Your Digital Footprint Delete Button
Why can’t I delete my account easily?
It baffles me in the technology age why so much stock is given to privacy, user permissions, control over your own data, etc, etc. It baffles me because in almost every single app there is no simple way to ‘please delete my account and my data as I don’t want to be part of this system any longer.’
For emails, they passed laws that insist that opt-in is mandatory and that there is a simple unsubscribe option that does just that. If the list owner doesn’t do these two things then they can be held accountable for failing to honour your consumer privacy rights.
But not so for apps.
So I call for all app developers to add this ‘irrevocable full account revocation’ to their app. And I call for app stores to mandate this requirement.
We’re mobile oriented now, and the only contact you may have with a company is through their app, but to delete your profile – your digital footprint in their ecosystem – you have to hunt for information buried in their website (if it exists) or on some third-party forum from another person who managed to figure out how to do it, and then go through the often lengthy process of getting your account shut down and actually deleted.
Why do app developers do this? There are 2 reasons I can think of:
The latter is probably the real driver since once they have captured your data they can market to you. Your data can be sold to third parties who can market to you. And for the paranoid among you, the more of these digital footprints (or echoes, or shadows) you create, the more ‘aware’ the digital ecosystem becomes to your needs and desires. Again, more marketing opportunities.
But we don’t go to this trouble to have our accounts removed, and instead just delete the app assuming that’s the end of it. We only downloaded the app based on a recommendation on a review we read, tried it out for a while and then decided it wasn’t for us. It was an impulse install, and now it’s deleted that’s that chapter closed.
Or is it? It still asked for our life story in the sign-up process. And that data is still with the company who provided the app. And that’s not OK.
In this digital era, any company’s system can be hacked and the partial shadow of your online presence that remained there, dormant, can be harvested. At best you’ll start getting spam. At worst you’ll have your ID stolen.
So I repeat the call for all app developers to add this ‘irrevocable full account revocation’ to their app. And I call for app stores to mandate this requirement.
I believe it is the moral and ethical obligation of app developers to provide this technology as part of our consumer rights to say, “actually, no, I don’t want to play in your garden anymore.”
As a side note, you can check if your email or username has been hacked using Have I been pwned. If you have been pwned, I recommend changing your passwords as soon as you can. This includes any other accounts that may share the same username/password combination on other sites.
If you have had troubles with removing your details from an app, share the process below as it might help out fellow digital nomads removing their digital footprints.
There is now a system which can help with this called deseat.me. Looks like a good starting place to me.
The internet can be horrible, and it isn't weird to sometimes feel like you want to leave. But there's wasn't an easy way out, until now.
August 2017: It looks like the UK is planning to introduce new laws which imply this should become easier to do in the future. However, it’s still early days and nothing is set in concrete yet but apps might have to get wise to users and not try to implicitly trap you in their ecosystems ad infinitum.