Commentary

Thankful that the Internet has the memory of an elephant

One careless click on an Android phone I've been using for less than a month set off a major panic attack last week.

For a short while, I thought my entire digital world had crumbled. It later dawned on me that no technology company would let customers leave so easily, which turned out to be a blessing in disguise.

It was seconds past midnight last Monday when the ones and zeros of my digital world tumbled into a black hole.

I was trying to erase all my personal data before returning the phone, which was on loan to me for a product review, when I accidentally wiped out all the data associated with my Google account in the cloud.

I actually clicked on "delete my Google account and all its data" without thinking twice. But who would have known that the deletion would also take place in the cloud and not just on the device?

All my personal and work information - including team meetings, interviews, receipts and itineraries stored in Google Drive, Docs, Sheets and Gmail - was gone in one click.

It is a drag at times to work with a cyberspace that has the memory of an elephant, especially when you want to remove undesirable information that has gone public on places such as Facebook or Twitter.

I could have kicked myself for making such a crucial change minutes before bedtime as I'm prone to make mistakes.

The next half an hour of my scrambling to undo the damage seemed like eternity.

I shot off two distress text messages to people I hoped would be awake at that hour and offer a solution to reverse the disaster.

At the same time, I fired up my work computer and banged out all the possible username and password permutations, hoping against hope that I would miraculously recover the Google account that had been deleted and emptied.

My friends responded shortly, but offered little help. What could anyone say or do at that hour?

After my initial frenzy subsided, logic took over - thankfully.

Surely, a technology company like Google would not let customers give up their accounts permanently without putting up a fight?

I turned to its website to look for ways to restore a deleted account, and I found a way to do it . In fact, Google gives users up to three weeks to recover their deleted accounts. I gladly followed the recommended steps and was able to sign in as usual to my Google Drive, Docs, Sheets and Gmail in minutes.

It is a drag at times to work with a cyberspace that has the memory of an elephant, especially when you want to remove undesirable information that has gone public on places such as Facebook or Twitter.

On the other hand, being obliterated online can be a nightmare too, especially when one's account is hacked into.

It is during such times that I'm thankful that the Internet never forgets, and what's originally posted or stored can be recovered.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 26, 2016, with the headline 'Thankful that the Internet has the memory of an elephant'. Print Edition | Subscribe