How big is your digital footprint?
I recently went through the onerous process of changing jobs and in doing so I ended up revising or moving my primary email contact to a different email address. During this attempt at consolidation, 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 6 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 where I was converting and 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 7 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 to me.
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 occurred last week when I tried to access the new Watch ESPN app for my phone and iPad and I realized that I could not use it because I have Direct TV and not a standard cable provider. That app only works if you have an account with a cable MSO, which means its another account number to have to remember and save for use on a cross-channel experience. With that simple app my digital footprint expands almost exponentially because its not just about saving login info for a site, but 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 is not realistic given how people move, switch carriers and how that would lock you into a single code that, if hacked, would basically ruin your life. Imagine if you had only one unique login code for every aspect of your digital footprint and that code was stolen? Identity theft would be an astronomically worse threat, and its already pretty bad! Imagine a world where someone stole your LinkedIn password and that 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 you can write them down on a paper in your safe deposit box, but they’re not going anywhere and things won’t be getting any less complex any time 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!