I’m not going to go into great detail about securing your accounts, locking down Facebook or setting up two factor authentication. I’m sure you’ve all read articles of that nature already and decided how much effort you wanted to exert. Instead, I’m going to discuss a much broader aspect of your online presence.
I have around 200 online accounts. It seems as though every site you visit wants you to create a login. The reasons for this are obvious when you’re talking about social networks like Facebook, Google+ or Twitter, and when you’re using sites that deal with transactions, such as eBay, Amazon or even ordering pizza from a fast food chain. Yet, almost every site wants you to log in. By allowing you to create a profile they’re hoping you’ll feel more at home and visit more often. Of course, this also means they can track you. They’ll know how often you visit and for how long. They can generate money from advertising revenues, if that’s how they finance their site and if the sell products themselves, they’ll attempt to interest you more by offering you exclusive deals and more advertisements. Very little in this world is free, after all.
Manage Your Accounts
Of course, the more accounts you have, the harder it is to keep track of your own online activity and the more dangerous it may possibly become. That’s why it’s important to share as little as possible. You need to do more than that, though. You need to know where you are, if you want to maintain full accountability. Programs like LastPass and KeePass help you do this, but only if you’re diligent in maintaining them.
Make A List
200 online accounts may seem like a lot, but I’ve been online since 1997 and I work in the IT field. For 10 years I worked and managed in Technical Support. I now currently work as a Security Analyst for one of Canada’s top IT firms. So, the number isn’t that outrageous. You need to ask yourself, how many online accounts do you have? Do you even know? Let’s look at some of the places where you have identities that you may or may not even remember.
- Do you own an Android or iPhone device? You likely have an account with the manufacturer.
- Social network profiles go beyond Facebook, Twitter and Google+. Don’t forget sites like Pinterest, Reddit and Digg.
- How many e-mail accounts do you have? Do you even remember them all? Have you fogotten about some, such as Hotmail, GMail, AOL or Yahoo! Mail? What about your ISP? Did they provide you with e-mail accounts?
- Have you ever signed up for online storage such as DropBox?
- Do you store your bookmarks and favourites online, using features like your browser’s synchronization utility or after market products like XMarks? (Yes, they’re still around.)
- Do you use NewGroups? How many UseNet groups and private search engines do you use that have accounts?
- Do you subscribe to any private Torrent sites?
- Are you part of shopping sites like Kijiji, eBay, Amazon, PayPal or online stores of any sort?
- Do you have web access through your bank or postal service?
- Do you order take out through websites?
- Everyone plays games online. Are any of them through a service other than Facebook? Do you have XBox, PlayStation or Steam accounts or services with specific developers such as EA Games?
- What about chat services? Of course, MSN is gone, but what about gaming chat services like XFire, or sites like Skype or PalTalk? (Yes, they’re still around, too.)
- Photo sites like Flickr, Picasa and Snapfish store your photos. Did you sign up for any when you bought a digital camera?
- There are music sites like Last.FM, Pandora, Soundclick and Soundcloud.
- Do you have video access through Hulu, YouTube and others?
- You might have access to sites like IMDB or TV.com.
- Do you belong to any other groups like a local sports club or an online religious group?
- How many websites do you own and if so, where are they?
These should cover the majority of the types of accounts you may have, but I’m sure there are others. After more than 15 years online, you can see why I have so many accounts. Not only do I have a lot of personal accounts for nearly all of these reasons, but as a computer hobbyist, I’ve reviewed a lot of services through the years. Not every account that I’ve signed up for I use frequently, but I know what I have and where they all reside. At least, I hope I do.
Everyone should take an account of their online presence, at least once a year. When you do, update your passwords, make sure accounts are pointing towards a current e-mail address. Make sure you’re not sharing more than you want. Remove things from your profile that tell too much and remove old e-mail accounts, if you no longer have access to them.
Another step you can take is to consolidate your accounts. As you can see from my Blog, I keep track of my social profiles on the main page of my blog and my other blogs at the bottom. On my about page I have links to my other social profiles. This not only allows me to let others find me online, if we share common interests, but gives me a way to keep track of them.
Considering the fact that I just warned you about sharing too much of yourself online, this might seem like an odd choice. However, I know what details each of these accounts contain and how their respective privacy settings are configured. I also don’t use my real name online. The end result being that I know exactly what I have and haven’t shared, providing of course, the respective services don’t break and share more details than they should. Even if they do though, I keep very little personal information on any of the services, so I’m not overly concerned about what if anything, could be leaked.
How can you accomplish the same thing? Since not everyone is comfortable coding HTML or sharing the same information on their blogs, this might not be an option. In that case, you can use services like About.me. Most people use their About.me page to present an online business card of sorts, much like a LinkedIn profile. You can however, have more than one page. You could setup one for that purpose and another to keep track of all your social profiles, like I have.
Similar services exist like FriendFeed that allow you to consolidate RSS feeds from all of the sites that support that functionality.
One of my favourites is Know’Em. The drawbacks to this service though, is that it only allows you to keep track of accounts that all use the same name and you cannot add services that do not already exist in its list of services. As such, that may not work for most people. If nothing else though, Know’Em should provide you with one of the most comprehensive lists of possible locations for you to find and remember your online accounts.
Plan For The Future
Finally, services like Google now have options to deal with your account, should the inevitable happen, allowing you to decide how to close your accounts when you die. Find out if any of your other accounts have these options and take advantage of them, if they’re available.
For the services where this is not an option, have a plan. If you want to close your accounts, write it in your will. Choose a friend or family member to notify and close any accounts about which you are concerned. This is never something people really want to think about, but they should. There are also online services that will take care of this for you. I won’t duplicate their effort here, but Techilicious covered this topic, already.
Now that we’ve covered all these options you need to ask yourself, have you done enough? Do you know what you share and where everything is? I hope you do, but if not, this guide should provide you a starting point.