Is it Possible to Permanently Delete a Social Media Profile?

Sally Adee discusses in an article in New Scientist magazine whether it is possible to permanently delete a social media profile.

The article highlights the situation with the recently hacked Ashley Madison website (an adultery website) which guaranteed to remove all members date upon payment of a £15 fee.  However, the recent hacking of the site has highlighted that due to financial auditing requirements, credit card details and the name used to scrub the account have been retained.  This obviously defeats the point of the user paying to have their records removed.

Many sites such as Facebook have ambiguous policies on deleting data and what data is actually deleted after a user deletes their account.  This is compounded by the fact that deleting digital records is not necessarily as straight-forward as it seems, as account information may be held in multiple data centres distributed across the world.

The problem with such digital remains is that even if they are anonymised, re-identifying an individual from such data has been demonstrated many times and as re-identification techniques improve, it is possible that data that was previously anonymised could be strung together allow an individual to be identified.