Managing Your “Online Footprint”December 8, 2007
Yesterday I was poking around the net using Internet Explorer instead of my usual Mozilla Firefox. To my surprise an ancient photo of my friends and a few links showed up as the homepage. It was a site I had designed while in high school, used as a blog for awhile, and eventually forgotten about over the years. Today I systematically deleted the files from this site and closed my account with the free hosting service.
I consider moves like this to be important to managing my “Online Footprint”. In the same sense that we have a carbon footprint which shows our impact on the atmosphere, we each have an online footprint that represents the extent of our presence on the internet. Unlike a carbon footprint, a large online footprint isn’t necessarily a bad thing; often it is a sign of popularity, prestige, and influence in the online community.
However, our footprints should only be as large as our feet. Unused websites, forgotten flickr accounts, inactive blogs and the like are the refuse from our lives as internet nomads. My old sites contained photos, contact information, and personal writings that I was no longer monitoring but were still accessible by everyone. If I hadn’t come across them by accident they would have stayed put forever or until someone at the free hosting service realized they hadn’t been updated in years. Not only could such information come back to bite us, (Election 2036: Candidates’ old Facebook accounts revealed!) but it sits wasting storage space and possibly even electricity. I tried to find data on the percentage of internet sites that are inactive, and how much energy this wastes, but was unable to find anything. If you know, please enlighten us!
To get a harness on your online footprint, first make a list of all the sites you currently have an account with, including social networking websites, photo storage servers, shopping logins, and blogs. In my short life I’ve held accounts with dozens of sites, many of which I only used for a short time. Delete the ones you haven’t used in the past 3 months- you can always create a new account if you find you need it later. It’s probably a good idea to delete all the information yourself before closing as each site has a different policy on how they handle closed accounts. Then visit the rest of the sites on your list. Examine what personal information is made available and adjust the security controls or delete until you’re comfortable with what can be accessed.
This activity may not be directly “green”, but it cultivates a habit of picking up after oneself. Your mother would be proud of you. 🙂