George Carter
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(Not Really) Deleting Accounts

| Monday 13th November, 2023

As part of my drives for minimalism and privacy, I have a habit of deleting online accounts that I’m finished with.

(See my previous blog about the Own Your Data service for a great resource!)

I often get a little sense of smugness when I hear of a data breach at a company where I have already deleted all of my details.

But when I’m jumping through the hoops to delete an account there’s one little phrase I often see that bugs me… the latest example is from OpenAI (let’s not even go there with the fact you can’t change your email address, having instead to create a new account and delete the old one)…

Here’s the phrase:

“You cannot create a new account using the same email address.”

Hmm. So we’re not really deleting it then?

To me, deletion means: remove something as if it never existed. Surely—if their deletion is sound—they should not know that this particular email address has been used before.

I believe there’s a lot more of our personal data hanging around out there in cyberspace than we think, even if we make the effort to remove it.

I know I could let it go. I could join the 99.9% of the population who doesn’t really give a monkey’s about the use or misuse of their personally identifying information.

But I do give a monkey’s. That’s just how I roll.

Do we need a new word for “delete, but don’t really”? Many systems will use the word “deactivate”. Lord knows what happens to your data there.

The key, I guess, is transparency. Some sites are really clear about what happens to your data when you leave them… many will keep certain data but anonymise email addresses, IP addresses and other identifying fields. I salute those sites that actually explain what happens.

Others… well…

I thought about having a policy of only signing up for sites that are clear about their deletion policy up front. But it’s always a case of weighing up convenience against potentially compromised privacy.

I’m still using Google docs and mail, so it’s abundantly clear I don’t care too much about my privacy if the service is convenient enough!

But I guess the important point here is that one little phrase “can’t create a new account with the same email” that reveals a complacency about privacy that unnerves me.

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