When you delete a picture on Facebook, is it really gone? This is a problem widely faced by those of us who were on the social network whilst still in our youthful partying days, where embarrassing or inappropriate images of us would have been posted and tagged by our friends or even ourselves. But perhaps you’re now trying to forge a career path, and pictures of you dressed up in drag or passed out with rude words written across your forehead in permanent marker aren’t the best things to have come up on the results page when a potential employer Googles your name.
Or course, you can always just click the ‘delete’ button on Facebook and bingo, the offending image is no longer on your profile page. However, that doesn’t mean that the image has been erased from all sources. An old article I read on LifeHacker today tells of how a photo that a lady ‘deleted’ in May 2009 was still on Facebook’s servers in October 2010. Whilst the social network removed the links to the picture straight away, the actual image file remained, meaning that anyone who had or could obtain a URL to the image could still get it from Facebook.
After being told in 2009 that the image would be removed in “a reasonable period” and that others would not be able to view it, she questioned them further. The response wasn’t particularly reassuring:
“For all practical purposes, the photo no longer exists, and we wouldn’t be able find it if we were asked or even compelled to do so,” Facebook spokesperson Simon Axten told Ars via e-mail in October 2010. “This is similar to what happens when you delete information from the hard drive of your computer.”
Not quite. Your hard drive isn’t indexed by search engines such as Google, scraped and archived by hackers or cached in web browsers. The bottom line? If you’re not sure about the picture, don’t put it where the world can see it – after all, once it’s out there it’s very hard to take it back.