Facebook has become embroiled in a bizarre battle against sites which offer internet users help in deleting their online presence – so-called “social network suicide”.
The social networking site has blocked the site Web 2.0 Suicide Machine, from accessing its users’ profiles and is taking legal steps against another similar site.
Web 2.0 Suicide Machines, run by Netherlands-based group moddr, offers to remove people from Facebook, Twitter, Linked-In and MySpace. It does not delete profiles, but changes passwords, pictures and deletes “friend” connections. The free service puts up a “memorial” page with the user’s last words.
Facebook argues, however, that because the Web 2.0 Suicide Machine service asks users to send their login and password details, it violates the company’s Statement of Rights and Responsibilities.
“One of our key things is not sharing passwords,” a Facebook spokeswoman said.
In December Facebook has also sent a “cease and desist” letter to Seppukoo.com, site offering a similar service, created by Les Liens Invisibles, an Italian, non-profit artistic group. Facebook demanded Seppukoo – named after the Japanese terms for ritual suicide – deleted all the Facebook-related information it has gathered from users.
Les Liens Invisibles have responded by saying that this information belonged to users, rather than to Facebook, and had been given to them voluntarily.
“The ‘Les liens invisibles’ group will delete all of the information on the www.seppukoo.com
website only if the owners of such information request it, but not if Facebook does so,” the group wrote in its response.
Facebook has said it is “continuing to evaluate its option and reserves the right to take whatever steps are necessary” to protect its website and users.
The latest spat once again raises privacy concerns around Facebook, less than a month after the furore over the company’s change of its user privacy settings. Just where the dividing line is between users and Facebook, and their ownership of data, it seems, is still far from being settled.
The Web 2.0 Sucide Machines says that “everyone should have the right to disconnect” and says that its service helps considerably speed up what would otherwise be a very lengthy and tedious manual process.
Facebook does allow users the option to either deactivate or delete their profile. However, even in the case of a deletion, some material remains on Facebook’s servers, causing concern for some internet users.
“Facebook and co are going to hold all your information and pictures on their on their servers forever! We still hope that by removing your contact details and friend connections one-by-one, your data is being cached out of their back-up servers. This can happen after days, weeks, months or even years. So mere deactivating the account is not enough!” says Web 2.0 Suicide Machines on its website.
The number of people choosing to commit “virtual suicide” does not appear to be huge, so far. Web 2.0 Suicide Machine says it has helped 884 people to date – compared with around 350m Facebook members. Interestingly, the virtual suicide figures are not far off the number of people who have been helped to die by the Dignitas assisted suicide clinic in Switzerland. Virtual and real life still seem to mirror each other.