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KEVIN SPROUL: Controlling your digital footprint

SHERIFF'S COLUMN: Nearly nine out of 10 Americans are active online

Kevin Sproul

Kevin Sproul

I read an interesting fact the other day: 87 percent of Americans are active online. I’m not surprised, considering all the people I know who spend time on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Amazon. In addition to that, most of us use email, take classes, pay our bills and do other daily functions via the Internet. Just think of how many online accounts you have created, each one probably requiring that you created a profile using personal, identifying information.

Online hacking is big business. There are many nefarious characters out there that spend their time trying to hack online accounts to obtain personal information that they can then misuse or sell. Sometimes it doesn’t even take a hacker, as the web company may sell the information themselves. In many cases, the sale of personal information is an important part of the company’s business model.

If you’re like me, this vulnerability tempts me to completely delete my entire online presence. In reality, that is virtually impossible in the 21st century. Online accounts are required for many of the things we do; it’s our lifestyle. The best way to protect yourself from unwanted access to your profile information is to reduce the number of accounts to a bare minimum.

Try creating a list of all of your online accounts. This can be quite a task, as most of us have many, many more accounts than we probably think. List all of your email accounts, social media accounts (don’t forget your old MySpace account), add in all of your accounts for services such as TV cable, electric power, cellphone, etc. Add your online banking and credit card accounts. Go through your phone and list any accounts you had to open for apps that you have. Include any game site accounts, coupon site accounts and anything else you can think of. When your list is complete, determine which accounts you don’t use anymore and delete them.

The irony is that the sites that don’t sell your data let you delete your account without much hassle. The companies that rely on your data for revenue make it almost impossible (in some cases, actually impossible) to delete your account. The buzz word for them is “deactivate,” which renders your account unusable, but the company retains all of the data. For help navigating the difficult waters of deleting online accounts, you can go to JustDelete.me on the Internet, where you can find direct links to the cancellation pages of numerous Internet sites. You can also access lists of sites that have user accounts, which may jog your memory when making your list.

It is important to note the words of Jacqui Taylor, CEO of web science company Flying Binary: “Your digital footprint is not under your control.” You can, however, exercise some control over just how large a footprint you leave out there. Pruning your inactive accounts is a great way to start.

If you have any questions about this, or any other issue that you think we may be able to assist you with, please feel free to contact my office at (229) 431-3259.

Sheriff Kevin Sproul is a longtime resident of Dougherty County. He is a graduate of Albany High School, Darton College and LaGrange College of Albany. Sproul has been employed with the Dougherty County Sheriff’s Office since 1982.