04 August 2021

Scrubbing the Digital Footprint

This is no easy feat - to clean up one's presence on the internet. There are all kinds of sites to scour, searches to perform, fakes to report, and data to request for deletion. Not to mention, somewhere there is a whole lot of information from the early-net-days that has been backed up onto some obscure Syquest drives or even on floppies (AUGH!) hidden in drawers and storage facilities. Oh, and let's not forget the awesomeness of the Internet Archive (lovingly called the Wayback Machine) which has been scraping the bowels of the internet since 1996! Yes, somewhere, even those AOL chat transcripts from that 'private room' could be somewhere where someone can find it. Queue panic now.

I find it somewhat hysterical that people believe their data is "private" and "secure" on encrypted servers. Believe me, someone knows how to get at that data. Be it a sysad or some haxxor, someone other than yourself has access, privilege, and ability to get into the 1s and 0s that make up your internet identity. It can get scary when you really think about it, but it is a fact of life in the Digital Age. 

I've come to accept this fact, even if I am not completely happy about it. I've decided to learn as much as I can (a decision made around the turn of the century) about the web, how to navigate it, and how to create within its infrastructure. From simple hosted blogs (like this site) to full-blown server customizations (8-tomcats serving from a single box), I believe I know enough to find a level of comfort in what I do, how I do it, and where I spend my digital currencies (meaning time, creativity, emotion, and money). Budgeting, planning, and even delegating my electronic involvements is becoming second nature, which involves a large bit of cleaning up.

Here is a short checklist of things I do to look over my overall web presence. It is a bit of a scattered list, but one I suggest anyone who has the gumption to do. Everything on here is free - for I am a broke-college-student living on charity and grants right now, so really anyone can do this. The list will be revisited at some time, for tech, by its very nature, is -always-changing-. Doing a digital-cleanup once every year or so is actually a good way to start. I tend to do these things once a month. No, I'm not paranoid; my presence is important for it is how the world sees me - and I am in marketing after all.

Digital Cleanup Checklist


  • Email - double check all of your email services. It is a good practice to rummage through them and to actually empty the SPAM folder at least once a month on your own - marketers do and can track if you actually opened an email, or if it went straight to SPAM or some other filtered folder. 
    • Microsoft and Hotmail; might be separate accounts, depends on age
    • Gmail; Google
    • Yahoo
    • AOL
    • Proton
    • Zoho
    • Yandex
    • iCloud; AppleApple
    • Thunderbird and Outlook are email applications, not services
  • Social Media Profiles - go through your friends/buddy/subscription lists - often. If you haven't engaged with the social network (even just for a 'Like') maybe its time to delete it? Here's a short-list of social media service sites (from simple chatting to video and gaming). Do note, this is a fast-changing medium and this is not a comprehensive list (even of sites I am on).
    • Facebook
    • Twitter
    • YouTube
    • Google
    • Pinterest
    • Yelp
    • Whatsap
    • Instagram
    • TikTok
    • Twitch
  • Dating Profiles - just about everyone has visited a dating site at one time or another, so it is best to check them even if your status has changed, especially if you met your SO via a site. People tend to cast a "wide net" by creating profiles on multiple dating sites. If you have no more use for these profiles, scrub them and request deletion.
    • eHarmony
    • PlentyOfFish
    • OKCupid
    • Tinder
    • Hookup
    • FuBar (previously CherryTap)
    • League
    • Match
    • Hinge
    • Bumble
    • Facebook Dating subsite (it is possible to scrub the dating profile - it is separate from your personal profile)
  • Professional Sites - associations as well as job sites and boards wherein you created accounts. This is crucial, for this is the kind of information someone will hunt for if they want to steal your identity. By researching your resume, scammers can figure out where you've lived, for how long, and more. If you are an active job hunter, is best to keep your hunting limited to one or two trusted job sites. Professional association sites (sometimes called 'pro-social-sites') should be regularly engaged with. If not, consider downloading your data and requesting account deletion.
    • LinkedIn
    • Monster
    • InDeed
    • City/County/State/Federal job websites (which should require recent information or they lock your account)
    • Regional job boards
    • Employment Agencies
    • Professional Associations (AIGA, AMA, ADA, etc.)
  • BBS and Forum Sites - not really social media, but social centers where people post and respond - sometimes in real-time, most times not. This could be that regional website you created an account on while researching a new neighborhood and you posted a question on their board... or even a "how to" website where you asked a question of associated professionals. These websites are the precursors to full "social media" today. Most times these are rather focused websites on specific topics, like cars, crafts, DIY, baking, etc. Any website you had to create an account for to post on falls herein and should be checked over. If you haven't visited in several months since you made your first post, maybe its time to delete your account. Here are some examples that fall into this category.
    • CraigsList
    • Reddit
    • Annie's
    • Mahalo
    • Gaming sites
    • Crafting sites
    • DIY sites
  • E-commerce Sites - if you buy ANYTHING on the web where you input your CC data, you are participating in e-commerce. From banking to investing, saving to spending, managing your credit to crying over it as you look at your scores via another loan denial email (hu?), you are participating in e-commerce. Your money matters and the matter of your money is why we are going through this list!
    • PayPal
    • Ebay
    • Amazon
    • Etsy
    • Alibaba
    • Your Bank and Credit Union (any and every one of them)
    • CreditKarma (or any other credit management website)
    • the IRS.gov (ugh)
  • Web Services Accounts - this category is for the "all-encompassing" web accounts, like web hosting, blogging, and e-commerce. This is a constantly growing and changing category, so may cross over into others (like email).
    • Google (Gmail, Calendar, Blogger, Maps, Docs, hosting, Android stuff, etc.) 
    • Amazon (Shopping, Alexa, Kindle, Video, TV, SmartHome, etc.)
    • Apple (iPhone, Computers, iTunes, iCloud, communications and data storage)
    • GoDaddy (domain name services, website, and email hosting, file storage, database storage, etc.)
    • Rackspace (server farms, the hardware behind the software)

Web Browser History & Bookmarks

If you are reading this blog, be it on your phone, tablet, laptop, or desktop - you have browser history you should check over. Especially your smartphone, which will run sluggishly if you do not clear out history! 
  • Check settings, adjust "clear time" if able. My history clears every time I quit my browser.
  • If you do not clear your history, sometimes your browser will pull the old website from its cache (the history) and you will not see the most recent version of that site. In today's constantly changing world of blogs and new content, this may not be much of a problem.
  • Delete bookmarks you don't need/visit anymore. Really, 2,894 bookmarks are too much!

Look at People Searches

Find a reputable site, and search your own name as well as common misspellings of your name. You may be shocked at what you find. It took me years, but I finally got rid of stuff that isn't me -and yes it took years - for I've never been to South Africa.

Caveat Emptor: 

Although I have held IT and development positions while tinkering with and ripping apart the internet since 1993, I am not a Web Security Expert. Feel free to pay for services from such people. I personally trust Norton/Symantec (aka LifeLock) and have used their services since the early days - and will gain when I have the money to spend. McAfee is alright, but I've had issues with them. Kaspersky is also pretty good.