Two recent tech stories, one involving Facebook not deleting pictures for three years and the other Path sucking all the contact data of its users on their servers, show once again that posting stuff on the Internet is not as straight forward as most people think.
Just because you hit a delete button does not mean that the content is really deleted from the web, it’s not as simple as on your local hard disk. And just because an application did not ask for all your private data in the first place does not mean it cannot get it at a later stage without your approval.
Posting on the Internet is like getting a tattoo. At the moment, it might seem like a great idea, but as soon as you get sober it will be impossible or at least very hard to remove without any trace.
Again, the rule of thumb is: don’t post or share anything that you don’t feel comfortable with anyone on this planet knowing about. The Facebook picture problem was covered by tech blog Ars Technica nearly three years ago. They found out that when you delete a picture on Facebook it might not appear on your profile anymore, but if you saved the direct link to the picture you were still able to access it. Back then Facebook said they were working on this issue and that it is based on the CDN (Content Delivery Network) they used.
Basically copies of the pictures and videos are distributed to servers all across the globe so that any user has the same quick access to them. That is also true for YouTube videos and other media content.
The process of taking down all the copies should usually take a couple of days, maybe weeks. Ars Technica of course saved the direct links to the pictures in question and gave it another try a couple of days ago. And to their surprise the pictures were still on Facebook’s servers. Again, Facebook reached out and promised to finally fix the issue. You can watch an interesting discussion on TNT embedded below starting at 19:30.
But even if Facebook eventually deletes the pictures from all their servers chances are that some other server outside of Facebook has a copy of it, that’s how the Internet works. I know for fact that a lot of my Big Think articles get copied by other blogs as I get notifications of the backlinks I embedded to EDUKWEST or KirstenWinkler.com. And then those copied articles get copied again, and again.
On Facebook someone used my profile picture for his own German learning group. On YouTube someone used Deutsch Happen videos to promote their German language learning product.
While this is of course annoying it is a part of how the Internet works, and in the end it also might help to build my own brand when you see it as free marketing. As long as the backlinks work or there is a link back to the original article I don’t bother.
Hence, if you feel comfortable that you will still be fine with your chest tattoo twenty or thirty years from now, go out and get some ink. Am I still OK with my rants about that language learning marketplace? Absolutely. Can I live with the terrible first three Deutsch Happen videos about how to pronounce the Umlaute in German? … yeah, they are part of the experience.