Essays on Technology and Culture

Let Me Go

As I strip down and simplify my online life, cutting out the services that aren’t doing anything for me, I’ve run across more than a few sites and apps that make it a complete pain to extract yourself from them. Not only is this not a new issue, but there’s a whole site, dedicated to showing you how to delete your accounts on sites, and telling you how difficult it is. Any product with a yellow, red, or black banner on should be ashamed of themselves.

I find sites that require you to email a customer service person to delete an account to be the most obnoxious. Whatever magic a customer service person has to do on the backend can be triggered by a button and confirmation prompt on the front end by me. I should know—I deleted a number of accounts through the backend when I worked for the startup company. Eventually they added a user-facing account deletion option. I don’t buy technical excuses about how user data is tied in across services. There are ways to remove a user and their data without destroying database integrity. It’s more work, true, but anything is more work than not allowing a user to delete their account.

Why make it so hard to delete accounts? My theory is that it’s about numbers and growth. If a company can point to a chart that says user accounts this quarter are so x higher than they were last quarter, they have a better chance of more funding. By making it harder to delete your account, the company makes sure that rate of growth stays high. Of course, the better measure of a service is active accounts. It’s much better to allow users who don’t want to be there to delete their accounts rather than go idle—your active percentage increases.

It should be as easy to quit a service as it is to join one. When a user wants out, they should be allowed to get it. So much effort is spent streamlining and improving the “onboarding” process for apps and services. The same amount of effort should also go into “offboarding.” It should be simple, painless, and—above all—permanent. No “shadow profiles” or retaining data forever, just the option to download all the data we put into the service, and then that’s it. Don’t even keep our email address on file to send messages trying to invite me back. (This means you, Carbonite.) When someone is walking to the door, just let them go. If you love your users, set them free.