ALERT: Deleted Facebook Photos Remain Online, Cached

Remember those Facebook photos you deleted a few months ago, or even a few years ago? They must be gone, right? Um, not so fast.

The social network has admitted that it is still trying to figure out how to get content delivery networks to eliminate cached versions of photos deleted from Facebook, and this is going on three years since Ars Technica first identified the problem.

According to Ars Technica’s Jacqui Cheng, she approached Facebook in 2009, saying that while deleted photos were no longer appearing in users’ profiles, anyone who knows the exact address of the photos could still view them.

(We have to qualify here that these URLs are always complex combinations of numbers and letters, not at all the kind of thing you’d remember but rather might have copied and pasted somewhere; whenever we link to an image on Facebook, the address we copy and paste to so is longer than any that result from simply uploading photos ourselves).

A Facebook spokesperson responded that it was “working with our content delivery network partner to significantly reduce the amount of time that backup copies persist.”

Cheng followed up on the story in 2010, after finding that deleted photos were still accessible via their URLs, and she reported that her photos that she posted about were removed, but readers were still complaining of issues, and photos she had deleted but not mentioned in her post were still accessible.

Fast-forward to February 2012, and the issue was still alive and well, with Facebook Spokesman Frederic Wolens telling Cheng in an email:

The systems we used for photo storage a few years ago did not always delete images from content delivery networks in a reasonable period of time, even though they were immediately removed from the site.

We have been working hard to move our photo storage to newer systems that do ensure that photos are fully deleted within 45 days of the removal request being received.

This process is nearly complete, and there is only a very small percentage of user photos still on the old system awaiting migration. The URL you provided was stored on this legacy system. We expect this process to be completed within the next month or two, at which point we will verify that the migration is complete and we will disable all of the old content.

Our take: A social network with nearly 850 million monthly active users is going to experience its share of issues, bugs, and the like, but Facebook is usually quick to respond to them. It seems to have dropped the ball in this case.

However, this particular problem involves external entities, which by definition are harder for Facebook to change. Quite possibly, the addresses of photos you delete might also be less likely to have had their addresses copied and pasted before deletion.

Readers: Have you experienced any issues with Facebook photos you deleted?

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