick) is viewable to people who are not your friends. it is possible to disable searching for “you” entirely – either through search engines or facebook itself. it is not difficult to do this. i know something about computers, but i am probably amateurish compared most ppl commenting on this page. and the last time they changed their security policy, there was an extremely overt (to the point of annoyance) set of messages sent by the site, to me, during everything i did, until i went and reviewed my security settings.

          i am 100% confident that everything facebook does is to support their bottom line. part of that is not pissing off or scaring the shit out of your users. they don’t have an interest in intentionally screwing you into revealing to your boss that you shoot H on the weekends. the security settings regarding how other people see you aren’t related to the broader data mining issue, which i see as more critical.

          as far as all the putting 2 and 2 together and now they know your blood type. yes, with enough tricks and cleverness they could probably figure out what my every errant thought is. but FACEBOOK is the one with the power to do that kind of data mining. and facebook is out for 1 thing: money. they can’t make money off of invading your privacy in a way that isn’t useful to a marketing firm. yea, maybe they could figure out your SSN. but why? why does a multi billion dollar company want to know that. what are they gonna do, thief my identity and steal the 30 bucks in my back account? as long as facebook defends itself well against a malicious hacker getting that kind of info its not an issue.

          and besides, there really isn’t that much about you on facebook that could be useful to a thief.
          lastly, fuck privacy. there is literally nothing in my life i’d be scared of admitting to anyone, except that smoking pot is illegal. if privacy were dead, and we all just admitted to each other that sometimes we use recreational drugs, and sometimes we jack off to internet porn, people would get over this trivial bullshit. and once no one cares about all our little foibles, then we can all stop lying to half the people in our lives by default.

  3. I don’t have a Facebook account, but my wife did. She deleted (deactivated?) it over a year ago. Should she worry? Is it anything more than browsing history and what she looked at on

    1. YES!!! I was uploading pictures a few weeks ago to my soon to be gone page, and to my right was a friend suggestion…from a page I deactivated over 3 years ago. After digging more, there are now 6 pages there with my face and info.

  4. Yes yes, we know, they have backups of our information, it won’t do any good to leave, etc… etc.. ad infinitum

    Except they have one less person contributing to their daily traffic and their numbers when I leave. They have one less person making their service valuable. Times me by 500k or 1million and we start making a dent in their bottom line.

    I don’t get discouraging people from deleting their accounts.

  5. I’ve already started to poison my Facebook profile with false information. Seems the only way to deal with it.

  6. I in now way seek to dampen the discusion about internet privacy concerns in social media or elsewhere, but especially with data recorded on facebook, I question the degree to which an average user is actually compromised.

    i have gone to the perhaps inadvisable lengths of adding my home phone, email, and snail mail address to my facebook info. those are the most personal pieces of data i can think of disclosing in that forum. should someone data mine it in the future, in what way could i be harmed? i already get junk mail and spam to a degree where I don’t think i could notice an increase. i never get solicitations via phone because i’m on the do not call list.

    the other data on that website consists of pictures of me, and the list of people i am friends with. while all of that is very useful to someone trying to sell me a stick of gum, none of it is useful to any sort of “big brother” or malicious agency seeking to do me harm. unless i become a spy for the CIA, or a target of a mob hit, knowing who i hang out with on saturday doesn’t give anyone any leverage over me.

    it isn’t wrong to want to keep information about ourselves private, but i fail to see the impending disaster brought on by disclosing aforementioned data that all of these privacy discussions seem to imply.

  7. Think you’ve “deleted” your account via that special link on Facebook? Try logging in a couple months down the road… it will still be there. There is no such thing as “delete” with FB.

  8. Data mining itself isn’t necessarily evil. What’s evil is getting people to put information in on the pretense that they have controls over where that information is shared, and then pulling the rug out from under those controls.

  9. If Facebook keep your info, the sooner you delete your account, the safer you’ll be. ;-)

    BTW, if one wants to quit, be aware that there will be a 14 day delay before Facebook makes official the account deletion. Don’t reconnect during that period or you will have to do it all again.

    See: How-To Permanently Delete Your Facebook Account.

  10. I know that this is trivial, but given that American Public Media is the production arm of Minnesota Public Radio (the NPR affiliate that I happen to be a member of) I like to feel like I have a pretty good grasp of which shows it produces and which it doesn’t.

    On the about page which I linked above, I find the following statement: “John Moe will take over as host of Future Tense.”

    In your comment above, you ask curiositykt to “read the website”, but I can’t see anything else on the website about the transition besides the paragraphs that I excerpted from above. Can you point me to what you are seeing that implies that this is a “new” show?

    1. It’s fair to say that it’s more nuanced than that, but it is not just the same old show with a new host.

      My information comes from those involved in producing and relaunching the show.

