Erase your own online evidence.
Subject: Online social networks (Social aspects)
Pub Date: 09/22/2009
Publication: Name: Annals of the American Psychotherapy Association Publisher: American Psychotherapy Association Audience: Academic; Professional Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Psychology and mental health Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2009 American Psychotherapy Association ISSN: 1535-4075
Issue: Date: Fall, 2009 Source Volume: 12 Source Issue: 3
Topic: Event Code: 290 Public affairs
Organization: Organization: University of Washington
Accession Number: 208639908

America has become an online society. Most people use Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, or some other online social networking site to communicate with friends. Most users don't realize, however, that their personal information--whether it be posts, pictures, or chats--can be retrieved at a later date by future employers or for legal purposes. It doesn't matter what medium you use--whether it be your work computer, cell phone, or home computer--your personal information is no longer personal; that is, until now.

Researchers at the University of Washington have developed a way for people to protect their personal information. The program, called Vanish, self-destructs selected electronic communications after a set time, making this information irretrievable, even to the sender. "If you care about privacy, the Internet today is a very scary place," said UW computer scientist Tadayoshi Kohno. "If people understood the implications of where and how their e-mail is stored, they might be more careful or not use it as often."

Many people Falsely believe that hitting the "delete" button will make their personal data go away. This information, however, is archived by most Web services. "In today's world, private information is scattered all over the Internet, and we can't control the lifetime of that data," said Hank Levy, coauthor on the Vanish prototype. "And as we transition to a future based on cloud computing, where enormous, anonymous data-centers run the vast majority of our applications and store nearly all of our data, we will lose even more control."

Vanish was recently released as a free, open-source tool that works with the Firefox browser. In order for the program to work, both the sender and the recipient must have installed the tool. If the sender has any private information, they highlight it and hit the "vanish" button. This encrypts the information, and the text can be read for a limited time only. After eight hours, the text becomes permanent gibberish.

University of Washington. (2009, July 22). This article will self-destruct: Tool to make online personal data vanish. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 24, 2009, from

MCT Illustration by Martin Gee/San Jose Mercury News
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