Invisible man can’t disappear online


By ADAM EARNHEARDT

acearnheardt@ysu.edu

H. G. Wells published “The Invisible Man” in 1897. Since then, the book has been adapted for movies and television, inspiring many of us to consider the possibilities of becoming invisible.

Fiction has turned into reality as engineers developed stealth technology for planes and inventors near perfection on an invisibility cloak-like shield for humans.

Eat your heart out, J. K. Rowling.

Although this Wells-inspired fascination for invisibility has not waned, it’s actually very complicated to disappear completely.

You can thank the internet for this.

If he wrote “The Invisible Man” today, Wells would need to seriously consider whether or not humans could truly disappear.

Let’s assume for a moment that this invisible person is not trying to survive an Ohio winter. The invisible human could walk around outside without clothing, with no fear of frostbite or leaving footprints in the snow.

The trail left online, however, might give us enough personal information to trace the location of this invisible human.

This is because no matter how hard we try, there is no escaping the amount of data that’s collected and stored about us in the virtual cloud.

Banking records. Health data. Government documents. Tax information. The amount of data stored online is growing at an alarming rate. The trouble is, no matter how hard we try, there’s no stopping the collection. We’d likely never be able to completely erase all of our stored information.

This is true even for those who live in the European Union. Under a relatively new law, companies are required to get user permission first (i.e., opt-in) before collecting and storing data. Even with these new rules, European citizens are still finding breadcrumbs of personal data online, even though they’ve spent countless hours trying to sweep their trail from the digital world.

Services from privacy protection experts at Abine promise to scrub most of this personal info from online data brokers. But it’ll cost you. Abine’s DeleteMe plans start at $129 per year for one person, $229 year per couple.

DeleteMe removes your info from sites such as PeopleSmart, Spokeo, Intelius, platforms notorious for sharing personal data without our knowledge.

Remember that you’re paying for a one-year service. DeleteMe will do a large initial scrub, followed by quarterly reviews. After that, you need to renew your contract.

You can do most of this data locating and scrubbing on your own, but it takes time, and you’d need some guidance. So while DeleteMe is in this business to make money, they also realize anyone can sweep up breadcrumbs.

They offer a wonderful free DIY guide for finding and eliminating personal records (search “Free DIY Opt-Out Guide”).

It’s seems the possibilities for becoming totally invisible may have vanished.

Still it’s comforting to know we have options to protect some information, even if we can’t completely disappear.

Dr. Adam Earnheardt is chair of the department of communication at Youngstown State University. Follow him on Twitter at @adamearn and on his blog at www.adamearn.com.

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