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Updated The Information Commissioners Office (ICO) is to investigate eBay after Privacy International lodged an official complaint about the company's data retention practices.

Privacy International (PI) alleges that the auction site is deliberately making it difficult for people to delete their accounts, with the aim of bolstering customer numbers.

Under the 1998 Data Protection Act (DPA), firms are obliged to allow people to delete their registration information.

PI head Simon Davies explained: "There are two categories of offenders in cases like this. eBay is a category two offender, which means that it does provide an opt out option, but it is not easy to find. Category one offenders... have no delete account function at all."

Davies said PI had chosen to target a lesser offender in the hopes of getting a clear ruling from the ICO on what best practice should be.

"We could probably win if we challenged a category one offender," he told us, "but what we want is a set of clear, enforceable guidelines requiring companies to prominently display an account delete function".

The ICO has confirmed it is looking into the complaint, and said it will be contacting eBay about the allegations.

eBay, meanwhile, says users can delete their registration information, and that it only shares user data with law enforcement agencies.

Davies says although it is easy for eBay to say this, the level of difficulty involved in deleting account information means the auction site "effectively prevents all but the most diligent and persevering customers from deleting their personal information from the site".

eBay could face a hefty fine, or prosecution, if the ICO finds the company guilty of breaking the DPA rules. ®

Clarification

In an earlier version of this story we quoted PI's Simon Davies describing Friends Reunited as one site which did not have an account delete function.

Friends Reunited has been in touch with us to point out that the site does, indeed, have an account delete function. Users wishing to delete their accounts have to go to the Help/FAQ page, then hit the Toubleshooting link and then, three links later, will be presented with the chance to wipe their details from the site.

We are happy to make this clear.

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