OK

I just cancelled a few accounts on various social networking services. For one, I never used them. For another, the intrusive (and possibly illegal) nature of Facebook's "Beacon" service - as well as the difficulty of opting out of it - had me alarmed at how far the next venture by the next site might go. I wanted out, once and for all.

So here's how the cancellation process went for each:

Friendster: Easy to find instructions on how to cancel. Extremely easy to cancel. Just fill out one web form and you're done.

MySpace: Easy to find instructions on how to cancel. Click through a few confirmation pages, get a confirmation e-mail, click a link there, confirm once more on the web and you're done. Very easy.

Facebook: Ah, Facebook. The real champion. Impossible to find instructions on how to cancel. Searching the help system for "cancel account" or "delete account" only shows instructions for "deactivating" your account. Deactivation is not deletion - it merely puts your account in limbo and allows you to restore it at a later date. So if you are concerned about, say, the security of Facebook's servers, deactivation does nothing for you.

Ultimately, if you Google around, you will find that you have to e-mail Facebook directly to request deletion of your account. When you do, they will respond by telling you that you must "remove all content" from your page in order for them to delete you. I think this includes just about everything - friends, groups, messages, etc. (My understanding comes from this blog post.) This could be an arduous process if you have a lot of account data.

However, I also believe this to be a completely phony roadblock. I simply responded to the e-mail by saying I had no profile content (I didn't have much on there, but I did have a few friends). I didn't, however, touch a thing. I received a response saying that my account was deleted. So it seems pretty clear that this whole "content deletion" business is b.s.

Elapsed time: Three days. (NB: I sent in my request on a Friday.) It took just minutes to delete my account on the other two services.

As I say above, Facebook's Beacon service was the key reason for wanting to delete my social networking accounts.   The fact that this issue has even got MoveOn up in arms tells you it's for real. So I suppose it should come as no surprise that the worst offender both hides information on how to delete your account and makes you jump through numerous hoops (some possibly bogus) to actually delete it. (I'm aware that Facebook now claims to offer a universal opt-out, but the company's constantly shifting stories and Beacon UI have not filled me with confidence.)

A word to the wise: A few years ago, AOL was investigated by the NY Attorney General for making life incredibly difficult for customers who wanted to cancel their accounts. AOL was forced to clean up its act and pay a seven-figure fine. Facebook is already on the new AG's radar, so they'd be smart to change their ways sooner rather than later.

Anyhow, I'm sure my fellow Kossacks have stories to share about their travails in cancelling online accounts, whether on any of the above sites or on others. If you've wrestled a particularly thorny account to the ground and have any tips to share, please do so.

Originally posted to Daily Kos on Tue Dec 25, 2007 at 03:05 PM PST.

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