At the time, I made some embarrassing searches and visited some sites that I certainly would not admit to today. Although none of this activity is what I deem as illegal, it’s only now that I’m happily married with children that I’ve realized that I would not wish for this information to come to light. If a person was not using a proxy or any sort of privacy settings on their browser and not regularly deleting cookies and they used the internet to visit sites and make Google searches that they believed they were never going to come to light, but they’ve also used that same computer to log in to social media and Amazon accounts, could one day all of that activity be linked to them as a person? As I said, things that I did as a teenager many years ago are things that I would not want my wife and children to find out about now. I assume that everything I did sat on some server somewhere, but how easy would it be for someone to name and shame me?
There’s really no way to know with any certainty the absolute answer to your question.
That being said, I do have some thoughts.
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It’s very unlikely that any of that information will randomly reappear without some cause. If no one is specifically looking for it, then no one is likely to stumble upon it. Nonetheless, someone who is looking for information about you could find whatever you have out there.
One of the things that we don’t know is how long that information stays on servers and the internet.
Things like your cookies and a few of the other privacy settings that you mentioned have no bearing on this. But you have to think about the logs on the servers that you visited, the backups of those logs, and whatever services you used. What information do those services keep over time?
We just don’t know.
When talking about this kind of thing, my rule of thumb is that the internet is forever. In practical terms, servers clean out their databases and they do their backups fairly regularly. We just don’t know how often.
Reputation management services can find the kinds of online things that might cause you concern. They then do what they can to bury them. They can’t really make them go away, but they can make them harder to find.
For instance, if something embarrassing about you appears on page one of Google results, a reputation management company might put enough other things about you out on the internet to bury that information and get it off of page one.
One piece of advice that I can offer is that unless you’re in a position where people will go digging into your past, you’re probably okay. I can’t guarantee it, but it’s not something that should cause you to worry.