Most foods and cosmetics have expiration dates so that consumers can enjoy the goods while they are fresh. Even products that need not be fresh should be replaced over time as they become old and worn-out. However, information exposed in the digital space remains forever, circulating through online networks. As a consequence, many people suffer incessantly from the online traces they have left in the past. Is there really no way to save these poor souls from this predicament? Meet their superhero, the digital undertaker Lee, Dong Yi.
Digital undertaker careers have been receiving huge attention, yet many people are still unaware of this job since it is fairly new. What do digital undertakers do specifically?
Lee: We delete online information on behalf of our customers. We can delete almost any information on cyberspace from abusive comments to photos and videos. News articles are almost impossible
to delete though, unless they are misleading. A celebrity once asked me to delete a photo, where she was overexposed. However, the press that uploaded such photo refused to delete it. The press said, “She was dressed up like that for the event. That is a fact.”
Why did you decide to become a digital undertaker? Was there a motivation behind your decision?
Lee: Not really. I did not have the urge to become a digital undertaker, but it all came naturally to me. I am also a web designer, and I create homepages for people. I have been doing this work long before I worked as a digital undertaker. At the time, there were a number of people around me who wanted to delete their online posts. I helped these people delete their posts for free because I knew how the web worked. Then there was a boom of digital undertakers in the United States (U.S.) and
that was when I decided to become anofficial digital undertaker in 2009.
Can you explain the process of deleting information?
Lee: Once we receive a request, we ask our customers to send the URL of the website they wish to delete. Then we decide whether the information can be deleted or not. If we can, we ask our customers for the power of attorney so that we can ask website operators to take down the information on behalf of our customers.
Isn’t some information more difficult to process than others?
Lee: Yes, indeed. It is quite complicated to delete posts on foreign sites such as Google because the company requires many additional documents. In the case of Korean portal sites, however, it only takes a couple of hours. Moreover, it also depends on how the customers initially exposed their information. If they simply shared a link, then the task becomes easy as we only need to find the original piece and delete it. If they shared the file, things become a little more complex since shared files get spread out too quickly. We need to find and delete the files one by one, yet there is
no guarantee that the file would not appear online again because other people may have saved the file to their computers. Finally, there is the bereaved family. The family members would sometimes ask to prohibit other people from accessing Facebook and Instagram pages of the deceased, yet this is impossible under the current law. Instead, we can delete the accounts for them by gaining approval from all family members, but this is not an easy task.
Who are your customers and what are the main reasons behind their request?
Lee: Most customers are celebrities and ordinary people. Ordinary people are usually in between their 20s and 40s, but a great proportion of them are in their 20s. People in their 20s usually want to delete thoughtless remarks they have made when they were immature. Those in their 30s usually hope to get rid of the inappropriate video clips they have uploaded in the past. These people want to have a brand new start, but they are worried that their past behaviors will come back to haunt them. Therefore, they usually make the request before their employment and marriage. Customers in their 40s, on the other hand, are usually entrepreneurs and they often want to delete posts and articles that can get in the way of their business. Speaking of business, there may be an enterprise that tries to hide the truth from the general public for its own benefit. However, the right to know is just as important as the right to be forgotten.
Did you ever hesitate to grant your customer’s demand?
Lee: I do not think so. All customers have their own stories. Individuals and business owners undergo extreme stress. In the case of business owners, their businesses may not function well because of their past actions, and when this is coupled with a bad economy, the impact can be even worse.
The digital undertaker is gaining increasing popularity. In fact, it has also been chosen as a rising career. What is your outlook for this job?
Lee: At the moment, I think the outlook is pretty good because there are only about 10 corporations in Korea. We charge a high cost for each request and it is still all right because the market is not
so competitive. However, things would change if more people enter the market. If you are interested in this job, I suggest you to join now.
How can you become a digital undertaker?
Lee: There is no special license for this job, but it would be helpful if you are able to design a website like me. Furthermore, your writing skills are important because you need to convince the page operators to delete the files. The most important thing, however, is to never tell anyone about your customers. It is essential to keep secrets. Even my staff do not know who my customers are. To make sure that my customer’s information does not leak out, I throw away their power of attorneys as soon as I am done with handling their accounts.
Lastly, do you want to say something to The Granite Tower (GT) readers?
Lee: I want to tell the younger generation to think before they write or post something online. If they write something libelous, their past actions will return to them, and they will need to pay for their
consequences. Many people think that this deleting service is not very expensive. People consult us thinking that one case will cost only around 10,000 won. The truth is, many people cannot afford the price as the actual cost ranges from 100,000 won to a few million won. So, please be very careful of how you behave in cyberspace.