Reducing Your Digital Footprint

Last time, I wrote about planning for your digital afterlife.  Now I’d like to share what I experienced when I decided to reduce my digital footprint by closing some of the hundreds of on-line accounts that I’ve set up over the years.

I much prefer shopping on-line to shopping in person.  In the time it takes me just to travel to a store, I could already have located on-line the exact item I want and purchased it.  As a result, I have a lot of on-line accounts.  Luckily I have a good method of capturing logon ids and passwords, which saves me time and frustration if I go back to the same site again.

After I attended the talk entitled “Creating a Will for your Virtual Life” at the NAPO Conference earlier this year, I gave some thought to my hundreds of on-line accounts.  I started to wonder what would happen to these accounts after I die.  Unused accounts are a great target for hacking and identity theft.  Would my family contact each web site and let them know to cancel my account?  Not very likely.

So I decided to start canceling the accounts I was unlikely to use again.  I had over 300 accounts listed in my password spreadsheet.   When I went through and highlighted the ones that I no longer needed, I discovered 56 accounts that could be eliminated – that’s almost 20% of my total.

I began the painstaking effort of logging on to each one of these accounts to cancel them.  In some cases, I found that the account had already disappeared due to lack of use.  (Sometimes the entire web site had disappeared.)  In other cases, deleting an account was one of the account maintenance options, although it wasn’t always easy to find.  For quite a few sites, I had to e-mail or call Customer Service and request that my account be deleted.

This was very time-consuming, and I had to stay very organized to keep track of which ones I had already contacted.  When all was said and done, I had eliminated 50 accounts.  Three additional accounts are in limbo because Customer Service never responded to my e-mail to cancel them.

Three on-line vendors belong in the Hall of Shame because they do not provide a way to delete your account.  These three are Brookstone, Discount Dance Supply, and  All three Customer Service reps told me that when I pass away, my family would have to contact them and let them know in order to delete my account.

When I was done with this exercise, I made some improvements to my password spreadsheet to make it easier to maintain.  I added a Category column, which enables me to filter the list.  For example, I can filter by the category Travel, and see a list of all of my family’s ids and passwords for airline and car rental accounts.  Other categories include Bills, Charity, Computer, Financial, Retail, and Social Media.  This will enable me to more easily identify outdated accounts that should be eliminated in the future.  It will also help my family to know which accounts are important in case I’m not here to tell them.

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