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Of the many types of digital footprints you leave behind, the worst are the ones that lead to unnecessary sharing or data. Before you even contemplate cleaning your digital footprint, first look into the clutter of digital personas that pepper your life with unnecessary alerts and information.

 

Step One: Organize Your Space 

According to a 2011 survey by Microsoft,“The average American has three different email accounts and an average of 200 unread messages per person. 60% of people surveyed said the amount of junk and low-priority email (such as newsletters and shopping promotions,) they receive is problematic, while 70 percent of respondents said they feel they are missing important messages amid all the clutter.”  (microsoft.com)

De-clutter your life by being strategic of what you use and letting go of things you no longer need. According to Lifehacker, one of the best ways to do this is to consolidate your email addresses into a single inbox. By letting go of the more vulnerable email providers, (Yahoo and Hotmail,) for more solid and secure email environments, (Gmail,)  you’ll be decreasing your risk of being hacked. In fact, Google announced at it’s annual conference that they now have over 425 active monthly email accounts. If that’s not enough, CreditKarma recently created an infographic on email providers and the debt of those who utilize the email services. Gmail users came in with the top scores, second only to Comcast. (How they mined this data, and whether users were notified is an entirely different post.)

Gmail, which launched in 2004, has evolved from a simple email service to the primary mode of communication for more than 425 million active users globally. We’ve also built a suite of apps to help users live in the cloud, including Google Documents, Spreadsheets, Calendar and more. (googleblog.blogspot.com)

The Pixelista has an incredible, step-by-step approach, (with visuals) to de-cluttering your Gmail inbox even further by establishing rules and labels. Make sure to check it out! 

Reclaiming your email is only one part of the de-cluttering process. Make sure to check to see if you have multiple social media accounts that can be deleted or condensed.

> Multiple Twitter Accounts? Here are easy instructions to remove a profile. Make sure to notify any followers that you are de-activating an account and the reason why.

> More than one LinkedIn Profile? BusinessInsider offers a few tips on deleting your profile easily. Always make sure you set your LinkedIn profile to an email address you’ll always maintain. If set to a work address and you leave your position, you may be unable to delete or log-in to that account.

> Need to get rid of a forgotten Facebook Account? That’s a little more tricky. Read here to find out how to navigate Facebook’s removal process. 

 

 

Step Two: Be Proactive Online 

Instead of worrying what may come up with your name or brand, put tools to work to mine search engine data for you. Being proactive can be the difference between finding out from a friend or on a job interview to knowing before you walk in the door.

> Know Your Search Engines: Most of the time, when people search for their digital dirt, they often forget to look at each search engine and instead, just “google” their name. Did you know that while Google is the most widely used search engine, others are just as powerful? Microsoft Bing is second in line, while Youtube comes in bronze and Twitter and Facebook’s search engines are a very close fourth. When I searched my name in Google, it finished my search for me and brought up multiple search strings, most of which involved, “cancer” and “privacy.” I speak openly about both, so this wasn’t a surprise.

> Utilize BrandYourself: One tool I’m a huge advocate for is, BrandYourself, which allows users to see unrecognized links that come up on the first page of their searches and help with name and brand SEO for FREE.

> Don’t Forget Social Media: BrandWatch combs through social data to allow you to actively listen to conversations with specified keywords. Plans start at $600/monthly, but you can utilize a trial and see if the tool is worth it to you. Likely, unless you’re the representative of a particular company or brand, it may be excessive. However, other tools can offer the same value. Look into SproutSocial, which starts at $39/per user, per month. SmallBizTrends has a great article on the top FREE tools as well, which don’t require anything more than a sign-up.

> Google Alerts, Your Search Engine Butler: Google Alerts offers a complimentary service most forget about. They mine data online to your keyword specifications and alert you daily, weekly or monthly of new results. I set results for GirlmeetsGeek, my employer and news about “cancer,” “education” and more.

> Establish Credibility By Being Credible: LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook can all come up higher in search engines if you have profiles. Consider differentiating yourself and your name by creating a positive digital presence to bury any potential negatives. Remember, according to Hubspot, 75% of people never go past the first page of search results

> Protect Your Work: Watermark your images, (even on social media.) Your profile images are easily stolen. How easily? By doing a quick Google Image Search, you can find ANYONE’s profile image, right click, “Save As” and claim as your own.  Utilize free watermark tools like, this one to prove the image is yours.

 

 

Step Three: Get The Sponge

After consolidating the accounts and bring proactive about results, digital dirt is still bound to happen. If your content is stolen or posted without your permission, you can issue a DMCA Takedown Request, basically telling the offending site that you know your photo or work is on the site and you’d like it removed.

