Are my old Usenet posts going to resurface someday?
November 30, 2010 9:50 PM   Subscribe

I'm worried about some old Usenet postings. Help?

Back in the ancient times -- before the Internet had pictures or search engines, and in the day when it was considered bad form to use a pseudonym -- I shared some sexual things on Usenet, under my real name. My real name, btw, is one that nobody else on the planet seems to have. Google does not turn these posts up. I do not want them to. Are they going to surface someday?
posted by anonymous to Technology (21 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

Are you planning to run for office? Because otherwise, I think probably not, and probably nobody is going to be that interested in what you were up to sexually 20 years ago.
posted by craichead at 10:01 PM on November 30, 2010

Isn't there a way to delete these old posts? I seem to recall there being such, but that was some time ago, and the archives have changed hands a number of times.
posted by mikeand1 at 10:08 PM on November 30, 2010

If Google doesn't have them at this point, it's unlikely they'll turn up in the future. It's possible, of course, in the same way they ended up with the pre-Dejanews posts they have.

There are probably other old codgers with extensive Usenet archives, but the chances of them being intact and readable are rapidly dwindling.
posted by wierdo at 10:21 PM on November 30, 2010

"Google does not turn these posts up."

Wait, are you searching Google, or Google Groups? The latter contains the Usenet archives.
posted by mikeand1 at 10:23 PM on November 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'd advise you not to sweat it. The odds that they will show up one day when someone as motivated as you can't find them are pretty slim. You may as well hide in your house and worry about being hit by a car.

If any of your messages do show up, Google now makes you jump through some pretty serious hoops to get them removed. You used to just have to declare that old posting X under email address Y was yours and they'd remove it: now you have to do this.
If the email addresses or passwords associated with a post are obsolete, or if you cannot recover the password from the email provider, we will need you to verify by court order that you own the email address before we can remove any posts associated with it. Upon verification of the court order, we will then remove the post.

You can fax your documents -- marked “Attn: Google Legal Support” -- to (650) 963-3255 or you can send documents to:

Google, Inc.
Attn: Google Legal Support
1600 Amphitheatre Parkway
Mountain View, CA 94043
Don't be evil-ish, eh?
posted by maudlin at 10:25 PM on November 30, 2010

Not very likely. Back pre-www-internet days backups (if any) of Usenet were on 10.5" data tapes that had to be changed by hand and only held in the MB range. It is very rare for new lost tapes to turn up. If it's not in the search engines now, it likely no longer exists anywhere. Unless by some fantastic chance that somebody finds one with your posts, or finds an old hard disk that still works your secrets are safe.

(I sadly mourn my old talk.bizarre,, alt.gothic, comp.sys.amiga days, they are lost to the ether.)
posted by zengargoyle at 10:26 PM on November 30, 2010

zengargoyle: after Google bought the DejaNews archives, they supplemented them in 2001 with said 9-track tapes. Their archive is pretty damn complete, it just gets harder and harder to navigate through the Google Groups interface. All of my only-a-little-bit embarrasing early/mid-90s Usenet posts are still there.
posted by zsazsa at 10:53 PM on November 30, 2010

Yeah, Google's archiving of old Usenet posts is haphazard at best, even among posts that were included in the public DejaNews archive Google bought years ago, so count yourself lucky they seem to have missed your old messages. But Usenet was a decentralized network so as weirdo points out there are other, much less-trafficked archives out there that may be keeping your stuff. This has come up here before, by the way, and the consensus seems to be that it's pretty much impossible to be certain you've deleted old Usenet posts.

But if they're not turning up in an advanced Google Groups search now, you're about as safe as you can be from most folks finding your sexy sharing moments.
posted by mediareport at 10:54 PM on November 30, 2010

Well, I'll stand corrected by zsazsa and say the *results* you get searching Google Groups can be haphazard, depending on how you search, but I'll take zsazsa's word that the archive itself is fairly complete.
posted by mediareport at 10:58 PM on November 30, 2010

Actually, reading the link in my post a little bit more, it looks like the non-tech groups had pretty spotty archives, especially as traffic on Usenet increased. My oldest posts are still there since I frequented Star Trek groups which the archiving nerds deemed to be worth saving.
posted by zsazsa at 11:05 PM on November 30, 2010

Yeah, spotty archives in the soc.* and* heirarchies has been my experience in the past, although it's been a few years since I checked.
posted by mediareport at 11:20 PM on November 30, 2010

