How big is your digital footprint?
I recently went through the onerous process of changing jobs, during which I ended up moving my primary email contact to a different email address. I also reset a number of passwords in order to simplify my life while also trying to thwart the ever-present threat of digital hackers. What I uncovered was just how difficult this process was, given the fact that I’d been using my previous email and set of passwords for more than six years. I can honestly say my digital footprint wouldn’t fit in Shaq’s size 22 shoes!
My biggest surprise was how difficult it was to keep track of all the places I was consolidating. So I made a list and I realized I had approximately 67 different logins to sites I accessed on a regular basis. These included seven different email addresses and a combination of 12 different passwords. You need not be a math genius to understand the permutations that were available while I tried to remember what all of these login and password combinations were, since many of them were auto-saved in my browser. Just to make things that much more difficult, I also changed my primary Web browser to Google Chrome, so anything that was saved was useless.
During this process I came to realize just how massive a digital footprint I was leaving for the world. When my parents were my age, they had to remember their bank account number, the combination to their lock at the gym and a couple of key phone numbers. These days I have frequent flier programs, website logins, email registration, bank accounts, 401K accounts, and a million other things to remember (not least of which is my Pearl Jam fan-club membership number). No wonder I can barely recall what I had for dinner last night!
As the Internet continues to expand and weave itself into more and more of my day, my digital footprint is going to continue to expand. My epiphany on this topic occurred last week, when, trying to access the new Watch ESPN app for my phone and iPad, I realized I couldn’t use it because I have Direct TV, which is not a standard cable provider -- and that app only works if you have an account with a cable MSO. Probably for the best, since it would have meant another account number to have to remember -- which would have expanded my digital footprint almost exponentially, because it’s a login for cross-channel consumption.
At one point in the “olden days,” there was talk of your social security number or your phone number becoming your unique ID for accessing all digital media. In effect, that number would be your anonymous universal cookie -- but that’s not realistic, given how people move and switch carriers, and how that would lock you into a single code that, if hacked, would basically ruin your life. Identity theft would be an astronomically worse threat, and it’s already pretty bad! Imagine a world where someone stole your LinkedIn password, which gave them direct line to your bank accounts, mortgage -- and even your Pearl Jam Fan Club tickets. That would be horrible!
So for now, at least, the complexity of your digital footprint is here to stay. You can save your passwords in your browser and write them down on a paper in your safe deposit box, but things won’t be getting any less complex anytime soon.
I guess that’s OK. At least it will keep your mind fresh for years to come.
Now if I could only remember what I had for dinner last night!