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Theresa Payton: Why Erasing Your Digital Tracks Is Near Impossible

VIDEOS / 03.09.17 / Cylance Videos

Cylance speaks with Theresa Payton, the first female Chief Information Officer at the White House, on why it’s so difficult (if not impossible) to erase your digital identity.

“People still don’t realize that ‘delete’ is never really ‘delete,’” says Theresa Payton, who is currently CEO of security consulting company Fortalice Solutions, LLC.

She also plays one of the digital detectives on the smash hit CBS show Hunted. In our conversation at the 2017 RSA Conference in San Francisco, Payton noted that since being on the show, their audience has reportedly been shocked by the fact that she and her fellow detectives can still uncover and trace deleted content such as emails and social media posts.

These unsettling takeaways, she says, have become great teaching tools for parents to educate their kids, who now must be made to realize anything they put online may stick around forever, even if they were to try to erase it.

Watch Cylance’s full video interview with Theresa Payton here:

One thing Payton notes about trying to be digitally invisible is that even if you could virtually vanish, all of the people who are close to you, such as your family and friends, would still be online and would still be posting about you, whether you like it or not. That could mean anything from candid snapshots of you in a recognizable public place, to comments on your health, home, family or work arrangements, or even travel plans.

That means you can still be tracked – no matter how hard you try not to be.

"The fact that 'delete’ is never really ‘delete’ applies also to the business world. And that means all of that data you’ve been storing or you think you’ve been deleting, is all still available when that inevitable data breach happens,” warns Payton. “You really need to be thinking differently about how to actually hide the data that I have and need to use. So when that breach happens it’s not so easy for them to take everything.”

We asked Payton about Google’s Right To Be Forgotten - which sounds nice in theory, but is near impossible to implement due to the Internet's ability to spread and otherwise disseminate information globally and instantly, and to store it indefinitely.

Payton feels that the way the law is written today it’s impossible to put into practice, but she’d love a way for anyone to truly hit that permanent ERASE button to wipe out all records of a user's Internet-based activity. Having this ability could clear up lots of social, emotional, criminal, and business concerns that affect (or could potentially affect) most users online today.


Theresa Payton served as the first female Chief Information Officer at the White House, overseeing IT operations for President George W. Bush and the 3,000+ members of the Executive oOfice of the President. Payton is CEO of Fortalice Solutions, an industry-leading security consulting company, and co-founder of Dark Cubed, a cybersecurity company. She is one of the nation’s leading experts in cybersecurity and IT strategy.

About the Author

David Spark is a veteran tech journalist and founder of Spark Media Solutions. Since 1996, Spark and his articles have appeared in more than 40 media outlets including eWEEK, Wired News, PCWorld, ABC Radio, John C. Dvorak’s “Cranky Geeks,” KQED’s “This Week in Northern California,” and TechTV (formerly ZDTV). Spark is also the author of the book, “Three Feet from Seven Figures: One-on-One Engagement Techniques to Qualify More Leads at Trade Shows.” Today, Spark blogs regularly on the Spark Minute and is a regular contributor for Forbes. Spark is a noted speaker, entertainer, and moderator at tech and marketing events. 

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