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It’s amazing how a “different” perspective-type post generates a ton of feedback.   Two years ago I wrote a post on how to become invisible on the web.  The post described how to remove your footprint, guard your privacy, and generally how to avoid being digitally targeted.

The post also generated a firestorm of comments – here are a few:

  1. “I thought your blog was about how to use Social Media in business.”
  2. “What am I missing?”
  3. “Why tell our customers about these links?”
  4. “You’ve pulled the pin and handed the grenade to our market!”

So in reverse order, my responses:

4) I don’t really think I’ve pulled the pin on the grenade: I would say I have shone a light into a murky and difficult area, and have challenged those who use the digital channel to smarten up.  My call to action was relatively clear: This week, look at how your organization uses data, and decide whether you are being transparent enough with your users.

3) Why tell our customers about these links?  Am I really telling them something that they didn’t already know? If they didn’t know about them already, they can find out easily enough.  Separately, my blog is more focused on organizations, not individuals, so there really is very little downside in sharing the information. 

2) What am I missing?  Perhaps two things:

  • This post is a wake-up call for marketers – there is a definite counter-trend against the social networks and “for” privacy. The law has recognized it, and so have social media venues – two reasons they all now provide delete me links.
  • If a particular prospect resents creepy data mining techniques or presumptive marketing, then it will definitely impact their relationship with you  – and in their eyes, your brand.  So why not acknowledge this particular segment, help the prospect do what they want to do anyway, and earn a bit of their trust along the way?  The question shouldn’t be What am I missing, but rather How do I market to the web-invisible segment?

1) I thought your blog was about how to use Social Media in business.  See above.  But let me also share why, after over a decade writing the Tipsheet each week, I continue to write it.  Yes, it helps generate awareness, and I suppose that it does bring in business.  But writing the blog helps me explore many of these issues in greater depth, so when asked, the thinking has already been done.  And it helps position me as an independent and objective expert.

This blog is not really about social media, but rather it is on how to rethink marketing and engagement using strategy, technology and design.  And any particular post is about a specific aspect of it – and how to translate that knowledge into action.

This week’s action plan:  What goals are you trying to accomplish with your blog?  The goals should be both for the blog as a whole, as well as an individual post.  This week, spend time reviewing your blog to see whether in fact what you write is keyed to these two goals.

Note: The Make It Happen Tipsheet is also available by email. Go to to register.

Randall Craig

@RandallCraig (follow me)  Professional credentials site Web strategy, technology, and development  Interviews with the nation’s thought-leaders



Insight: Becoming web invisible

by Randall Craig on September 4, 2015

Filed in: Blog, Data, Insight, Make It Happen Tipsheet, Web

Tagged as: , ,

With so much discussion about work-life balance, privacy, confidentiality, and government snooping, is it any wonder that some people have decided to move off the grid, and become web-invisible?  Or for others to more closely monitor their web profiles, and either partially or completely remove themselves?  Finally, there are others who choose to remove themselves as a matter of principle: they see their personal information as, well, personal – and see corporate or government use of this information as exploitation.

To see for yourself what is stored about you on Google, you can use their poorly documented Google TakeOut.  This “service” allows you to download (but not delete) all of the data that Google has collected.  Facebook has a similar service, accessible from the middle of the General Account Settings page.

While it is almost impossible to remove yourself from the web completely (see if you do want to reduce your footprint, there are a number of things you can do:

1) Avoid all Social Networks.  Don’t sign up for them if you want to have at least a modicum of control over your data.  If you do have accounts, you can delete them, and also delete the information that is associated with that account.  To delete your Facebook account, for example, start here. For Twitter, start here; Linkedin, start here.  YouTube, a Google service, is a bit different: start here.

Unfortunately, following these instructions will not remove 100% of “you”, as shared resources are never deleted.  This means that if someone has tagged you in a photo within Facebook, or has a message from you in their LinkedIn inbox, deleting your account will not delete these items.

2) Remove what you can from Google and other cloud providers.  If you have set up a Google+ account, within Account Settings you can actually delete your Google+ profile features, while still maintaining a Google account.  Of course, if you use Google services (such as gmail, calendaring, etc), Google still has access to your data, customized ads will still be displayed, and your behaviors still tracked.  The same goes for Apple’s iCloud and the various Microsoft cloud services.  Don’t use “rented” cloud services: use your own server to host your email and other cloud capabilities if you really do want them to be private.

3) Beware the index data funnel.  When data is posted within Social Media, some of this data is indexed by Google, Bing, and all of the public (and private) search engines.  When data is removed from the Social sites, there is no mechanism for it to be removed from the search engines – it is there literally forever.  The saving grace is that as the data ages, it is pushed further and further down in the index, and therefore less likely to be found by a person browsing casually.  In addition to the traditional search engines, the Internet Archive (the Wayback Machine), keeps snapshots of almost every website since the web’s inception.  Even if you were able to scrub Google, a record of your (public) data at a particular time is always available.

4) Use the web anonymously.  Most major browsers (Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer, Safari, etc) support a mode where you can supposedly go to websites anonymously.  What it really means is that the browser will not keep cookies, history, or other information on the computer that you are using.  To enable this mode, look for menu choices such as private browsing, inPrivate, and Incognito mode.

Note, however, that this will not keep your identity private from the search engines, websites that you visit, advertisers, social media sites, etc.  To browse anonymously requires three things: (1) the installation of browser plug-ins that disable third party tracking technologies, (2) a change of behavior to use search sites such as which explicitly don’t track, and (3) the use of proxy servers or VPNs to ensure that “regular” sites see you as truly anonymous.  Examples are or

5) Beware of the mobile connection.  Unlike a traditional browser, your telephone has a definitive link to you: it is almost impossible (without using proxies and VPNs) to be truly anonymous using a mobile phone – either with data, or with voice.

This week’s action plan:  While not everyone is keen on removing themselves from the web, there is a definite sensitivity to it: from lawmakers who are increasingly adding more stringent privacy legislation, to users who are becoming increasingly cynical. As marketers, we must recognize that helping our target users achieve what they want is the only way they will return the favor and help us achieve what we want.  Creepy data-mining, email spam, and other non-friendly activities will do more harm than good. This week, look at how your organization uses data, and decide whether you are being transparent enough with your users.  And at the same time, make sure that the balance of utility clearly falls in their direction.

Note: The Make It Happen Tipsheet is also available by email. Go to to register.

Randall Craig

@RandallCraig (follow me)  Professional credentials site Web strategy, technology, and development  Interviews with the nation’s thought-leaders