I don't precisely know what started the thought process. Probably some random musing about death (I'm a cheery little poppet really, aren't I?) and the fact that I won't have any direct descendants to be the executor of my digital estate as it were.
Then I stared thinking about the size of my digital footprint... just how many websites have I signed up for, added content to, have some kind of cyber-bootmark on. And it's much more of a Sasquatchian foot than I first though.
I started to make a list. I added the obvious stuff first.
This blog, my Twitter account, the more recent edition of my Tumblr account... my ISP email and Gmail and Hotmail and Yahoo accounts (yes, I have one of each... I'm very compartmentalised about what information goes where)... then my "dating site profiles" (would you believe there were nine different ones?)... and the sites I use regularly, Google Reader, etc.
Then there were the other sites... the ones I don't use regularly but still have a password and login for. IMBD, Event Cinemas, Amazon... there's even a Wordpress login somewhere from commenting on WP blogs.
Having started using an iPhone last December added to the footprint... there's my iTunes account and all the apps that require some kind of login...
By the time I finished the original list there were about 40 websites on it. And over the following couple of weeks I kept remembering other ones... mostly ones that I signed up for forever ago and either no longer use or have only used a handful of times and then never returned to.
It all added up to a far bigger digital footprint than I realised.
So I started making it smaller.
The first thing to go was removing all of my photos from Photosig (which was slightly painful, since I wanted to keep a copy of the comments so I ended up downloading all 90 pages one at a time... it was also the end of an era, since it was Photosig that got me involved with the Adelaide Camera Club)... then a couple of movie related sites which were just timewasters.
One thing that really surprised me as I went along was how difficult it was to remove my profile from some of these sites. Either the "delete your account/profile" option is buried at the bottom of a difficult to find page somewhere in very small writing, or, even worse, there is no button and either they tell you that you have to email the company or you just end up guessing that's what you should do.
I understand the concept behind it. If it's not easy for people to delete their accounts then a) they can't do it accidentally and b) there's not the problem of people having "deletion remorse" and wishing to have their profile back once they've deleted it. But I think that some of the companies intentionally make it difficult in the hope that people will just give up and abandon their profile so that the website can still claim to have so many thousands of members. It probably also stops people who have hacked into other users accounts from being able to easily delete them.
I think I've mentioned before that I prefer to keep my digital life separate from my real life as well as keeping the unique aspects of my digital life independent of each other, mostly through the use of different digital identities. A large portion of my digital footprint does fall under the "yani/ism" banner, but my "dating" profiles fall under a different banner and none of it really relates back to the real me (there is some crossover between yani/ism and Real Me, but not a lot... and obviously I use photos of Real Me on the "dating" sites), at least as far as the use of names is concerned. For the most part I don't need to worry about people cyber stalking Real Me and finding things they shouldn't be able to see.
Real Me is pretty much non existent on the internet to be honest. I actually googled my real name recently, complete with quote marks, just to check out the results and was pleased to see that although there were about 6,130 results only one on the front page actually related to me (which was work related and which would go away if and when I leave The Nut House) and I think that there were maybe four entries all together that were about me (not including one that MAY be me, but if it is then it's one of those websites that I signed up for and promptly forgot about). And it's not like I have a name that's really all that common.
I like that... I like not being someone who can be googled.
So, like I was saying, I reduced my digital footprint... dropped a bunch of the "dating" sites, looked up details for other sites that I could cancel my account on. But I'm still looking at my list of websites, trying to decide what really can be removed as well as trying to remember what else I've left off the list.
In addition to this video from ABC TV show Hungry Beast which discusses Everlasting Digital Life (and I also think it planted a very early seed about this issue), I've also found a number of links relating to digital footprints and digital estates:
- Madeline Twomey: Cleaning my digital footprint
- What Does Your Digital Footprint Say About You?
- How to Permanently Delete a Facebook Account
- Twitter Help: How To Deactivate Your Account
- Mashable: 7 Resources for Handling Digital Life After Death
- Your Online Legacy: How to Control Your Digital Footprint