{Important:} Before any search engine, (Google, Bing, Yahoo, etc.) will remove content, you MUST first get it removed from the original source. If content is stolen without your permission, you can issue a DMCA Takedown Request. For fun, (and if you have about 2 hours, search through Google’s fake DMCA takedown requests, that Google catalogs and offers stats about. Google reports it receives more fake requests, than real ones, so prepare to wait a few days before they get back to you with their results.)

 As I wrote about in July, Social Media DMCA requests are notoriously hard to find as I found out when someone once again, tried to steal my identity, (this time with hilarious results.) To save you the search, bookmark these:

Twitter DMCA Form: https://support.twitter.com/forms/dmca

Facebook DMCA Form: https://www.facebook.com/help/contact/?id=208282075858952

 

Before you worry about ANY content on a website, approach digital clean-up with a 3-step process:

 > Does It Really Matter? With an anonymous face, sometimes people can be both stupid and cruel. I often ask a good friend or trusted partner, “Is this as bad as it looks?” Often, I over-analyze what people are posting (or saying) and assume it’s going to spread like wildfire. I’ve learned to develop a much tougher skin. However, if someone posts something malicious that could sincerely hurt my reputation, I’ve never hesitated to contact a lawyer and ask for a cease and desist.

> What Can I Do About It? As mentioned above, after looking objectively at the site and what is written, if I still find that there are erroneous facts printed, I take action. If the items are a copyright infringement, I issue a DMCA Takedown Request. If they are malicious in nature, I try to reach out in a friendly manner before involving my lawyer. If what is printed is a complete error and I don’t suspect malicious intent, I always try to pick up the phone, (whenever possible) and call the other party. It’s happened a few times that people have mixed up my name with another individual who holds the same name. My mother has taught me, “you’ll get more bees with honey,” so I try to always keep a polite and friendly tone.

>Where Do I Go From Here? Common-sense thinking and proactive planning will offer you much more piece of mind in the digital world. Control your search results and online persona by utilizing my technology serenity saying,

“Tech Gods, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot un-clutter, the courage to let of of the digital accounts I can, and the wisdom to know the difference…”

 

Step Four: Lock The Doors

 Beat most everyday security risks and potential vulnerabilities by utilizing safe data practices.  I advocate three truths to keep  safe on the internet:

> Always have a secure password: A secure password has multiple variables, which simply stated means, it’s harder to hack. Most people make passwords that are easy for them to remember, thus being easier to figure out. Here’s two examples of passwords:

Bad: Dog123 – This one looks more good, right? I has 6 characters and utilizes numbers and letters. This password would be VERY easy to find by a hacker.

Better: d()G1!2!3! – is a little more secure. You’ll see I incorproated other “variables” or uppercase letters, symbols, and lowercase letters to make it harder to guess and harder for the software that hackers use to determine the password quickly. Remember, hackers want it fast and cheap. If your password takes too long to hack, they have millions of people they can try next.

Pro tip: Take a sign from my good friends over at TEN7 and utilize cloud-based password protection. Passpack offers FREE, online password storage. Instead of carrying a notebook with you, or storing passwords on your computer, itself- consider storing information encrypted with the protection of the cloud.

> Only visit sites you know and trust: Vet websites carefully and never, ever provide a credit card number unless it’s from a site you know and trust. Always check the top address bar to make the the site matches exactly where you are supposed to be. Websites are often linked to us in email or social media by using shortened url codes. For instance, do you know where http://bit.ly/HappyFourthOfJuly goes? Before you click on ANY shortened url, especially if it’s from someone you don’t know or trust personally, make sure you know the risk before the click.

Pro tip: You can visit LongURL, (www.longurl.org) to find out where ANY short url leads to. I didn’t steer you wrong, look where my bit.ly link leads…

> Keep your anti-virus up to date and run scans often. You control the health of your computer and devices. Did you know that your phone can be infected with a virus or malware? Any type of phone, Android, Iphone, Blackberry, can succumb to an attack or a bad link. (Here’s a great link on cell phone viruses and how they work.) Find an anti-virus program that works for you and that is trusted not only by professional reviews, but by peer reviews as well. PCMag recently reviewed anti-virus software and offer a handy comparison chart.

Pro tip: There are experts for a reason. Utilize a professional or company you trust to keep your computer virus-free and stay up to date on new security risks by visiting these links:

http://news.cnet.com/security/

http://nakedsecurity.sophos.com/

http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/electronics-computers/resource-center/cyber-insecurity/cyber-insecurity-hub.htm

 

 

Step 5: Breathe 

Being human comes one certain truth, mistakes will be made and errors will happen. Plain and simple. Give yourself enough credit to know that you can handle anything by taking a step back, thinking critically and asking for help, when needed.