If you run a social network do NOT, do NOT, repeat do NOT be bullied into deleting the system profile by your naive members. Seriously.

Social Networks have a minimum of THREE profiles for members.

  1. Public profile – what can be seen by visitors/friends/other members of the community
  2. Private profile – what can be seen only by the member (email address or real life home address etc). Credit card details.
  3. System profile – stuff the member isn’t aware of revealing. IP address, history of email addresses, verification replies, alternate accounts, sometimes a history of abusive behavior and reprimands.

Well run social networks keep system profile information on members permanently, not for nefarious purposes but for auditing predators, organised crime, and spammers. Deleting the system profile means that if someone created an account, used it to stalk or spam or prey on children over say a period of 72 hours, and then deleted the account, it would be very difficult to track them, or determine if they have opened one new account or ten (often ‘undesirables’ open multiple accounts to hide their activities). Online Communities should NOT delete system profiles, but should respect hiding Private/Public if requested.

Let me give you an example. In June last year, I created an account on MySpace called Official Admin. The problem is… I’m not an official admin. Leaving aside no social network should allow a normal member to create an account with Admin or Moderator in the name, it would be shockingly easy for me to use such an account to get personal information from people, intimidate or stalk teens, or prey on children.

As in “Hi I’m an official admin at MySpace. And top Band XYZ (look at the kid’s favorite band list) wants you to act in their new film clip – do you have a picture of yourself looking a little …. sexier“? *shudders* that’s how it starts. In fact, predators ask them their email address or IM address and take it ‘off network’ so it can’t be easily tracked.

The last thing you want is one guy, from one IP address, setting up 50 Admin, Moderator, and BandName accounts, to prey on kids. The System profile may not stop the activity but it can be used to track multiple accounts being opened and deleted, over a period of time, setting off triggers. That information may be requested months or even years down the track by the police and the courts (yes, I know your concerns). Of course, I know all about proxies, and faking IP addresses and even MAC addresses (oh my god, do I, you have no idea) but sooner or later these predatory terrorising bastards slip. And the system profile grabs that slip. And you’ve got them. And trust me, you punch the air and kiss the monitor when it happens.

Do.Not.Delete. Member.Accounts. Or you can explain to a parent why you deleted multiple instances of a paedophiles account when it was clear what he was doing with creating and deleting profiles. Not me.

Background:
New York Times
Telegraph UK
C/Net
Easy delete of MySpace profile.
Facebook cleaner script
Valleywag instructions

For the record: Facebook will delete completely if you fill in an online contact form at the bottom of the Facebook page confirming permanent delete. I just hope it’s not wiped completely… MySpace aside from allowing Admin and Moderator accounts (they say if reported they are deleted within 72 hours – too late) also allows predators err members to delete completely. Now what do you think?

Hey, where’s that guy who comments sayingvthe privacy of the many shouldn’t be risked for the tracking of a few bad guys? *looks around*

Someone – ok rorschaq – submitted this to Digg. Vote early, vote often.