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Facebook tweaks site to hide pictures of users' former lovers

Hoping to help "heal the heartache" of separation, Facebook has altered a feature which caused photos of users' former lovers to appear when they logged in – but its 500 million members no doubt will be surprised to learn that it is still keeping a record of who their old flames are.

Following a backlash over its Photo Memories sidebar, which gave users an unpleasant surprise by dredging up old snaps of ex-wives or husbands, Facebook has adjusted the feature so it automatically blocked such photos.

Sam Odio, Facebook's project manager said: "While users may still see Photo Memories of their former romantic partners if they didn't declare the relationship on Facebook – as well of their current partner with that person's former partners – the change should help heal the heartache for many users."

However, in order to successfully block the hurt-inducing snaps, the site is now keeping a record of its users' ex-partners – at least, those who have used the site to declare with whom they are in a relationship.

If you have told Facebook your relationship history, there is very little you can do to retrieve the information. According to the site's own policy: "Even after you remove information from your profile or delete your account, copies of that information may remain viewable elsewhere to the extent it has been shared with others, or it was copied or stored by other users."

The site says the fact that it maintains a log of people's romantic adventures should not be a cause for concern. According to a spokesman: "There is nothing Facebook could do with this information, just as a doctor couldn't share your past medical history with someone else."

But Facebook's record on data protection is likely to be rather more dubious than your local GP. Concerns were raised in a BBC Watchdog programme in October 2007, which showed that it could be used to collect an individual's personal information in order to facilitate identity theft.

The New York Times has also pointed out that if Facebook disables your profile, it amounts to seizing your personal information. The user has vanished from the site, yet Facebook retains the data which that user had submitted.