      I contributed to the new show’s pilot as a guest/panelist, and we’ve been in touch.

      I’ll let them weigh in here to clarify, it’s really not my position to explain their branding for them.

      1. Xeni, have you gotten a chance to listen to Spark, from the CBC? My state’s public radio network started carrying it a few months ago, and I’m hooked. A little basic at times, but there are a lot of good themes where they try and explain stuff like the facebook issue to people who might not have otherwise understood.

        It’s odd, Future Tense’s not been publicised if not carried in any of the 3 or 4 markets I’ve lived in over the past 12 years.

  11. You can use Firefox’s Adblock Plus add-on ( to prevent any other Web site from talking to Facebook when you visit that site. Just install Adblock Plus and then add the following filters:


    The above rules tell Firefox never to allow any site other than Facebook’s four sites (,,, and to access Facebook. Thus, Facebook continues to work perfectly, but other sites don’t get to talk to Facebook at all.

  12. It’s Larissa. I produce Future Tense. Here’s some clarification about the show.

    American Public Media is transitioning Future Tense into a new technology program with host John Moe.

    Future Tense was created and hosted by Jon Gordon. It’s been distributed nationally by American Public Media for the past 14 years. Gordon has stepped into a new role in the Minnesota Public Radio Newsroom.

    During this transition period, the program will keep the title Future Tense and build on its commitment to exploring important stories from the tech world.

  13. I’m curious. In the UK, personally identifiable information is subject to the Data Protection Act, which among other things makes it a legal requirement for the data holder to keep data up to date and to provide any data held in full on request. Can someone more legally-minded than me advise on the ramifications for FB’s retention of data under this law?

  14. I am starting to put false information into my Facebook profile. It will be a while before I finally deactivate it. I learned the hard way from dating sites that deleting a profile is often not enough.

  15. I heard the program this morning on the way to work and found myself sitting in the car until the end of the report. It’s scary stuff to be sure.

    Also, Future Tense has always been one of my favorite segments (now programs) to the MPR newscast. I’m glad to hear they’re going National!

  16. in the country I live in, France, there are pretty awesome laws governing data privacy, and an organism overseeing their respect, the CNIL.

    Thanks to these laws, I can request from any corporate entity all the information they have on me. I can also request its deletion.

    I expect that if Facebook has an entity over here, they must follow these laws, or I can sue them. Oh cool, they do! corp ID number (SIREN): 509 004 305. Address: Facebook UK Ltd, 28 rue de l’amiral Hamelin 75116 PARIS

    Only loophole is if they can escape these laws because it’s just an offshoot of the UK company… I hope not.

  17. Why is everybody so scared of Facebook?

    They don’t have my home address, my SSN, or any of my credit card numbers. All they have is a bunch of random postings about stuff from college, silly notes to my kids, and stupid photos from tailgating at football games.

    How can data mining that crap: A) be of any use, and B) harm me?

    1. I’m not afraid of Facebook, but it’s mainly because I use it the way I use the rest of the internet – with care.

      It’s a data-miner’s dream because of those people who jump onto every quiz. Just look at those quizzes, apps and games on the news feed (or if you’ve blocked the apps, look on the wall of the biggest offender among your friends). Cumulatively, they look a lot like the questionnaires that pop-psychology fans used to fill out to figure out if they were an ENFP or an INTJ.

      Give a marketer access to the profile of a heavy app/game/quiz user, and they’ll have a psychological profile of that person paired with a name and geographic information, as well as their favourite regular haunts and their probable route to work.

      So I don’t fiddle with apps, and I avoid quizzes, and mainly use FB to share benign photos with family and friends who are far away. I don’t really fear Facebook, because I’m tight with my personal info.

      But even without joining anything, I can still be demographically profiled – I’m the kind of consumer who is tight with my personal info. I guarantee they have a whole portfolio on the type of things that people like me might buy, the type of politicians I probably vote for, the range of opinions I probably hold on certain things.

  18. The real question is “How do we corrupt our data so it’s no use to the data mining?”
    So, how do we?
    I submit that there is a finite string that will render useless a person’s data to those that would mine it.
    Yay, nay?

  19. Other than my credit card numbers and maybe my social security number I could care less if Big Brother gets a hold of my private junk. Plus, I,m in control of what or what not to buy- bring on the privacy mongers!

  20. If you are a person who does not really care, you probably are not using your imagination as to what the possibilities are and what impact companies like Facebook have on the future of the Internet and on the future of privacy and personal rights.

    Perhaps when privacy no longer exists, some will learn to value it…unfortunately that will be too late.

