Eras­ing old foot­prints on­line can be worth it

The Detroit News - - Business - BY BARBARA ORTUTAY Associated Press

New York – The in­ter­net is rid­dled with long-for­got­ten ac­counts on so­cial me­dia, dat­ing apps and var­i­ous shop­ping sites used once or twice. Sure, you should delete all those un­used lo­gins and pass­words. And eat your veg­eta­bles. And go to the gym.

But is it even pos­si­ble to delete your zom­bie on­line foot­prints – or worth your time to do so?

Ear­lier this month, a lit­tleused so­cial net­work no­ti­fied its few users that it will soon shut down. No, not Google Plus; that came five days later, fol­low­ing the dis­clo­sure of a bug that ex­posed data on a half-mil­lion peo­ple. The ear­lier shut­down in­volved Path, cre­ated by a for­mer Face­book em­ployee in 2010 as an al­ter­na­tive to Face­book. Then there’s Ello send­ing you monthly emails to re­mind you that this plucky but lit­tle-known so­cial net­work still ex­ists some­how.

It might not seem like a big deal to have these ac­counts linger. But with hack­ing in the news con­stantly, in­clud­ing a breach af­fect­ing 50 mil­lion Face­book ac­counts, you might not want all that data sit­ting around.

You might not have a choice if it’s a ser­vice you use reg­u­larly. But for those you no longer use, con­sider a purge. Plus, it might feel good to get your on­line life in or­der, the way or­ga­niz­ing a closet does.

Take dat­ing apps such as Tin­der, long af­ter you found a steady part­ner or gave up on find­ing one. You might have deleted Tin­der from your phone, but the ghost of your Tin­der ac­count is still out there – just not get­ting any matches, as Tin­der shows only “ac­tive” users to po­ten­tial mates.

Or con­sider Ya­hoo. Long af­ter many peo­ple stopped us­ing it, Ya­hoo in 2016 suf­fered the big­gest pub­licly dis­closed hack in his­tory, ex­pos­ing the names, email ad­dresses, birth dates and other in­for­ma­tion from 3 bil­lion ac­tive and dor­mant ac­counts . This sort of in­for­ma­tion is a gold­mine for ma­li­cious ac­tors look­ing to steal iden­ti­ties and gain ac­cess to fi­nan­cial ac­counts.

Trou­ble is, clean­ing up your dig­i­tal past isn’t easy.

For one, find­ing all the old ac­counts can be a pain. For some of us, it might not even be pos­si­ble to re­call ev­ery dat­ing site and ev­ery would-be Twit­ter that never was, not to men­tion shop­ping or event tick­et­ing sites you bought one thing from and for­got about.

Then, you’ll have to fig­ure out which of your many email ac­counts you used to log in to a ser­vice, then re­cover pass­words and an­swer an­noy­ing se­cu­rity ques­tions – as­sum­ing you even re­mem­ber what your fa­vorite movie or fruit was at the time. Only then might you dis­cover that you can’t even delete your ac­count. Ya­hoo, for in­stance, didn’t al­low users to delete ac­counts or change per­son­ally iden­ti­fy­ing in­for­ma­tion they shared, such as their birthday, un­til pres­sured to do so af­ter the breach.

Even with­out these hur­dles, real life gets in the way. There are prob­a­bly good rea­sons you still haven’t or­ga­nized your closet, ei­ther.

Per­haps a bet­ter ap­proach is to fo­cus on the most sen­si­tive ac­counts. It might not mat­ter than a news site still has your log in, if you never gave it a credit card or other per­sonal de­tails (of course, if you reused your bank pass­word you might be at risk).

Rich Mogull, CEO of data se­cu­rity firm Se­curo­sis, said peo­ple should think about what in­for­ma­tion they had pro­vided to ser­vices they no longer use and whether that in­for­ma­tion could be dam­ag­ing should pri­vate posts and mes­sages in­ad­ver­tently be­come pub­lic.

Dat­ing sites, in par­tic­u­lar, can be a trove of po­ten­tially dam­ag­ing in­for­ma­tion. Once you’re in a re­la­tion­ship, delete those ac­counts. It’s wise to set aside a time each year – maybe af­ter you do your taxes or right af­ter the hol­i­days – to man­age old ac­counts, said Theresa Pay­ton, who runs the se­cu­rity con­sult­ing com­pany For­tal­ice Solutions and served un­der Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush as White House chief in­for­ma­tion of­fi­cer.

For starters, visit haveibeen­ This pop­u­lar tool lets you en­ter your email ad­dresses and check if it has been com­pro­mised in a data breach. Ide­ally, the at­tacked com­pany should have no­ti­fied you al­ready, but that’s not guar­an­teed. Change pass­words and close ac­counts you don’t need.

You might also check just­deleteme.xyx, which Pay­ton said could help nav­i­gate the “com­plex­i­ties of say­ing good­bye.” The site has a list of com­mon and ob­scure ser­vices. Look­ing through it might re­mind you of some of the ser­vices you’ve used back in the days. Click on a ser­vice for de­tails on how to delete your ac­count.

You might dis­cover that some ser­vices sim­ply won’t let you go. That could be an over­sight from a startup pri­or­i­tiz­ing other fea­tures over a dele­tion tool. Or, it could be in­ten­tional to keep users com­ing back.

There’s not much you can do be­yond delet­ing as many posts, pho­tos and other per­sonal data as you can.

What to do with ac­counts of peo­ple who have died is a whole other story . That said, the prospect of the Grim Reaper – and what sorts of in­for­ma­tion about you may be ex­posed af­ter you shed this mor­tal coil – might just be the mo­ti­va­tion you need to clean up your on­line trail.

Jeff Chiu / AP

Delet­ing old ac­counts can be eas­ier said than done.

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