Data Deletion

Delete is a word built into the vocabulary of users from the beginning of personal computing. When commanded to “del,” an operating system appeared to erase a file completely. However, right from the start, a user’s commonsense understanding of the command to “delete” differed from companies’ practices; rather than erasing a file, “delete” meant “put in the recycle bin.” “Deleted” files were not really gone but rather out of sight, available to be recovered if necessary. The rise of cloud computing, where files live remotely from their owners’ devices and are frequently accessible from multiple devices, has further muddied the concept of deletion by saving all of a user’s files in an ambiguous location until called upon. While this change may seem trivial, it represents a larger truth about our digital files: they are almost never really “deleted.”

About Michelle De Mooy


Michelle De Mooy is Director of the Privacy & Data Project at the Center for Democracy & Technology. She advocates for data privacy rights and protections in legislation and regulation, works closely with industry and other stakeholders to investigate good data practices and controls, as well as identifying and researching emerging technology that impacts personal privacy. She leads CDT’s health privacy work, chairing the Health Privacy Working Group and focusing on the intersection between individual privacy, health information and technology. Michelle’s current research is focused on ethical and privacy-aware internal research and development in wearables, the application of data analytics to health information found on non-traditional platforms, like social media, and the growing market for genetic data.

She has testified before Congress on health policy, spoken about native advertising at the Federal Trade Commission, and written about employee wellness programs for US News & World Report’s “Policy Dose” blog. Michelle is a frequent media contributor, appearing in the New York Times, the Guardian, the Wall Street Journal, Vice, and the Los Angeles Times, as well as on The Today Show, Voice of America, and Government Matters TV programs.Before CDT, Michelle worked as a political campaign consultant for M+R Strategic Services, as a development and communications director at a capacity building organization aimed at nonprofits, and in the tech sector in product management and software engineering.

About Joseph Jerome


Joseph Jerome is a Policy Counsel on CDT’s Privacy & Data Project. His work focuses on the legal and ethical questions posed by smart technologies and big data, and he is interested in developing transparency and accountability mechanisms and procedures around novel uses of data.

Prior to joining CDT, Joe was an associate in the cybersecurity and privacy practice of a major law firm. His practice focused on advertising technologies and privacy compliance in the health and financial sectors. Additionally, he worked on a wide range of consumer privacy issues at the Future of Privacy Forum and has written articles about data ethics, trust in the online gig economy, and emerging technologies in video games.

Joe has a J.D. from the New York University School of Law, where he was an International Law and Human Rights Student Fellow, and a B.A. from Boston University.

About Vijay Kasschau


Vijay Kasschau is the Privacy, Data & Technology Fellow at CDT. His work focuses on consumer privacy protections, particularly with regard to wearable technologies. He also works on the data retention, security, and deletion practices of companies selling Internet of Things (IoT) devices.

During law school, Vijay’s research focused on implicit bias and racial profiling. His work focused on ways of understanding bias in law and acting to prevent that bias from affecting the delivery of justice. Vijay is a 2016 graduate from the Georgetown University Law Center, where he served as a Managing Editor of the Georgetown Journal of Law & Modern Critical Race Perspectives. He holds a B.A. from the University of Rochester in Psychology.