How long is personal information stored on the Internet and how long can digital data actually remain online?
These are questions made every day by people, companies and organizations. The simple answer is ... a very long time, infinite, forever perhaps. However, reality is often completely different because there are limitations in data, storage and retrieval of data that often provide a useful life for digital information. The real problem, in terms of your data, compilation, storage and use of a third party, is the transient nature of the information. The data collected and stored in one place may have a lifespan at that particular location, but if shared, lost or stolen to a new location, this duration will be extended.
The time when information can be online depends entirely on what it is and where it is stored. A random bit of data without permanent value can be deleted from a memory and lost very quickly from the web. Material intentionally uploaded to a site such as YouTube, Facebook, or other social networks can be saved forever.
What is the Cloud?
The Cloud is one of the things that are difficult to define. While it contains data storage on the web, it also includes almost all other types of SaaS and PaaS services available on the Internet. Basically, a "cloud" (because there are more than one cloud) is a network of servers configured to perform a function. The function usually runs from an application or delivers a service over the Internet. Users do not need to download or install any software because all functions are performed by the network in the cloud . . . which stores your data and information about you.
The Cloud is not a thing; it is a term that refers to server-based web applications that are delivered over the Internet. A server network that is configured in that way is a "cloud." The cost of data storage is low compared to its value. And as long as the data has value, it will be collected and stored.
In December 2010, the Obama administration announced the Cloud First-policy encouraging companies to take full advantage of cloud computing technology to improve efficiency and increase production. Many times you use the cloud without even knowing or having to approve it. Take your phone for example. You know you never signed up for any online photo storage, but despite this all your photos have been stored in the cloud. The sharing of files like Google Drive and Dropbox are also good examples. The Facebook timeline remembers things you did before and remind you of them, thanks to the cloud.
How long does digital data stay online?
If you ask that question because you're worried about something you've published before, you can be sure it's likely to still be there. "Think before publishing" is still a hot tip to all Internet users. Keep your privacy private and you will save yourself a massive headache in the future. But with that said, much work can be done to eliminate all the traces of an earlier life online.
Trying to go back and erase all evidence of past indiscretion is a monumental task and probably not completely doable. Certainly you can delete a Facebook or Instagram post, but can you delete every trace of everything you've ever liked, saved or shared? The problem is that it's almost impossible to know all servers where your data can be stored or all things about you on the Internet to track them and "delete" them from the web…
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