OVER the past few years, netizens have been obsessed with their cyber trail, making sure to log off from personal accounts, clearing their caches and deleting their browsing history, among others.

When social media entered our consciousness, this obsession moved beyond just personal data – what else are we putting out there? A lot, apparently. There have been calls by many people, myself included, for a more active participation by users.

Basically, think before you tweet. Apart from making sure you don’t fall prey to the foot-in-mouth disease, there are also much more serious implications in the form of privacy issues. Over its few years as the social media network du jour, Facebook has kept changing its system’s ability for users to have more control over their information.

For other people’s safety, Google+, the latest kid on the social network block, has a policy where only real names can be used for its accounts. There are many more examples, of course. Users, too, have been more aware of the implications, thanks to personalities from around the world getting caught out via social media on some of their less proud moments.

Facebook has changed its systems ability many times over the years.

However, I would like to add another element to this discussion – should we not be equally worried about what kind of cyber trail we are leaving behind when we die? Excuse the morbidity but it is something many people rarely think about. In the past, paper documents can be destroyed. And in many cases, over the years, these documents just disappear or disintegrate.

With digital technology, however, this is unlikely to happen. There is a common saying that what goes on the Internet stays on the Internet. Even if you delete something, it might have already made it onto some cache somewhere. Otherwise, someone might have already downloaded it or captured it and saved it onto their desktop. The reality is that the Internet runs on millions of servers and computers around the world, many of which serve as backups of backups.

Chances are, anything you put online has already been duplicated several times. Scarier still, none of these disappear even after you are physically gone. I lost an aunt and a friend, both of whom were rather active social media users (on Facebook and Twitter) recently and it freaks me out to see their names and faces appear on my timeline because of a reminder (like birthdays) or when a friend leaves them a condolence note.

Even worse, when someone you know who has passed on, is “suggested” to be a friend. A couple of years ago, Facebook introduced the ability for family members to get profile pages of their loved ones turned into a memorial profile but not many people use this function. But even in this case, much of the deceased’s memories and past actions remain. This might be comforting for those who want to hang on to the memory of someone long gone.

That said, I cringe at the idea that some information, which might make sense now, would be accessible to the generations that come after me. Just imagine your grandchildren Googling you and discovering that you were a massive Justin Bieber fan (or worse, Rebecca Black!).


What happens on the Internet, stays on the Internet.

Not only that, as opposed to my parents’ youthful days of courting via letters (which can be destroyed), these days we shamelessly leave potentially embarrassing messages of affection on each other’s wall.

Or worse, bad pick up lines. These will be forever immortalised.

Mashable editor-in-chief Adam Ostrow presented this thought at a TEDGlobal (technology, entertainment and design) event where he spoke about what would happen to one’s social media presence after one dies. He said: “Our descendants … will have at their fingertips a deep digital archive of information that we created ourselves.”

More so than this, Adam suggested that with the amount of data and information that we would have left on the Internet by the time we die, there is a possibility of something more dangerous, sinister even, developing.

In an accompanying article on his TED talk for CNN Interactive, he wrote: “I think as the quantity of content we’re producing and technology’s ability to make sense of it continue to expand exponentially, it will inevitably become possible to not only define our own legacies, but to recreate very lifelike representations of ourselves.” Yes, folks, he is talking holograms.

And who knows how technology will advance in the future and we are able to “download” all this information into a cyborg of sorts. Or worse still, clones.

I don’t mean to scare anybody but considering how fast technology is moving, there is a possibility that this day will come.

But don’t start to freak out and go deleting all your information (it’s too late, by the way) just yet. It all starts with being a little bit careful with whatever information we put out there, who we are sharing it with and whether or not we have thought things through before clicking the “send” button.

After all, who knows by the time anyone looks back at our data, we might be long gone and couldn’t care less any more. Or maybe our legacy would be so amazing because that is what we choose to leave behind.

It doesn’t hurt to be more aware of what kind of cyber trail we’re setting as we move along with our lives. Worst comes to worse, our future self might just have to come back – via time travel, of course – and warn us.


Niki is in London to do his MA in Digital Culture and Society. You can find him online at and

Tell us what you think!

Go top