Thursday, 21 May, 2009 Technology
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User Photos Still Available on the Web After Deletion, Research Finds

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Even if you think you have deleted an unwanted photo of yourself from a social networking website, it might still be on the web. According to a study carried out by researchers at the University of Cambridge, a lot of social networking sites still keep the images that you deleted.

During the study, researchers analyzed 16 websites that have user-loaded photos. The list included social networking websites, blogging websites, as well as photo-sharing websites. It was discovered that 7 out of 16 popular websites still have copies of users' pictures available for 30 days after they have been deleted.

In the experiment, researchers uploaded several photos to the 16 sites in their list. After that they deleted the images, while keeping the links to the uploaded photos from the websites' content delivery networks. The results of the study showed that the links to the images were working, though the photos were deleted. It was also discovered that storing user pictures on servers administered by a different company is something common to web 2.0 websites.

Four out of eight social networking websites analyzed during the study kept images that a user deleted. These include: Facebook, MySpace, and hi5 (all of them serving pictures from the content delivery network administered by Akami Technologies) and Bebo. The blogging websites that failed to delete users' photos permanently include LiveJournal, Xanga, and SkyRock.

The websites that showed good results in the study include Flickr, Photobucket, and Fotki. All of these websites permanently removed unwanted photos in just 1 hour. Blogger, Picasa, and Orkut - sites run by Google - removed photos in 48 hours, while Microsoft's Windows Live Spaces showed the best results by deleting photos immediately.

It is worth mentioning that the research was performed by a team of PhD students consisting of Joseph Bonneau, Jonathan Anderson, Andrew Lewis and lecturer Frank Stajano.

Commenting on the results of the research Joseph Bonneau said: "This demonstrates how social networking sites often take a lazy approach to user privacy, doing what's simpler rather than what is correct. It's imperative to view privacy as a design constraint, not a legal add-on."

More detailed information about the research is available on the researcher's blog .

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