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Deleted Facebook Photos Still Accessible Online, Years Later

The site says it's in the process of moving to new systems that will fully delete images within 45 days.

Photos deleted from Facebook have remained on the social network’s servers for nearly three years, according to an investigation by Ars Technica.

Ars Technica looked into this situation almost three years ago and found that some of the photos that users deleted then are still accessible on Facebook's servers.

Facebook told Ars Technica that, while its older systems did not always delete user-uploaded content within a reasonable timeframe, it's in the process of moving to new systems that will ensure any deleted content is removed from its servers within 45 days.

"We have been working hard to move our photo storage to newer systems which do ensure photos are fully deleted within 45 days of the removal request being received," Facebook representative Frederic Wolens told Ars Technica in an e-mail. "This process is nearly complete and there is only a very small percentage of user photos still on the old system awaiting migration. … We expect this process to be completed within the next month or two, at which point we will verify the migration is complete and we will disable all the old content."

Facebook’s statement implies that users’ deleted Facebook images are probably out there, easily accessible by anyone, and untrackable by that user (unless he or she happened to save the direct links to each photo before deleting them). To access the direct link of a Facebook photo, all someone has to do is right-click on the photo and select "Copy Image Location." (That is the process in Firefox; other browsers will have a variation of this.) The direct link to the image will be copied onto your computer's clipboard, and you can easily paste it into an e-mail, Word document, or other electronic space.

The problem with this is not just that the direct links stay viable, but they're also public. Direct-linking to a Facebook image allows anyone -- no matter how private your profile is -- to see that picture.

I don't have as many direct links to deleted photos as Ars Technica apparently does, but I did try two -- one of a friend's ex-boyfriend, and one of another friend's tattoo, both of which were uploaded several years ago and deleted around the end of 2008. The ex-boyfriend's photo is no longer there, but the image of the tattoo remains.

So here's what you should take from this: Facebook does not immediately delete your photos when you delete them from the site. Though Facebook says it is moving to a new system that will delete photos within 45 days, this system won't be ready for another couple of months and I'm not totally sure I believe them -- after all, Ars Technica called them out three years ago and they're still not finished fixing it. So be really careful about what you upload to Facebook. Really, really careful.

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