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Wanted: An Eraser for Everything You've Ever Regretted Putting Online

Wouldn't it be great to have some kind of digital eraser that removed all our regrettable online posts? But could such a tool ever exist?
An internet cable is seen at a server room in this picture illustration taken in Warsaw
An internet cable is seen in a server room. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel

Wanted: Some sort of digital soap and water to wipe away every photo, post and email we regret sending into the abyss of the internet.

Sure, there's the basic recall function on some email accounts that allows you to take back a message, but only if you act fast. But what if there were some big eraser, allowing us to take full control of everything we ever put on the internet?

Nearly one in five internet users has expressed some regret about their behavior online, according to a 2011 Marist poll.

That number has likely increased since then as more Americans are living much of their lives online.

Nine out of 10 Americans are online and seven out of 10 are on social media, according to a Pew Research Center survey taken in November 2016.

Related: Digital Services Send Messages to Your Loved Ones After You Die

Right now, because of the structure of the internet and various rules, it's a complicated issue and one that may never be fully solved, according to Justin Calmus, vice president at HackerOne, a bug bounty company.

"Because we are so connected with tech today, you'd have to delete the message in so many places that it becomes a massive problem unless you control all of the data," Calmus explained.

While you may recall an email message, it's actually just a delaying tactic, Paul Madsen, an identity management specialist at Ping Identity, told NBC News.

"It's better than nothing, but you are still relying on Google [or another email client] to do the right thing and not hit send on the thing you want to send," he said.

Data Transfer Block

Some companies are trying to give users more digital control, even if it's only within the safe perimeter of their platforms.

"I think we all have, at one point or another, sent a message or file that we didn't mean to... oops!" Shaun Murphy, CEO and co-founder of communications platform SNDR told NBC News.

SNDR Block, a new palm-sized device "acts as an intermediate cache between you and the cloud," according to the company's website. So, instead of sitting and waiting as your files are sent, you can send them to the device and let it take care of the data transfer.

While one of its chief purposes is to expedite the transfer of files, SNDR Block stands out for its claim that it can give users total control of their files - that is, if they're sent from point A to B on SNDR.

"You can define rules for your messages and content, so you are alerted and they are automatically taken back - things like if the SNDR app detects the recipient taking screenshots of your messages or trying to forward them to someone else," Murphy said.

The process essentially works by revoking and destroying the cryptography in the file you want back, making it digital garbage, Murphy said.

There are also a number of browser extensions, such as Virtru and Criptext Mail, that allow you to encrypt emails and take control of your messages.

But that doesn't solve everything.

The Right to Be Forgotten

What about photos, tweets, and comments posted online? While you can delete them, it's likely a copy exists somewhere in the far stretches of the internet.

The European Union has strong online privacy rights, including the "right to be forgotten," allowing people to petition search engines to remove links about themselves that are no longer relevant.

The idea is for past mistakes, embarrassing moments or irrelevant information to no longer show when a person enters a search for your name.

Related: Google 'Right to Be Forgotten' to Be Applied More Widely

Google your name and see what comes up - you may be surprised.

Calmus said he tries to limit what he puts online about himself. However, if there is something he wants removed, he will directly contact the website or company to ask. In the United States, they aren't necessarily bound to comply.

"Anybody can download the entirety of the internet if they had all of the storage space, so overall, there is no fundamental way to just scrub your data," Calmus said. "But I do think U.S. law should look at some of the countries that are doing it right."

For now, doing the old "think before you post" mantra and doing a quick clean-up of your social media may be the best way to take back some control of your digital footprint.

You can hide or delete old posts on Facebook and go through a quick privacy check by clicking on the settings icon in the upper right corner.

As for that cringeworthy Facebook message you wish you hadn't sent? You may have to live with that for now.