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Across any number of applications, computers, and accounts, we live our digital lives. A breadcrumb connects back to you from each one of those. The more breadcrumbs you have out in the world, the easier it is for ads or identity fraudsters to track your activity.
It helps a lot if you download a password manager and allowing two-factor authentication. But you can further avoid some funny business by spending 30 minutes once a year closing accounts and removing what you don’t need, paving the way not just for enhanced privacy but also better device performance.
I call this digital decluttering and, as the first week of the year is as good a time as any to put aside the time for this increasingly important task, here’s a look at my tips for a digital declutter that will improve your digital – and your real – life.
Delete the Accounts You Don’t Use
Think of every online account you have as a window in your house—the more windows you have, the easier it is for someone to see what’s inside.
Spend time going through all the old online accounts you used once and then forgot about; then delete them. Doing this will cut down on opportunities for that data to leak into the world. It also tends to have the nice side effect of getting rid of s lot of ongoing email clutter.
Delete Phone Apps You Don’t Use
Every few months, it’s best to spend a few minutes eliminating phone applications that you don’t use. You download all kinds of apps if you’re anything like me, either to test out new services or because some store makes you download something that you’ll use once and probably forget about. An app may be a black data hole, trigger privacy issues, or serve as a security issue vector. Not to mention eat up your phone’s storage space.
Make sure to first uninstall any associated account you might have created alongside it before you delete an app. Once that’s done, uninstall the app
While you’re at it, it’s a good idea to send a privacy audit to the remaining apps to make sure they don’t have permits they don’t need.
Audit Third Party Access Permissions
If you use a social media account to log in to a service, you access social media accounts through third-party apps (like Tweetbot), or you use a third-party app to access data like calendars or email, it’s worth periodically checking those accounts to remove anything you don’t need anymore. This way, some random app won’t slurp data from an account after you’ve stopped using it.
All the major tech companies offer tools to see which apps you’ve granted access to your account. Go through and revoke access to apps and services you no longer use:
- Click the dropdown arrow in the top right, then select Settings and Privacy > Settings > Apps and Websites. This includes apps you’ve granted access to Facebook, and apps you use your Facebook account to log in to.
- Go through and remove anything here you don’t recognize or no longer need.
- Log in to your Google account, and then head to the Security page (or click your profile picture > Manage Your Google Account > Security).
- Click on Manage Third-Party Access, and then remove access to any apps you do not use.
- On this page, you can also see any third-party services you’ve used your Google account to sign in to. Click any old services you no longer need, and then Remove Access.
- Log in to your Apple ID and head to the manage page.
- Under the Security tab, click Edit. Look for App-Specific Passwords, and then click View History.
- Click the X icon next to anything you no longer use.
- Then scroll down to Sign in With Apple, click Manage Apps & Websites, and revoke access to any apps you don’t need anymore.
Delete Old Software From Your Computer(s)
If the manufacturer no longer supports it, or you do not run software updates as often as you should, outdated software is also full of security holes (you really should enable automatic updates). And should be deleted during your digital declutter.
If updates also bother you, getting rid of software you no longer need will help the whole process of using your device run more smoothly in general. Just be sure to save any activation keys or serial numbers before you do this, just in case you need to access the software later on.
Delete Browser Extensions You Don’t Use
No matter which browser you use – although a full 70% pf people use Google Chrome these days – browser extensions can be very helpful. They can also slow things down considerably, and are often security risks to boot.
Take the time during this formal digital declutter to remove all the browser extensions you don’t use, and you’ll find that your Internet browsing experience speeds up immediately, especially if you use Google Chrome.
Remove Your Data From Shady People Finder Sites
You’ve undoubtedly come across a website that lists things like your address, phone number, or even criminal records if you’ve ever searched for your own name online. Data brokers, firms that search through public records and other sources to create a profile of individuals are accumulating this information and you may not realize it’s out there.
You can delete yourself from those websites as a part of your digital declutter, but the first time you do it, it can take a few hours of work to do so. Check out a list of directions for each of these sites on this GitHub page. Focus on the ones with skull icons next to them if you’re short on time, or patience, like PeekYou, Intelius, and PeopleFinder.
Recycle (or Donate) Old Gadgets and Devices
If you have electronics you no longer use – old tablets smartphones, smart speakers, cameras, hard drives, etc – end your digital declutter by making plans to get them out of your home responsibly. Factory-reset them (or wipe the storage drive if it’s a laptop), uninstall any relevant accounts, and then find a place to recycle or donate them.
Older computers, laptops, and phones always have more life in them, and someone who can use them is always there. Sites such as the National Cristina Foundation will help you locally find a place to donate, and the World Computer Exchange donates internationally.
If, like an old smart speaker, you can’t donate it to a standard recycling site, most Best Buys have a drop box for recycling old electronics. And anything that’s still goos but you don’t use – like that Alexa Echo now that you have upgraded to the visually based Alexa Show for example- may earn you a few extra dollars for the New Year if sold on eBay or the Facebook Marketplace.
The New Year is always a great time to declutter and organize all kinds of aspects of your home and life. If you need help with any aspect of home organization, life organization or a combination of the two, don’t hesitate to get in touch with the Just Organized by Taya team.