Empirical Understanding of Deletion Privacy: Experiences, Expectations, and Measures


Mohsen Minaei, Purdue University; Mainack Mondal, IIT Kharagpur; Aniket Kate, Purdue University


In recent years, social platforms are heavily used by individuals to share their thoughts and personal information. However, due to regret over time about posting inappropriate social content, embarrassment, or even life or relationship changes, some past posts might also pose serious privacy concerns for them. To cope with these privacy concerns, social platforms offer deletion mechanisms that allow users to remove their contents. Quite naturally, these deletion mechanisms are really useful for removing past posts as and when needed. However, these same mechanisms also leave the users potentially vulnerable to attacks by adversaries who specifically seek the users' damaging content and exploit the act of deletion as a strong signal for identifying such content. Unfortunately, today user experiences and contextual expectations regarding such attacks on deletion privacy and deletion privacy in general are not well understood.

To that end, in this paper, we conduct a user survey-based exploration involving 191 participants to unpack their prior deletion experiences, their expectations of deletion privacy, and how effective they find the current deletion mechanisms. We find that more than 80% of the users have deleted at least a social media post, and users self-reported that, on average, around 35% of their deletions happened after a week of posting. While the participants identified the irrelevancy (due to time passing) as the main reason for content removal, most of them believed that deletions indicate that the deleted content includes some damaging information to the owner. Importantly, the participants are significantly more concerned about their deletions being noticed by large-scale data collectors (e.g., a third-party data collecting company or the government) than individuals from their social circle. Finally, the participants felt that popular deletion mechanisms, although very useful to help remove the content in multiple scenarios, are not very effective in protecting the privacy of those deletions. Consequently, they identify design guidelines for improving future deletion mechanisms.

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@inproceedings {277210,
author = {Mohsen Minaei and Mainack Mondal and Aniket Kate},
title = {Empirical Understanding of Deletion Privacy: Experiences, Expectations, and Measures},
booktitle = {31st USENIX Security Symposium (USENIX Security 22)},
year = {2022},
isbn = {978-1-939133-31-1},
address = {Boston, MA},
pages = {3415--3432},
url = {https://www.usenix.org/conference/usenixsecurity22/presentation/minaei},
publisher = {USENIX Association},
month = aug

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