    1. I think where a lot of people are missing the point is that to some companies, with five years of your information easily indexed, they can turn up a lot about you and yours. Did someone wish you a happy thirtieth birthday? They’ve got your age. Connect that with your comment about growing up in Scranton and they can start to piece together your SSN.

      Make a comment and refer to someone as Mom? It’s just one small step until she mentions something about her mom or dad. Once that name is out there, they have your mother’s maiden name.

      Yes, I’m blowing some things out of proportion, but none of it is that far fetched really. You and everyone you know make innocuous comments all the time, what movies you see, where you ate, who your friends are and a lot of it can be used to build a profile of you. And this is all information that you have provided of your own volition that someone else gets paid to then sell simply so you can be advertised to better.

  21. “do you use google software like gmail? how is the data mining google does to your emails and internet searches less evil or different from what facebook does?”

    It’s not targeted to my identity, for one. In most every case you’ve mentioned it’s used temporarily to display adverts, not sold off.

  22. Perhaps someone that’s deleted a UK/France/etc Facebook account could use their rights under the appropriate laws to see what information (if any) Facebook have? For the UK, Facebook would be allowed to charge an administration fee of up to £10.

    Access to personal data
    This right, commonly referred to as subject access, is created by section 7 of the Data Protection Act. It is most often used by individuals who want to see a copy of the information an organisation holds about them. However, the right of access goes further than this, and an individual who makes a written request and pays a fee is entitled to be:
    * told whether any personal data is being processed;
    * given a description of the personal data, the reasons it is being processed, and whether it will be given to any other organisations or people;
    * given a copy of the information comprising the data; and
    given details of the source of the data (where this is available).

  23. My two cents:

    You don’t have to be on Facebook in the first place. Everyone using the service made a conscious decision to become a member. With that said, it is rather abhorrent that as a company they do not give adequate information to their users regarding changes made to the site, nor adequate options to either leave the service entirely or at least cope with new policy. However, it seems that many people are not cognizant of how they represent themselves online, which could have ramifications down the road that we just cannot foretell. Just like any public forum (but wait, Facebook is really more like a mall, isn’t it?) one must keep a close watch out on what they say. Facebook has given the illusion that certain things are much more permissible online (drunken photos, affairs, dirty jokes, etc, etc). It is a problem that we are being taken advantage of, and everyone’s default setting is “I know I’m being taken advantage of”. Solutions to this problem being either 1. Continue being taken advantage of or 2. Leave the service. As it stands, I personally feel that the only viable solution is to use 3rd party software to remove ads and to dive into Facebook’s privacy controls periodically to change settings as needed. So, I guess what I’m trying to say is: keep using Facebook, but watch what you say/post, you are the ultimate purveyor of your online presence so take some ownership of that, even if Facebook is not providing the tools you would like. All in all I have mixed feelings on the topic, but I’m not going to cancel my account… yet. I hope that made some sense.

  24. It’s FINE with me ! All of my facebook data is fake anyway ! :-)) They can “datamine” all of my false data… GO FOR IT !!!

    1. so if that’s the case, spend more time outside with the kids.

      i fail to see the point of your online presence.

  25. If deleting my account is pointless, clearly the actual solution is to give them *more* information: start creating random profiles and encourage your friends to do the same. Make them big and fat and juicy with random but realistic details, and make them friends with each other as well as your existing friends.

    I see facebook being clever enough to identify which profiles are fake based on IP/MAC addresses though.. Only log into one fake account per day per location? Use TOR? Hack your neighbours’ wifi?

    Where’s Marcus Yallow when you need him?

  26. dizizcameron, the point is that what you tell Facebook, you cannot UN-tell Facebook. Just because you think there are no consequences now, does not mean there would not be any later.

  27. I’m trying to assemble resources (tools, links, explanations) at – helpers welcomed!

  28. Thanks for the post. I’ve started a group called “Anything PRIVATE shall never be made PUBLIC” which hopes to address this and other Facebook privacy issues in a specific way. You can check out the group here:

    The initial goal is to rally enough support to have a rule added to the Statement of Rights and Responsibilities and the Privacy Policy disallowing anything PRIVATE from ever being made PUBLIC. Furthermore, if there were a precise way to word it, Privacy settings of any kind shall never be automatically converted to a more “open/public” setting without the user’s explicit consent or without the option to remain at its current setting.

    I’ve also started a discussion topic that covers the other specific privacy holes we want fixed, and how to word the rules appropriately:

    Please feel free to join the group if you feel so inclined, and invite your friends as well!

  29. Honestly, If you want to ensure Privacy, Turn off the computer, unplug it and put it on the curb. Walk away from the life you have and become homeless. Otherwise learn to filter what you make public. Make several internet profiles. Keep one for professional dealings where all info is real. Keep a few other profiles that have totally useless information in them. Want to see if a site is really keeping your info personal. Create a hotmail account. sign up on a site with that email account and sit back and see how much junk mail starts showing up. I have done this several times and it is very interesting how long an account will stay “clean” until a site sells your profile or is hacked and looses your information.