None of my 87-93 posts are anywhere to be found. The old stuff is pretty specific to useful low volume technical groups. Back then a lot of places wouldn't even carry talk.* or alt.* at all. None of the Google archives are anywhere near full feed coverage for the ancient days. Guess it depends on what the OP means by ancient times.
posted by zengargoyle at 11:39 PM on November 30, 2010

I share your unique name problem, and I have a plan to deal with this kind of situation if it ever comes up (although my old usenet postings are mostly dumb rather than really embarrassing). Call it my "running for public office" plan. Basically, I'd create a series of fake people all with my name. Give them Facebook and LinkedIn profiles, flickr accounts with other peoples' (non-identifying) CC-licensed photos, email addresses, forum posting histories and everything else I could think of. That way anyone searching for the actual me will have to wade through all of the other identities before they find anything genuine, and even then they'll have no way of knowing. I'd do it from a public computer because some of these sites frown on this kind of thing and probably track IP addresses.

In your case, you'd need to go one step further and give one of the identities, who is obviously not you (different country, occupation, middle name etc), an identity consistent with being the person who made those usenet posts. Then: blessed freedom from the tyranny of creative parents.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 1:08 AM on December 1, 2010 [13 favorites]

Not sure where you were posting, but pseudonyms were everywhere back then.

That said, my late 80s/early 90s posts all seem to be out there, even the ones on rec.* and alt.* groups.

I really like A Thousand Baited Hooks' solution, though... I have a one-off name myself.
posted by metarkest at 2:42 AM on December 1, 2010

my faintly embarrassing usenet posts are still there from the mid-90s under my real name fwiw. I doubt anyone is terribly interested or motivated to do the specific search required to dredge them out mind you.
posted by singingfish at 4:04 AM on December 1, 2010

A Thousand Baited Hooks has an excellent idea, if you're really worried about it. If you're going to create fake identities to take responsibility for old internet presence, I think you should have them established before you run for office. It would be suspicious if all of the fake people with your name discovered the internet at the same time.
posted by easy, lucky, free at 4:54 AM on December 1, 2010

I've found some usenet postst of mine on google groups going back to 1990, but not all of them (I can think of a few non-computer-related groups to which I posted but for which nothing shows up), and nothing before that (though I did post to usenet in the late 80s). So the google groups coverage does seem to get spottier the further you go back in time.

In this discussion of additions to their pre-dejanews coverage, Google says:

We are aware that there are many small collections of Usenet articles that were saved by many dedicated individuals in the Usenet community. Please understand that we cannot undertake the gargantuan task of merging these with our existing archive.

Based on that, I think it's unlikely that they'll be increasing their coverage of old usenet stuff, unless they find some huge new cache of archival tapes. So, most likely, if you can't currently find your old posts on google groups, they are unlikely to crop up in the future.
posted by klausness at 5:09 AM on December 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

You can create a fake person with your precise name. Facebook account, gmail, blog. Then you can answer questions with "Yeah, there's just 1 other guy on the 'net with my name." Don't make all the posts at once, and don't make them all sexually explicit. This will not fool a really thorough investigator, but will give you plausible deniability.
posted by theora55 at 12:43 PM on December 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

Good lord. I just found all my ancient posts from alt.adjective.noun.verb.verb.verb!

FYI A search for my first email address didn't turn anything up, nor did a search for my handle at the time. But when I went to a group I knew I had posted in and went to the approximate year and then found one of my old posts, I got a captcha to see the full name of who posted it. This is apparently why a name or email search didn't find me. Make sure that's not why you aren't easily coming up either.
posted by CunningLinguist at 2:57 PM on December 1, 2010

Thanks for the tip, CunningLinguist. I had, indeed, been searching for my e-mail address, which didn't turn up all that much (since it looks like they hide the full address). But when I went to one of my posts and clicked through to the profile that google groups had automatically created for my e-mail address, they have many hundreds of messages from me that didn't come up in my original search. And for all I know, there may be others that haven't been asociated with that profile...
posted by klausness at 2:19 AM on December 2, 2010

Ah, usenet. Having this same problem. Posts from 1986! Can you believe it? On, and my husband found them under my name under groups. That company and email address are long gone, they were under .uucp. Some embarrassing posts that we would rather not be there in case the kids find them. It is ridiculous that there is no way to remove these. Why do personal posts from 1985 need to still be around?

He didn't find them searching my name on google, but when he clicked on groups, they came up with links to ALL my posts on usenet during that time. It stinks. Even reputation defender cannot do anything about it. Seems like we should be able to file some sort of lawsuit
posted by mk123 at 12:51 PM on March 23, 2011

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