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Breaking up with Facebook is (less) hard to do

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It was a long time coming but the web's favourite has-been-in-the-making, Facebook, has finally agreed to let users who are bored with it wrest their personal information from its advertising salesmens' clutches.

Facebook made a botched attempt at unlocking the prison gates last week, after the New York Times deigned to notice its infamous Hotel California data policy. Refugees from the social network at first found parts of their profile were still available, despite a newly-added option to delete it all.

Over the weekend, spinners for the company said it had ironed out technical problems, and promised that it's now possible and simple to commit Facebook suicide without leaving a pickled cadaver of personal information.

The method is still well-hidden and comes across as slightly petulant. To quit Facebook you have to fill in this form - there's a group explaining the process here.

Since Facebook's inception in 2005 contact information, photographs, and all other account details were retained in its enormous targeting database when people tried to leave. Facebook always said the "deactivation" policy was in place for users' benefit in case they changed their oh-so fickle minds and realised that they absolutely must be part of the revolution in online Tupperware-party-style marketing.

As the site took hold in the mainstream last year this ludicrous position raised eyebrows with the Information Commissioner's Office, the UK privacy watchdog. Today the ICO told the Reg its investigation is ongoing.

Facebook's hypocrisy on data was highlighted in December when its 23-year-old founder Mark "I'm CEO... bitch" Zuckerberg went to court in a failed attempt to silence a magazine that had published personal details from his days at Harvard online.

Now that it has accepted that stripping people of ownership of their family photographs in perpetuity isn't a PR winner, the worry for Facebook now must be that too many people notice.

It was the unquestioning bovine herd-brain in all of us that fired its explosive growth, with millions powerless to resist invitations from their "friends". Again it's this inner teenager that Facebook has been hoping to exploit by not allowing you to delete your account; the invitations keep on coming.

The same process could easily work in reverse, however. It only takes a few buffalo to start a stampede.

In fact, it doesn't even need to be a stampede for Facebook to "jump the shark", as the irritating parlance goes (see also: "Drink the Kool-Aid", a pop culture expression that certainly has jumped the shark), and head the same way as Friendster (an early web 2.0 darling, now rarely spoken of) before it.

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Next page: Alarm bells

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