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How Traffic Spiked For Site Offering Advice On How To Delete A Facebook Account

Need another data point from the search world illustrating the rise of concern over Facebook’s privacy changes. How about that chart above? It shows a huge spike to traffic at wikiHow, which has a handy guide on how to delete your Facebook account.

Earlier this week, I wrote about how there seemed to be an increase in the number of people searching for information on how to close their Facebook accounts. Growing On Google, People Asking “How Do I Delete My Facebook Account” has all the details about that.

Chris Hadley of wikiHow saw my story and had a unique perspective on it. When you search for “how do i delete my facebook account” on Google, wikiHow is one of the top pages listed:

In the screenshot above, you can see that wikiHow actually outranks Facebook’s own instructions. Due to Google’s personalized search results, other people may see the wikiHow listing lower on the page, but it will still likely appear in the top results (I got wikiHow ranked number one in both Internet Explorer and Google Chrome browsers, which I keep “clean” on my machine to see results as “unpersonalized” as possible).

Hadley says the How to Permanently Delete a Facebook Account page at wikiHow has been online since 2007, well before the recent attention on Facebook’s privacy changes, so it provides a nice benchmark to whether the recent attention has had an impact. It clearly has.

The chart — running from June 1, 2009 through May 10, 2010 — shows that only a few hundred people per day were coming to the page initially. Then in October, there was a big increase to around 1,000 visits per day. Why is unclear. There was no major privacy issues that month that I can find. Perhaps the page simply moved higher in the rankings at that time, which would naturally attract more clicks.

From October, traffic grew slowly over the coming months to around 2,500 visits per day. Facebook’s big changes in December didn’t cause a sudden increase.

In contrast, the latest round of privacy changes — the introduction of things like auto-personalization announced at Facebook’s F8 conference last month — generated a huge traffic spike. Suddenly, the page was pulling 3,000 to 5,000 visits per day.

Other factors might play a role. As I’ve addressed, I don’t know if the wikiHow page has been in the first page of results for the entire time period shown (I’m checking on this). If it was in the first page but moved from being the 8th listed site to the 1st listed, that alone could cause a spike. But more likely, it has maintained a static rank over much of this period — at least since October I’d say — and the traffic spikes reflect renewed interest in people wanting to cancel their Facebook accounts.

Postscript: Heard back from Hadley. The company doesn’t regularly monitor rankings for all of its pages but rather traffic (which is good advice, by the way), so he can’t say how it has been ranked over that entire period. However, they have watched it more closely in the last several weeks, and it has generally been in the #1 or #2 spot, he said. And as far as he’s aware, it’s been in those spots for much longer).

Of course, the numbers could be argued to show that Facebook has little to worry about. With more than 400 million registered members, less 1/2 million seem to have looked up how to kill their accounts over the past year. That’s a drop in the bucket.

Then again, this doesn’t reflect traffic that’s going to Facebook’s own page on deleting accounts, nor does it reflect internal searches at Facebook for this information. Perhaps Facebook will publish public figures on how many accounts have been deleted over time. I’ll see if I can get those figures.

Postscript: Heard back from Facebook, which said: “We don’t release the specific data you’re looking for. I can say that since our recent developer conference [F8 in April], Facebook has grown by more than 10 million active users.”

Numbers aside, the PR issue seems to be growing. The New York Times had a great article yesterday that attracted plenty of attention over how Facebook’s privacy policy is longer than the US Constitution, complete with an infographic that aptly-illustrates how complicated it is to set Facebook’s many privacy options. The company also is holding an “all-hands” meeting on the privacy crisis today.

For related news, see Techmeme.

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