  30. A friend of mine deleted her facebook.

    She started receiving emails about her facebook and ignored them, thinking they were phishing emails.

    They weren’t. Someone had managed to sign up with her email address, without access to her email inbox. Facebook then suggested all her old friends to this person.

    When she finally logged in to see what the story was, the guy who’d taken over her email identity on facebook had posted borderline pornographic images, some she reckoned were of very young girls.

    Think twice before deleting your facebook. It could be worse than keeping it.

  31. People are so naive… Posting your personal info on facebook is a first step to identity theft. THink twice before you join any social network…

  32. I deleted my facebook account several months ago, and then decided to try to log-in last week. After several attempts, and thinking that it was actually going to work, facebook denied any knowledge of my email or password combination.

    I’m not 100% convinced that there is no record of my four years on the site, but it helps that prior to deleting (NOT deactivating) my account, I went through and deleted EVERY SINGLE photo, comment, link, note, poke, etc. that had been put on my profile or that I had posted on someone else’s profile… It took a few hours, but it was worth it.

  33. A few years ago a relative posted a pic of my (at the time) 1yo’s bum as he was crawling around her backyard on a beautiful summer day. I asked her to take it down and she did, but to this day you can STILL direct link to it…

    (obviously I’m not going to post it here – but can provide the url for proof to editors…)

  34. I wish Cory and the EFF (and other people) suggested really cool alternatives to FB on top of denouncing the privacy nightmare it is. I’d leave it, I’d encourage other people to leave it, but what for? There ARE a lot of functionalities I use on FB, and everybody who’s under 35 expects you to be on it – you’re not on FB, and you lose track of a lot of stuff that’s going on.

  35. Here’s how people should “quit” Facebook:

    Change all of your personal information. Name, sex, relationship status, family, bio, fan pages (or whatever they call it now), connections, email address, current city hometown, etc. Change all of it to random information you simply make up. Extra points for creativity.

    Let this sit for a year or so; no clue how long, but you want this new data to ferment.

    Then, quit Facebook. I assume all of your prior information will have been deprecated by these random new updates. Facebook can do whatever they want with that data because it’s all junk at that point.

  36. There is DE-ACTIVATING your Facebook account. All that does is turn it off until you log back in and your account is still there. Of course then there is DELETING your Facebook account. Not long ago it was fairly simple to find the page to DELETING your account. It did take a bit of work once you realized that De-activating still left your account there. Unfortunately with many more people deleting their accounts of late Facebook made it much harder to find the DELETE your account page. So for those of you who’d like to delete your account, here is the link:

    I always have this handy where I need it.

    Here is something that happened to my friend’s and my own Facebook account. When you delete your posts you may have the idea that your posts have been deleted, vanished, gone for good. Well you will be wrong. A couple weeks ago I logged onto my Facebook account and all of a sudden posts that I had deleted months ago were suddenly back on my News Feed and Profile. Facebook obviously keeps all your posts. I spent a good hour deleting post after post after post.

    The ONLY reason I have Facebook and don’t delete my account again (ive had many Facebook accounts that I deleted) is that most of my friends don’t use email anymore and most of them never answer their cell phones anymore either – talking on the phone is much too much effort I suppose – so it’s either texting or stupid Facebook.

    The more tools we have to make communicating with one another ‘easier’ – the easier it is to put barriers between us, in actuality making communication harder, and miscommunication easier.

    I love the future. [heavy sarcasm]

  37. I changed my data a few weeks before deleting my account. Gave false birthday (always do on the net), false location, gmail email which I afterwards dropped, phony address, phone number lost over 10 years ago. Never, ever give your right birthdate over the net. I like Twitter (not interested in being followed by people I know): false name, birthdate, location, email I don’t use and have dumped.

  38. With all the brouhaha about Facebook in the news…

    This is just … FUN!

    Check out my friend David Ippolito’s hilarious new Facebook Song on YouTube

    Spread the LAUGHTER…

  39. I’m a bit freaked out by these recent ads that are really personalized, even though the info is not in my FB account and has never been mentioned in a thread. 1st is a college I went to that I do not have listed and do not have any contacts to on or even off FB. 2nd is the ads that are “area-specific” to an area I do not have listed on FB, and again do not have any FB contacts in the area. The location is a “fake” one I used on my private email account to protect my privacy. There are no ads targeted to location I listed on FB as my current city.

    So it seems to me that FB is mining the info out of my email account, which scares the crap out of me. What else are they pulling out?

Comments are closed.