- 2014-08-22: While updating this blog to a new platform, I wound down these tests and put notes about each service’s final result. After nearly five years, some of these sites still haven’t taken down the image.
- 2010-03-08: Added an image at drop.io
- 2010-01-28: Added an image at Orkut.com
- 2010-01-28: At the FTC privacy round table today, Facebook’s director of public policy, Tim Sparapani, claimed that information deleted from Facebook cannot be retrieved even by Facebook staff, because it is almost instantly deleted. I informed him this was not true in the case of pictures, and he said he would look into it. Will update this post when/if I hear more.
Background and Threat Model
Imagine an embarrassing photo of you is placed online by one of your friends. You ask them to take it down, and they do. Now, imagine that your enemy had gotten a link to that photo, and had posted it to their blog. You’d hope that your friend taking the photo down would in fact delete the photo, but I’m sorry to say that isn’t always the case.
Inspired by Jacqui Cheng’s article, I decided to test some of the more popular online services for photo hosting to see what happens when you press the delete button on a photo from their site. On November 14th, 2009, I uploaded and then deleted the following image of a black box with white text to Facebook, Flickr, Picasa, MySpace, Photobucket, Shutterfly, Twitpic and WalMart. A few months later, I also added drop.io and Orkut:
When you look below, if you can see the black box for a site, that means that it was not truly deleted and is still live. You can verify this by clicking on the image. This is checked each time this page is loaded, so the information is constantly verified. If the image has been deleted, you will see the date that it was deleted.
There are a number of reasons why photo services might be lazy about properly removing images from their site, but until they have proper deletion mechanisms, we should all think twice about what we upload.
If there’s a service that is not shown here that you’d like to see, please let me know. And now, without further ado, I present, the ongoing results of the test:
Facebook properly deleted the photo from their server as of May 27, 2010.
Flickr began showing the following message approximately an hour after the image was deleted.
Picasa properly deleted the photo from their server as of at least November 15, 2009.
At an unknown time, MySpace began showing this photo instead:
Photobucket properly deleted the photo from their server as of at least November 14, 2009.
As of 2014-08-22, Shutterfly still shows the original image on their server.
Twitpic properly deleted the photo from their server as of at least November 14, 2009.
As of 2014-08-22, Walmart still shows the original image on their server.
Google Orkut (added 2010-01-28)
Drop.io (added 08 March 2010)
Drop.io properly deleted the photo from their server as of 8 March 2010, the day it was added.
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