A new Swedish website at Deseat.me claims to allow people to “clean up your existence” and Wired magazine online recently touted the service with an article titled “You can now delete (almost) all trace of yourself from the web at the click of a button” as if to suggest that the indelible footprint people are creating for themselves online is somehow capable of being deleted by a simple web app. Now reputation experts are cautioning the public to act with care and to overlook the dangerous hyperbole being published in the face of new sweeping security regulations that make virtually any privacy service worthless before it even has a chance to launch.
Deseat.me is designed by two Swedish programmers named Wille Dahlbo and Linus Unnebäck. The concept is a simple one. Using Google’s own OAuth Protocol, it allows anyone with a Google account to grant third-party access to the app so that the app can create a list of services associated with your account and allow you to delete any or all of them with a click or two.
While that sounds good in theory, and tech media is irresponsibly acting like it may be a panacea for the recent assault on privacy by governmental, corporate and personal interests, in reality it does almost nothing to actually keep your information concealed from anyone who wants to access it.
“There is a great degree of gullibility among the general public with regard to the evisceration of their own privacy in the last decade, and that’s understandable for anyone who is not professionally attuned to this sort of thing” said Stewart Tongue of ReputationCurator.com “What troubles me is seeing reputable sources like Wired.com, OZY.com and others posting clickbait headlines about a web app to promote this false sense of control when in reality there is nothing anyone can do to delete things from the Internet. We specialize in diluting that data, but outright erasing it or suggesting it can be deleted with a simple click of a button is dangerous nonsense.”
Deseat is only able to find accounts linked to a Gmail account, so any accounts created using other means will not be found. There is also very little external testing done to show how effective Deseat is at correctly accessing all of the accounts associated with a gmail account. Further, this is a new service and there is no history showing that it is being maintained in ways that will account for future updates to OAuth or the other relevant platforms. Most importantly, information or pictures on a Facebook account or a website can be stored anywhere offline or republished anywhere online and none of that is affected by Deseat or any other point and click web app service.
“We aren’t even sure how safe it is to give Deseat access to a full list of your social media accounts,” explained Mr. Tongue. “They claim your privacy is important to them… but so does Google and Facebook and we all know that is meaningless. Services like the online Wayback Machine make it simple to find historical data, many companies now scrape information from platforms like Facebook and independent websites as well. When you post an image online, you have no idea how many copies of it exist elsewhere or where they might end up… and neither does Deseat.me – In fact, what Deseat.me does best is delete your Facebook account so you can’t see Facebook as a user, which is like telling you to put a blindfold on because it makes it hard for someone in the room to see you, when all it really does is obscure your ability to see the people who are watching you.”
The UK recently passed the Snooper’s Charter, officially titled the Investigatory Powers Bill, which includes a massive overhaul of governmental surveillance powers allowing security services and police forces to access communications data for their investigations including Internet history data stored for 12 months. That means at least 48 public authorities including police forces across the UK will be able to access your online activities. As Edward Snowden has repeatedly shown, the announced surveillance is just the tip of the iceberg. Clandestine services like the CIA and NSA in the US collect Yattobytes (a unit of information equal to one septillion bytes) of data each year including every bit of text, photo or video file they can find.
“What people need to know is that anything you post online publicly and most of what you think you posted online privately is completely spied upon, stored, cataloged and searched by governments and corporate interests on a daily basis” said Stewart. “That by itself is a very dangerous fact, but the added insult of major tech media capitulating by providing a false sense of privacy to people over a silly web app is far more frightening. This article has already been saved to a governmental server somewhere… and so has the fact that you read it.”