Rhodri Marsden: Is it impossible to delete old information on the internet?

Cyberclinic

One particularly unhelpful way to think about the internet is to liken it to a public noticeboard. If you pen a piece of sickeningly soppy poetry and make the questionable decision to pin it up in public, you can always take it down as soon as you realise your error. But the internet doesn't work that way. Your embarrassing verse can become a self-replicating personal catastrophe, spread around thousands of hard disks as a reminder to the world that you "wuv your ickle kitten".

We've all posted things online without thinking, but you really need luck on your side to get the genie back in the bottle. You can find deleted web pages in the cache of search engines like Google; the Wayback Machine at archive.org is a repository of web content from yesteryear that we'd rather we hadn't created; Usenet, once a hive of opinionated discussion, has all its posts archived at Google Groups to remind you of the pointless bickering you once induldged in; and snippets of blog posts you wish you hadn't made can circulate around the net in RSS feeds long after the blog post itself has been deleted. Indeed, Nokia blogged a little too hastily about the launch of their mobile app store last week and then tried unsuccesfully to delete all trace of it, which at least goes to show that we can all make mistakes. Of course, none of these web services set out to undermine us – they can be fantastically useful resources – but they can double up as sources of shame and regret.

Social networking sites, with their constant badgering to share our thoughts and images with the world, can make it particularly hard for us to purge unwanted material from their system. Researchers at Cambridge University have long been critical of Facebook's policies that hoard our data against our will, and they noticed a few days ago that personal photographs still seem to hang around on Facebook's servers long after we've tried to delete them. More worrying, perhaps, is the ability to use sites like tweleted.com to easily browse Twitter posts that users have accidentally made and then deliberately tried to delete. It's always worth keeping in mind when publishing online that the internet's a wild beast you can't control: stuff you're desperately looking for will be impossible to find, while the things you dearly wish would disappear forever will be stubbornly, embarrassingly visible.





Email any technology gripes to cyberclinic@independent.co.uk or join the discussions on the blog at www.independent.co.uk/cyberclinic

Currently under discussion: Should Wikipedia have banned the Church of Scientology?

Voices
The Sumatran tiger, endemic to the Indonesian island of Sumatra, is an endangered species
voicesJonathon Porritt: The wild tiger population is thought to have dropped by 97 per cent since 1900
News
The Swiss Re tower or 'Gherkin' was at one time the UK’s most expensive office when German bank IVG and private equity firm Evans Randall bought it
news
Arts and Entertainment
tv
News
Gardai wait for the naked man, who had gone for a skinny dip in Belfast Lough
newsTwo skinny dippers threatened with inclusion on sex offenders’ register as naturists criminalised
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Sport
Van Gaal said that his challenge in taking over Bobby Robson's Barcelona team in 1993 has been easier than the task of resurrecting the current United side
football
Sport
Moeen Ali wearing the 'Save Gaza' and 'Free Palestine' wristbands on his left arm
cricket
Arts and Entertainment
The Great British Bake Off 2014 contestants
tv
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
filmThe Battle of the Five Armies trailer released
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
Beast would strip to his underpants and take to the stage with a slogan scrawled on his bare chest whilst fans shouted “you fat bastard” at him
musicIndie music promoter was was a feature at Carter gigs
Arts and Entertainment
Story line: Susanoo slays the Yamata no Orochi serpent in the Japanese version of a myth dating back 40,000 years
arts + entsApplying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Extras
indybest
News
Performers dressed as Tunnocks chocolate teacakes, a renowned Scottish confectionary, perform during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park in Glasgow on July 23, 2014.
news
Life and Style
Popular plonk: Lambrusco is selling strong
Food + drinkNaff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
Life and Style
Shake down: Michelle and Barack Obama bump knuckles before an election night rally in Minnesota in 2008, the 'Washington Post' called it 'the fist bump heard round the world'
newsThe pound, a.k.a. the dap, greatly improves hygiene
Arts and Entertainment
La Roux
music
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Gadgets & Tech

    PMO Manager (Portfolio Management, ExCel, Cost Benefit Analysis)

    £450 - £500 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: PMO Manager - 6 month co...

    Microsoft Dynamics CRM Functional Consultant

    £50000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: A Microsoft Dynamics CRM...

    Senior BI Engineer (BI/MI, Data Mining)

    £60000 - £65000 per annum + Bonus & Benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior BI Enginee...

    C# Developer (LINQ, HTML5, CSS3, JS, SQL) London - Finance

    £30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

    Day In a Page

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

    The air strikes were tragically real

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns
    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

    Britain as others see us

    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
    Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

    Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

    Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
    How did our legends really begin?

    How did our legends really begin?

    Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
    Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
    A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

    A new Russian revolution

    Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
    Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
    Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

    Standing my ground

    If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
    Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

    Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

    The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
    The man who dared to go on holiday

    The man who dared to go on holiday

    New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

    For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
    The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

    The Guest List 2014

    Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
    Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

    Jokes on Hollywood

    With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on