Last year on this blog I had a bit of a rant about websites that make it hard for you to log in and out of your account. Since then I have been attempting to get rid of a load of Internet accounts, and what a frustrating experience it has been let me tell you. Currently I have something on the order of seventy accounts, ranging from social networking to forums to utility companies. That is quite a lot but I have also managed to delete about forty accounts in the past year. Of course I could just stop using an account but then what if the server gets hacked? No, I would prefer the account to be gone. Then I can delete any record of my username/password and forget about it. Sometimes it is trivial to delete an account but sometimes it can be a nightmare and occasionally I have had to admit defeat. So here is an idea of the sort of problems I have come across.
Let’s start with the most infuriating one – Network Solutions. Back in 2000 I registered a dot com domain name with them and although I had transferred it to a different registrar by 2003 I still had an account on their systems. There was no option on the website to delete your account so I used their contact form to ask how I should proceed. The first time they told me to send a signed letter on company headed notepaper – what company? Another time they told me to phone them but the freephone number only worked if you were dialling from the US. In the end I gave up.
In other cases I have had almost the opposite problem. Not finding a way to delete an account on the website itself I have sent an email saying “I wish to delete my account, how should I proceed?” and I have received a reply saying “Your account has been deleted as per your request”. How did they know it was me? They didn’t. All they knew is that someone sent them an email claiming to be from a particular email address which happened to be associated with my account. Email headers can be trivially spoofed. What they should have done is reply to my email asking me to confirm that I really wanted the account deleted. In these cases I couldn’t be bothered to complain; I was just happy that the weren’t Network Solutions.
But none of that should be necessary if sites would just provide a self service way to remove your account – many of them do and it usually works, but not always. I recently discovered a website called Delete Your Account which offers advice on how to do just that for lots of different sites. For example, for The Pirate Bay it has a link to take you direct to their account deletion page which (assuming you are logged in) lets you tick a box then click a button to remove your account. The trouble is that it doesn’t actually do that, I have tried it several times and I can still log in.
So that is the reality, but how would it be in the ideal world? Well I think that if you can create an online account then if you are logged in it should be easy to navigate to a page which allows you to remove it. However, seeing as it is a drastic action I do think it should ask you to confirm your intention and enter your password before actually going ahead. Of course there are technical and policy questions which need to be addressed, such as what happens to comments you have posted on other people’s pages using that identity and how they should be attributed after your account is removed. So I know it is not as simple as it might seem but plenty of websites do get it right and I don’t think there are any excuses for the ones that make it difficult.