Gone, But Not Forgotten – How Your Online Activity May Be Stored

Have you ever posted something via your social media account, and then quickly forgot about it? Most people do just that every day. But what most don’t know is that much, and sometimes all of their internet history has not only been recorded, but has been saved.

This fact was recently discovered by a Facebook user from Vienna when he contacted the company and requested a copy of his entire history of personal data from the social networking giant. And what he received was shocking.

On the CD delivered to his home were over a thousand PDF files which contained Facebook pages he’d liked, status updates, and login information, to name just a few. Among the collection was information the user had assumed was gone because he had deleted it.

Facebook users in the U.S. are not entitled to legally request Facebook to submit a record of their personal data like European users are. But this doesn’t mean that our online information isn’t being stored by any one of a number of online forums, social networking and even email sites.

The result of the above incident has caused the Austrian user to raise awareness about vague privacy policies and challenge a company’s contradictions in a project called “Europe v. Facebook”.

Most internet users are no strangers to data tracking; after all, pretty much each web site we visit will create a data file – called a ‘cookie’ – on our computers. This is done so that the next time we visit a site, we will be recognized. Cookies are used both to make it easier for users to fill in site information and for what some are saying are more sinister purposes.

While the creation of a cookie may offer many benefits to the user that increases convenience, they can also be used to track a user’s preferences when they surf online. Numerous conspiracy theories abound about information being shared between advertising companies, social media sites and the government to keep tabs on the general population.

With new laws being recently introduced that would force ISPs to relinquish user information to local authorities, it would seem that the only way to really protect our information from prying eyes is to avoid suspicious online activity altogether.

But there is software available for purchase online which can do some of the work by erasing the traces of activity that may be on our computers. And there are web sites which allow a user to surf anonymously using a disposable IP address which can’t be tracked by ISPs and authorities, among many other types of tools.  So it seems that ways to increase our invisibility on the web are being created as fast as the legislation which allows our information to be obtained.

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