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Is It Possible To Erase Yourself From the Internet? 295

Barence writes "Do you remember what you posted on that music forum in 2004? Or which services you tried for webmail before Gmail? We often forget online services, but they don't forget us. PC Pro has investigated whether it's possible to retrospectively wipe yourself from the internet. It discusses how difficult it is to get your data removed from Facebook, Google and other popular web services, as well as reputation management services that promise to bury unwanted internet content on your behalf."
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Is It Possible To Erase Yourself From the Internet?

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  • by gubon13 ( 2695335 ) on Monday February 11, 2013 @05:36PM (#42865205)
    I can't speak to getting rid of specific old traces of yourself, but you're definitely SOOL if you close the email account on which old forum/website accounts were based. Even removing data from and similar sites is based on access to email addresses that, again, were associated with old accounts.
  • by Improv ( 2467 ) <> on Monday February 11, 2013 @05:38PM (#42865231) Homepage Journal

    I'm not happy when people dig into forums and start scrubbing bits out of them; it means that if I want to keep an accurate history of things I can look at, I need to save a copy, and if I'm having an internet argument with someone I need to stash a copy of everything they say on my website (or at least ready to go up there) to preserve coherency.

    For people who I think might try to disappear, or for people who frequently delete or censor their blogposts/discussion posts, I already do this, but it's a pain in the butt. I don't want it to be more common.

    It's healthier for society to accept that people change than to let everyone reenact 1984 every time they get nervous.

  • by vlm ( 69642 ) on Monday February 11, 2013 @05:41PM (#42865269)

    Whats the internet? They just listed some specific services. I'm on usenet going back to 1989, I believe. Certainly 1991 at worst. Anyone younger than 35 or so pretty much just said "usenet? whats that?"

    Amusingly they didn't list what it takes to remove yourself from compuserve (I was on from 1981 till... donno) and prodigy and myspace and ...

    30 years from now you'll mention you were on linkedin and the 22 year old girls in HR who filter the resumes will say, "huh? Whats a linkedin?" Ditto facebook, G+, etc.

  • Don't do it! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by The Good Reverend ( 84440 ) <michael&michris,com> on Monday February 11, 2013 @05:41PM (#42865273) Journal

    I've never understood the fascination so many tech luddites and techies-who-think-they're-cool-by-hating-being-on-the-internet to try to erase their online presence. It'll only come back to bite you.

    You don't have to share everything, but establishing your presence and "owning your name" gives you some measure of control in regards to what people find if they search for you. If you go the "you can't see me" route, anyone with a vendetta or anything (good or bad) that gets you in the news is suddenly all anyone searching sees. You can't control everything by being online, but you certainly have more control than if you try to hide.

  • change your name (Score:5, Insightful)

    by stenvar ( 2789879 ) on Monday February 11, 2013 @05:42PM (#42865283)

    You can erase your history completely if you change your name. Your new name (if well chosen) will have no Internet history associated with it.

  • by Kenja ( 541830 ) on Monday February 11, 2013 @05:49PM (#42865389)
    And never buy a house or sign up for anything offline or do anything that ever goes into any form of public record. Basically, you need to go live in a cabin in the woods.
  • by XxtraLarGe ( 551297 ) on Monday February 11, 2013 @05:53PM (#42865441) Journal

    by using a handle (pseudonym) and never your real name.

    It's a lot easier to connect the dots than you might think...

  • FTFY (Score:5, Insightful)

    by tacokill ( 531275 ) on Monday February 11, 2013 @06:00PM (#42865579)
    Facebook is an intel organization
  • by BitterOak ( 537666 ) on Monday February 11, 2013 @06:12PM (#42865751)

    by using a handle (pseudonym) and never your real name.

    It's a lot easier to connect the dots than you might think...

