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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


If you’re reading this, the chances that you are on Facebook are relatively high. And sadly, the chances that you personally will duplicate Mark Zuckerberg’s business success are relatively low. Very few of us will take our companies public, let along profit so handsomely during our careers.

What we can do, however, is learn from this success. And particularly, learn from the Facebook IPO.

The key to this is the prospectus. This document gives a prospective investor all of the information they need to make a knowledgeable investment decision.  Unfortunately, most investors – or members of the general public – never see the prospectus. Test this amongst your friends and family: how many of them have personally reviewed the Facebook prospectus, the most publicized IPO in the history of the world? Likely, very few.

If we dissect the prospectus document, there are three items that are highly relevant – and that most “non-IPO” leaders should consider:

1) Risk Factors:  This is a multi-page, open-the-kimono look at everything that might possibly go wrong.  Everything from tech trends to competitive threats to internal weaknesses, and then some.  Insight:  How often do companies – or people – openly and honestly look in the mirror?  (It’s easier to believe your own PR.)

2) History:  For several years prior to an IPO, the company must run their organization in a squeaky-clean, financially-sound manner, and their audited financial statements in the prospectus must reflect this.  Insight:  It is impossible to turn back the clock.  Three years from now, if you want to look back at a history of great results, then the great results must start in the present.  Interestingly, this is also true of our reputations, something that many people and organizations forget when it comes to Social Media.

3) Transparency:  If the goal of the prospectus is to ensure that all investors have what they need to properly make their investment decisions, then there should be no “hidden” areas of nondisclosure.  Within the document, you can find details on the controlling shareholders, executive compensation, legal considerations – and more – on 186 pages, plus exhibits.  There is complete transparency.  Insight:  Many organizations aren’t particularly transparent, instead rationing information to their employees, clients, suppliers, and other stakeholders.  Or worse, “spinning” it.  While not advocating the words of Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg (“privacy is a thing of the past”), what’s the worst that could happen if those around you knew “too much”?  Perhaps alignment, accountability, and better decision-making?

This week’s action plan: While writing a prospectus is probably not top of your to-do list, spending a few minutes on one of Risk Factors, History, or Transparency is probably doable.  Answer one of these questions this week:  What are the Risk Factors in my organization?  History: is there anything we should do now (or stop doing now) that will be important several years from now?  Transparency:  Where can we be more open with our colleagues, clients, suppliers, and other important relationships?

Postscript:  If you are interested in reading the Facebook IPO prospectus, it’s available here.

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


Randall Craig

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