Friday Fun Link – How Hard Is It To Vanish In The Digital Age? (November 20, 2009)

A writer for Wired magazine offers $5000 to anyone who can find him after he purposely attempts to drop out of society for a month.

“The idea for the contest started with a series of questions, foremost
among them: How hard is it to vanish in the digital age? Long
fascinated by stories of faked deaths, sudden disappearances, and
cat-and-mouse games between investigators and fugitives, I signed on to
write a story for
Wired about people who’ve tried to end
one life and start another. People fret about privacy, but what are the
consequences of giving it all up, I wondered. What can investigators
glean from all the digital fingerprints we leave behind? You can be
anybody you want online, sure, but can you reinvent yourself in real

As part of the contest, he allows his editor to dole out the same type of hints that a
private investigator would likely be able to uncover – recent credit
card purchases, online handles, etc. 

The contest generates a great deal of interest from people across the web:

When I flipped open my laptop and saw my private information spilling
onto the Web, however, I got my first taste of a soon-to-be-permanent
state of fitful anxiety. I’d signed up for it, of course. But actually
living the new, paranoid reality felt different. Absurd ideas suddenly
seemed plausible. They’d contacted my cat sitter; would they kidnap my

In the end, he makes it almost to the end of the month but not quite:

“And what of our original questions? Had I shown that a person, given
enough resources and discipline, could vanish from one life and
reinvent himself in another? I thought I had, though only up to a
point. Obviously the smarts and dedication of the hunters had
overwhelmed my planning and endurance. Along the way they’d also proven
my privacy to be a modern fiction. It turns out that people — ordinary
people — really can gather an incredible dossier of facts about you.
But a month later, life was back to normal and no one was taking any

The story's a long read but worth it if you're interested in the idea of digital footprints, privacy and the ubiquity of technology in today's world.  

(via Reddit)

Comments 2

  1. Anonymous wrote:

    I like the “but” at the end of the last quotation you mentioned. It's a bit of a reminder that so lot of information about ourselves (certainly not *all*, not by a long short) is ephemeral on the web!

    Posted 24 Nov 2009 at 3:25 am
  2. Anonymous wrote:

    Very true.

    Posted 04 Dec 2009 at 8:06 pm

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