    Yep. Sometimes it's something as simple as an IP address, cookie, or Flash cookie that will do it. Or something more subtle, like unique web browser signatures (eg. the collection of fonts installed on your system is reported by some browsers and and can serve as a unique fingerprint.). And keep in mind, as far as I know there are no privacy laws that prevent an ISP from reporting the real name of a subscriber given their IP address, and many give that information out to police without warrants.

  • Re:No. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Guy Harris ( 3803 ) <> on Monday February 11, 2013 @06:12PM (#42865757)


    Ian, is that you? []

  • by vux984 ( 928602 ) on Monday February 11, 2013 @06:17PM (#42865831)

    It's healthier for society to accept that people change than to let everyone reenact 1984 every time they get nervous.

    I can control what I do. I can't control whether or not 'society will accept that I've changed'.

    As long as that remains true (and I don't see it changing anytime) only a fool will 'rely on society to accept...' anything, if they have any choice in the matter.

  • by Jah-Wren Ryel ( 80510 ) on Monday February 11, 2013 @06:23PM (#42865931)

    Or pick one so popular that it's impossible to pick you out of all of the other John Smiths on the net.

    Exactly. It is far easier to hide in a crowd of a million than yourself in an empty field.

    Anyone considering getting a fake id in real life should pick from the most common first and family names (there are name frequency lists you can google for) - John Smith really is super common but it is almost a cliche. If you go with something like Tom Johnson you will still be in the company of hundreds of thousands of other Tom Johnsons and not seem quite so fake.

  • Sneaky fuckers... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anachragnome ( 1008495 ) on Monday February 11, 2013 @06:46PM (#42866191)

    Sneaky fuckers...

    What do you think is the best method to get people to update old data? Require them to prove themselves in order to delete it, then simply ignore their request to delete it.

    The moment you touch that old data, you've updated it with your current IP address. Once they have that, they can then connect the dots between new and old data, thus providing them with a much greater amount of information.

  • by honestmonkey ( 819408 ) on Monday February 11, 2013 @06:52PM (#42866265) Journal
    Yeah, maybe so, maybe no. Did you every "Like" something? How about a song somebody sent you the link to? How about a Youtube video of a song, say from "Glee"? And also, do you live in one of the states where it is LEGAL to fire your ass or kick you out of an apartment if you are gay or suspected of being gay? Fucked now, hey. Just because you said silly things to your friends.

    Anything and everything can come back to haunt you. And occasionally someone does give a shit.
  • Re:FTFY (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Gr8Apes ( 679165 ) on Monday February 11, 2013 @07:43PM (#42866727)

    Unfortunately, even if you are aware and intelligent, that doesn't stop the stupid from tagging your happy anonymous butt in that picture they took 10 years ago of you with their sister... and blammo, now you are "in the system" and identified, your correlation factor may be low, but something will come up when you're queried and if it's the only thing....

    The only way to "erase" yourself is not to remove all bits of you, but to poison the well. Create many false accounts and post lots of irrelevant things, some about you with bad data if you're already all over the net. The higher the noise level you create with the more false data, the less valuable the "true" data is since data mining becomes less and less certain. Another fun thing - make some accounts with variations of your name, close but not exact, then post the passwords in forums and let random people take them where you want. Remember, you're not interested in reputation - you're interested in bad data.

    Your last option would be to have been born a John Smith or Kim Davis - I've known a few of both. Locating specific people with those names is rather difficult.

  • by greg1104 ( 461138 ) <> on Monday February 11, 2013 @07:44PM (#42866745) Homepage

    You only need one leak between a consistent alias and your legal identity to connect all the dots though. The idea that you'll be forever vigilant and never goof up on an alias is a bit optimistic. Why is that approach any less prone to mistakes than being vigilant about your real name? You could rotate aliases instead, but that increases complexity, and complexity introduces its own increased odds of error. You could make the same argument about having a single alias too. I see having to guard at least one usernames as being unavoidable if you want to participate on discussion forums. I don't have any illusions that using a non-real name on its own provides me improved security though.

Someday your prints will come. -- Kodak