By David Z. Morris
March 24, 2018

The past week’s series of revelations about the misuse of Facebook user data by the election firm Cambridge Analytica has led to widespread calls for users to delete their accounts. Prominent supporters of deleting Facebook now include WhatsApp co-founder Brian Acton and Tesla CEO Elon Musk.

Individuals leaving Facebook are protecting their own data, and could pressure the company into reforming the way it handles everyone else’s. According to Facebook’s own researchers, less social media could also be good for your mental health. But the process of truly deleting an account is at least a little tricky – and along the way, you might find out you were more dependent on Facebook than you thought.

One of the best guides to deleting an account can be found at DeleteFacebook.com, created by a U.K. developer named Edward Cant. On its face, the process seems simple – go to Facebook’s account deletion page and press one button.

But there’s a bit more to it than that. Before deleting, you probably want to download your data, including photos and messages, which Facebook makes fairly simple. Another hitch is that shared data, such as messages, will remain accessible by other users unless they delete it on their end.

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The biggest catch, though, is that your account deletion won’t be permanent for two weeks after you start the process. DeleteFacebook.com describes a number of “reactivation traps” that reset that counter, including logging in via Facebook to any third-party apps or websites, or using any programs that post to Facebook on your behalf. That means you probably want to to revoke permissions for those apps before starting your deletion.

Going through the list of apps might be the moment when you realize just how much you’ve bitten off. Many major retailers, services, and platforms, from Kickstarter to Dropbox, encourage users to log in with their Facebook credentials. For years, that has been a useful solution to the thorny problem of online identity – and a canny strategy for Facebook to lock users in to its broader ecosystem. For many users, “deleting Facebook” will also require creating new logins for their favorite services.

So before long, leaving Facebook starts to feel like Michael Corleone’s attempt to leave the mafia – just when you think you’re out, they pull you back in. For some, the effort and hassle will be worth it, while others may settle for clamping down their privacy settings.

There is one other, admittedly extreme approach for worried Americans – move to Europe. A comprehensive data rights law known as the General Data Protection Regulation goes into effect there later this year. Though the law’s real impacts are hard to predict, it’s designed to protect users from just the sort of abuse that has so many fed up with Mark Zuckerberg’s brainchild.

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