While watching My Name is Earl last night i laughed as the character Darnell set himself up on the fictional social media site "Buddy Book" because all the "old people" had now got onto Facebook and Myspace. You see there are various reasons why i have no personal presence in the world of social media. It is my job to understand them all and so i do have dummy accounts that i use to see how the technology is being used and developing and more importantly how they could and are being used as a marketing channel. But personal accounts, no way.
There are a couple of reasons for this. Firstly when i used to have personal accounts for Myspace and Facebook etc i could not keep up with them and also could never understand the correct digi social etiquette for rejecting a friend request from someone you had spent years trying to avoid but who had managed to find you online. Secondly working in the regional press i am acutely aware that if anything unfortunate ever happened to me, whereas 10 years ago my next of kin would have been asked for a picture, today journalists go for the easy option. That option is to see what photos are online, especially ones that i would not want shared.
It amazes me on a regular basis how many people are caught out by posting images of themselves in dubious circumstances or situations which then miraculously end up in the public domain. Of course you can delete any images that you would not want your mother to see or the whole world for that matter. However recent research from Cambridge University shows that even if you delete them they may not be as out of reach as you think.
A group of researchers put photographs on 16 popular websites, noted the exact url's of the photos and then deleted them. They then checked 30 days later and managed to find the photos on 7 sites including the behemoth Facebook. As you can imagine this created a whole pile of press and forced Facebook to come out and make the following statement:
"When a user deletes a photograph from Facebook it is removed from our servers immediately.
"However, URLs to photographs may continue to exist on the Content Delivery Network (CDN) after users delete them from Facebook, until they are overwritten. Overwriting usually happens after a short period of time."
What that means in English is that your facebook pictures do not sit on one single but enormous computer in California. The reality is that they use storage facilities across the world and that picture that you deleted because in the cold light of day you realised that your prospective employer, partner, pet (delete as you will) would not think too highly of you if they saw it, could actually be stored anywhere.
They do of course eventually get deleted but would you have put them up there in the first place if you knew it could take 30 days before you hitting delete and them actually leaving the web. To be clear they come off your profile straight away but if you know the url of the picture then they will still be there.
The basic reason for this is the cost that these networks would occur if they had to delete photos from the whole network the minute a user wants them. To do that would involve a huge investment in process, server technology etc etc and to be fair you have to know the actual url of the photo after it has been deleted to stand a chance of finding it.
So this situation is not going to change, indeed if the figures on the usage of Facebook are to be believed then it may well get worse with more photos online hiding in the "cloud" of the modern web. So can i advise those of you that do have social media sites or even use image sites such as Flickr or Picassa (they came out quite well btw) check what you are uploading to them. My advice would be if you would not want your mother or your boss to see the photo don't put it online, especially if you don't want it to end up in the papers if anything happens.