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If you delete a social-networking profile, does it still exist?

Authorities for the U.K.'s privacy watchdog group have criticized Facebook for keeping around deleted profile information--and refusing to say what it does with it.

Maybe they were pulled voluntarily due to embarrassing content, or involuntarily due to inappropriate material--either way, sometimes social-networking profiles get deleted. And a recent controversy in the U.K. has left some Web users wondering exactly what happens to them.

Here's how it started. A few Facebook members pointed out that the site keeps profile data intact after users delete their accounts so that they can be subsequently "un-deleted" if the addictiveness factor of Facebook proves to be too much. But what if they don't come back? We all know by now that Social Ads, the advertising program that the company launched last year, makes extensive use of the information that users put into their profiles. Deleted profile information could presumably be kept on hand as well.

The U.K.'s Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) has reportedly taken this up as a major privacy concern and plans to investigate it further. Dave Evans, the ICO's senior data protection practice manager, spoke to the BBC about the issue, according to The Telegraph, and hinted that the agency believes the current process of Facebook profile deletion is too complicated and not permanent enough. He's concerned that if Facebook holds onto the information contained in profiles that users have opted to erase, it may be in violation of the U.K.'s data protection laws.

Facebook, meanwhile, has put out a statement saying that the company is "committed to working with the ICO to maintain a trusted environment for all Facebook users and ensure compliance with the U.K. law," and representatives did not return requests for further comment.

But while Facebook is still the poster child for social networks, there are plenty of others with millions of users and extensive personal data at their disposal. CNET also contacted representatives from a number of other popular social-networking sites asking if they could clarify their own sites' policies for content from deleted profiles; we're still waiting to hear what they have to say, too.