Facebook photos: Deleted today, still there tomorrow

Facebook photos still exist on the company's servers even after deletion and can apparently still be accessed, Ars Technica reports.

That embarrasing Facebook photo you deleted may still be lingering around.
That embarrasing Facebook photo you deleted may still be lingering around. Screenshot by Lance Whitney/CNET

A deleted Facebook photo may be forgotten. But that doesn't mean it's gone.

You can remove a photo from your Facebook page, but that photo might still exist on the company's servers--and could still be accessible via a direct link.

The folks at Ars Technica, who discovered this glitch back in 2009,  recently found that it's still around despite efforts by Facebook to resolve it.

Responding to a query by Ars Technica, Facebook admitted last Friday that its older content storage systems "did not always delete images from content delivery networks in a reasonable period of time even though they were immediately removed from the site." As a result, photos deleted months or years ago may still be accessible.

The social network insisted that it's almost finished with a new system that promises to speed up the process. But when asked about the glitch in 2009, Facebook said virtually the same thing, that it's "working with our content delivery network (CDN) partner to significantly reduce the amount of time that backup copies persist."

A follow-up by Ars Technica in 2010 found no changes except that readers of the site were sending in accounts of online harassment and other difficulties over photos they thought had been deleted.

Facebook spokesman Frederic Wolens told CNET that about 2 percent of all user photos are currently being stored in an older system that wasn't correctly deleting CDN URLs after those photos were deleted on the site.

"We are in the process of migrating these photos to the newer system to ensure proper deletion, but until this migration is complete, CDN URLs from deleted photos stored on this legacy system may still be accessible," explained Wolens.

The newer system is supposed to ensure that photos are fully removed within 30 days after being deleted by a Facebook user.

"This process is nearly complete and there is only a very small percentage of user photos (fewer than 3 percent) still on the old system awaiting migration," added Wolens. "We expect this process to be completed within the next month or two, at which point we will verify the migration is complete and we will disable all the old content."

At that point, photos from the old system will be purged, hopefully ensuring that any embarrassing three-year-old photos you deleted will finally be gone for good.

Updated 11 a.m. PT with response from Facebook.

About the author

Journalist, software trainer, and Web developer Lance Whitney writes columns and reviews for CNET, Computer Shopper, Microsoft TechNet, and other technology sites. His first book, "Windows 8 Five Minutes at a Time," was published by Wiley & Sons in November 2012.

 

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