There’s something cathartic about deleting yourself online.
I just spent two days this weekend deleting various profiles and accounts across the internet, distilling my online presence to the bare necessities.
Some people create accounts and email addresses the same way a grasshopper leaps through a field, with lots of movement and little focus on the bigger picture. Others cultivate an elaborate and tightknit persona online, maintaining their data and accounts with as much focus as a lioness stalking her prey.
I am a lioness.
I’ve only had six email accounts in my life (excluding work). I know what sites I have/had memberships on, largely based on the registration emails I’ve kept since I entered digital space in 2001.
Email #1 (2001 to 2005) – This was my first email account, created in a freshman Spanish class (2001) for a pen pal in Mexico that never wrote back. I used this account to dump questionable websites into, allowing my main email address to remain safe from spam. This account was closed after over a year of disuse.
Email #2 (2001 to 2014) – This was my second email account, created very closely after the first and more in my own image. I groomed this account from 2001 to 2014, filtering out spam religiously and only handing out the email to trusted sites and persons. However, in 2013 Yahoo itself was hacked and my account was compromised; several months (and passwords, security questions, etc.) later, I gave up on the account and consolidated everything to a different service. This account was deleted over the weekend.
Email #3 (2001 to 2003) – This was an email account I created for fun. I used it for a specific messenger, joining a friend on weekends to chat with other geeky kids and roleplay as dragon riders. The account closed itself long ago, after years of disuse.
Email #4 (2004 to 2014) – This was an email account I created to replace #3. I needed access to the same messenger again, this time for certain friends and family after moving overseas. The hope was that my friends would stay in touch, pre-Facebook. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case; this email account became the new dumping ground for spam. The account was deleted this weekend, having last been checked a few months ago.
Email #5 & #6 (2012 to current) – These two are both locked with elaborate passwords, 2-step verifications, and coded security questions. In addition, I’ve filtered out all registration emails and other personal credential information, just in case these email accounts get hacked; no one will get my other logins via email hacking.
I’ve deleted various accounts over the past few years, many deactivated this weekend during my digital purge. I don’t let accounts fade away, because that doesn’t always work; not all websites have a use-it-or-lose-it clause in their terms. One of my friends just discovered this issue, as his personal photos from his teen years (explicit or not) were publicly visible online. He’s now struggling to remember email accounts, let alone login credentials.
Oh, by the way… I’m one of those weirdos who actually reads (or at least skims) the terms and conditions of new websites before accepting them.
I mostly skim for parts about use and storage of my information, as well as what grounds can get my account locked (especially for storage services like Dropbox and Photobucket). I like to know who can access my stuff, how much control I have over it, and how likely it is that I’ll lose my stuff.
I’m also cautious enough to research storage sites before using them. I google their history, looking for previous hacking events and lawsuits; I also check how often they change privacy settings (*cough*Facebook*cough*) and how that affects individual use.
I love the internet and digital life! However, I’m still careful about what I put out there. You can never unshare something online, and you have to be willing to accept the consequences of your choices.
The lioness in my is ever-vigilant. I have a coded password book, and I’ve ensured that important accounts (banking, email, financials) are all locked down with 2-step verification and complicated logins that aren’t listed in my book. I know where I am online and why, and no amount of googling my name will bring up anything I’m ashamed of creating.
What does your digital footprint look like?