If you’ve spent any amount of time online, you’ll no doubt have created multiple digital online accounts. Consolidating your ‘cyberself’ – your digital footprint – is a good thing. But where do you begin? In the first part of this series, our writer took on this challenge. In this second part, he starts trying to figure out the extent of his cyberself…
The problem: How do I find all the little digital me’s out there?!
If you’re like most people you probably have replicated yourself across many online platforms over the years. This was especially prevalent before we all realized the dangers of allowing so much personal information to be out on the internet.
Each time you downloaded an app or registered for a new website you likely created a brand new online account. In some instances, you may have even done this by installing add-ons to your social media accounts or through your email and web browser-related profiles.
So how do you even start to understand the extent of your cyberself, especially as your cyberself very likely spans across multiple independent platforms? The easiest way to start finding all the little digital you’s out there is by considering how you interact with your cyberself in the first place.
Interacting with your cyberself
Most people use a limited number of devices which either leverage web browsers and/or installed applications to interact with their online accounts.
On top of that, it is very likely that you will use email accounts or social logins (e.g. when you “Sign-in with Facebook) to create profiles on whatever sites, services, apps, etc. you may have signed up for over the years.
Begin by thinking through which devices you use to interact with your cyberself. Do you use your phone? Your personal laptop? Your work laptop?
Next, think through how you are accessing your cyberself through those devices. Do you use your device’s primary web browser? Independent apps?
Finally, think about how you authenticate yourself (e.g. passwords). Do you use a browser or phone operating system or third party password vault to save passwords? Or are you the ambitious one who tries to remember the usernames and passwords for each online account?
Hopefully, through this visualization, you can start to conceptualize your cyberself and identify some repositories (e.g., your list of installed apps) from where you can begin to compile a list of all your accounts.
Tips and tricks for finding your digital online accounts
Now you are ready to start finding all of your digital profiles and accounts. Find a tool that works best for you to keep track of them – perhaps a spreadsheet or a regular piece of paper. That’s up to you.
Consider some of the following approaches to help identify your accounts:
1. Look at your installed/purchased applications
Take a stroll through your smartphone and start to think about just how many of the apps installed you are actually using.
It’s likely that each installed app has some form of an account tied to it which could potentially pose a risk to you even if you do not actively use the app. Even some of the apps you have uninstalled may still have accounts lingering out in cyberspace.
Try looking at the purchased/installed application through your phone’s application store.
It was actually somewhat amusing to scroll back in time looking at all the apps I have previously installed…like my first app ever installed back in 2008 – AOL Instant Messenger Chat. The associated account was a username my teenage self found rather amusing but my current self will rather not share with you.
2. Check your password vaults
You probably leverage a password vault and you don’t even know it. These useful security tools are a great way to identify accounts you’ve created over time.
Most browsers or phone operating systems support “saving passwords” and likely have some great functionality to help you create strong passwords that you won’t even need to remember due to their auto-fill capability.
Some providers even provide monitoring capabilities to identify if an account and password may have been compromised. I found this feature very useful later on when I began actually changing my passwords.
3. Review plugins/add-ons to your primary accounts
You may have added plug-ins to your email, social media, web browsers, etc. Plug-ins provide additional functionality and are usually developed by third parties.
It is likely that there are online accounts with other minor platforms that are tied directly to your social media profile(s). Remember when everyone loved playing games on Facebook and gave access to every game or quiz that popped up on that platform?
Many of us love a good browser plug-in that made a task easier once upon a time? You may not use the plug-in anymore but, it may secretly still be learning everything about you. Add them to your list too!
4. Search your email
This is by far the least efficient and probably stressful if you have poor email hygiene.
If you have some time on your hands, you can search for your common usernames or even phrases like “log in”, “username”, etc. to identify any one-off accounts that may not already be in one of your current password vaults.
It is almost better to treat your email accounts as a separate beast with the focus on reducing the number of email accounts you use and practising ongoing email hygiene.
Check out our article on the subject of email security here for more information.
So, what do you do with all the digital online accounts you’ve found?
By now, if you’ve completed steps 1 to 4 above, you’re probably realizing just how many accounts/profiles you have out there.
Don’t freak out and give up just yet if you are overwhelmed by the potentially outrageous size of your cyberself!
In Part 3, we will discuss some techniques soon to help prioritize and manage your (very likely) extensive online digital presence.
Missed Part 1 of this series? Read: My Journey to a Consolidated Cyberself