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Zombie Photos No More: Facebook Now Actually Removing Deleted Images


Remember Facebook’s “zombie photo” problem? Photos that users deleted on the website actually remained very much alive on Facebook’s servers, available to anyone who held on to the images’ URLs. Earlier this year Facebook acknowledged the issue and promised changes that would ensure permanent deletion within 45 days.

Now, it appears that Facebook has honored its word. The company tells Ars Technica that deleted photographs are now vaporized from the web within 30 days — a claim that Ars has confirmed through tests.

Jacqui Cheng of Ars Technica writes,

“As a result of work on our policies and infrastructure, we have instituted a ‘max-age’ of 30 days for our CDN links,” [FB spokesperson Frederic] Wolens told Ars this week. “However, in some cases the content will expire on the CDN much more quickly, based on a number of factors.”

Wolens wouldn’t elaborate on what those factors are, but he did emphasize once again that people casually surfing Facebook would stop seeing the photo immediately upon deletion.

“As you know, the photos stop being shown to other users on Facebook immediately when the photo is first deleted by the user. The 30-day window only applies to the cached images on the CDN,” Wolens said.

CDN stands for content delivery network, which websites (including this one) use to make file loading snappier for Internet users around the world. Instead of a single file loaded from a single server, the same file is distributed to a large numbers of servers around the world. Whenever someone requests a file, they’re served the copy that can be delivered to them most efficiently.

This is where the zombie photos were previously left unchecked by Facebook. Even after users asked that images be deleted, their copies remained floating around on servers around the world.

With the recent changes, Facebook is guaranteeing that all the copies around the world will “die of old age” within 30 days.