Why Your Data Will Never Be Deleted


Michael Fertik, Contributor

June 9, 2015

Concerned about the data that’s out there about you? You should be. The reality is that there’s absolutely no reason to delete anything. Why? Data storage is now almost laughably cheap.

Consider your cell phone. Between music, photos, books and movies, it’s easy to fill 60 gigabytes on a smart device – and that’s not a small amount of data. It’s enough space for an impressive cache of 60 full-length HD movies, 60,000 medium-resolution photos, or 30 million pages of text. And that’s just in a device you hold in your hand.

When we reach our limits, most of us turn to the cloud. Instead of trying to figure out what data to keep and what to delete, it’s simpler and faster to buy extra storage and move on. Apple, for example, charges $3.99 per month for 200 gigabytes, the equivalent cost of coffee at Starbucks. We keep electronic files because they’re easy. They don’t take up physical space in our homes and although we may never look at those old photos again, we feel better knowing they’re there, just in case. Call it electronic hoarding.

Businesses contend with the same decisions about data, except they have more consequences to consider. A business can’t just press the delete button like we can. Deciding what to delete is a process that requires staff and resources to make the decisions about what to keep and what to purge. It often doesn’t seem worth the effort.

Plus, jettisoning data has risks. What if the company deletes the wrong data? What if deleted data are called into question during an investigation or lawsuit? Will deleting this data create any additional business issues? If you’re a politician, will anyone ever request a copy of your emails? As part of its archives, for example, the George W. Bush Presidential Library contains more than 200 million emails sent or received on the White House email system and about four million photographs, not to mention files that were stored on network drives.

Facebook and Twitter don’t delete user data as at the moment; posts and photos exist in perpetuity. Even though ephemeral apps like Snapchat delete posts after a specified time period, users can take screenshots of anything viewed on their smart device. In numerous media crises, we’ve seen people scramble to lock down their Twitter accounts or delete old tweets. Yet somehow, damning comments always make their way to the surface, showcased in scathing articles just minutes later.

Data are everywhere, however, not just on social media. For a pretty accurate record of anyone’s day, and a window into who they might be, piece together their credit card transactions, steps tracked from an activity monitor, and cell phone records that show texts, calls, and the cell phone towers that were accessed. Now you can make inferences about location, income level, relative health and more.

What can you do to protect your data?

There are a few options. Many people separate their personal and professional profiles by using different names. But as facial recognition software improves, companies will be able to link these. Keeping data on a local device and choosing not to share with social media can help too. But limiting your social media activity, while smart on multiple levels, can be challenging depending on the nature of your career. There’s no one answer to rely on, and that’s the problem.

How are you managing your data – on an individual or corporate level?

This article was written by Michael Fertik from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

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