By Pete Mortensen
Jessi Hempel wonders if there are any tools for destroying defunct social network profiles available. To the best of my knowledge, there aren’t yet, and this points to a real opportunity for someone if they can figure out how to take care of it.
Someone close to me has a similar trail of profiles greater than she could manage, and an ex-boyfriend of hers who wouldn’t accept the end of their relationship managed to hack into all such profiles. In many cases, she only found out about the profiles because she got harassed by one of them.
So there’s an annoyance need, and there’s also a security need here.
Interestingly enough, Douglas Coupland talked about this when I saw him speak at Powell’s Books in Portland last summer. As is typical for Coupland, he was ostensibly there to do a reading from his new book “jPod” but he mainly ended up musing on the way technology is causing us to live now. And one thing he noticed was the digital “Shadow” all of us who have been online for a long time have — reams and reams of data about ourselves we can’t get rid of. As reported in a Time article, Coupland said:
TIME: There’s a character in the novel named Douglas Coupland. Why is he such a jerk?
DC: Oh, the anti-Doug. He’s evil. Getting back to Google, in this world you stand in the sun and you have your shadow that follows you everywhere. Now you stand and Google casts a “shadow you” on you. You’ve got this thing that follows you no matter where you go. It’s going to survive your real shadow long after you’re dead. It’s composed of truth, half-truth, lies, vengeance, wishful thinking, accuracy, inaccuracy. It grows and grows and gets bigger. It’s you but it’s not you. Mine’s pretty large at the moment but I think in a few years, everyone’s is going to be huge. It won’t be just people in the public light any more. The anti-Doug is my creative response to all of that.
Some of this is in the form of abandoned or forgotten social-networking profiles, but it’s also your banking details, credit reports, shopping history, browsing history, e-mails, poorly thought-out rants and photos you wish you’d kept better control over.
We’re already starting to see a demand for products that give us no footprint on the Internet — there are plenty of privacy browsing services these days — but no one has yet found a way to begin going through to not just minimize harm now but go back and fix mistakes dating from the early 1990s. I know I would be interested in such a service: I mean, Amazon still has track of every address that I have shipped a package to, including the little dorm room in the New School where I lived for three months! And I don’t even want to think of some of the words ascribed to my name that exist on various comic book message boards over the years…not to mention on my blog at Wired…
We live in an era of digital shadows. Won’t someone help us shake them?
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