You’ve been a fervent web user for a couple of decades now, plus you’ve owned a smartphone for coming up to ten years. All this online activity accumulates a huge amount of digital clutter.
Free trials that you signed up to. That dormant Flickr account. The app you downloaded for one thing but can’t even remember what for. They all take their toll, and if you’re not careful also come with their own security and privacy risks.
If that small website you signed up to five years ago gets hacked because its developers are no longer updating it, or it just has poor security practices, that could put other elements of your online life at risk. While you might not use the account for the small app or website anymore, it’s more than possible the details you provided when you signed up – email address, passwords, and physical address – are still relevant to other parts of your online life.
Across the web, the most common passwords are 12345 and 123456 and if one of the non-used apps or services you signed up to gets breached, it could provide hackers with exactly what they need to break into an account you do still use.
So while you should be using a password manager to create and store strong passwords (a privacy browser and VPN are also useful), it’s worth sifting through some of those old accounts and apps you joined to give your online presence a freshen-up.
Clean out unused apps
There’s a pretty high chance that over years of using the same phone or operating system you’ve acquired a heap of apps that you no longer use – or in some cases even remember. If you’re not a stickler for updating your privacy permissions (such as apps’ access to location, and contacts) the unused apps on your phone could be operating in the background and hoovering up some precious data.
It’s unlikely that apps working behind the scenes will use excessive amounts of data but, if you gave them permission to access your information when they were downloaded, they can still send it back to their motherships.
If you’re on Android, the quickest way to check through the apps you do and don’t use is in Google’s Play Store. Tapping the hamburger menu icon (the three horizontal lines) and navigating to ‘My apps and games’ allows you to see all the apps installed on your phone – and, crucially, when you last used them. Sort them by last used and scroll down to see the apps you haven’t used for a while (or ever). From here you can tap on an app’s name and get the option to uninstall it.
For iPhone users, the process is just as simple. In Apple’s settings, tap on General and then iPhone Storage. From here you’ll be able to see when you last used and app. To delete an app you’ll have to remove it from another part of your phone, either through the App Store, or by long-pressing on an app’s icon then hitting delete.
Track down your services
Getting rid of apps is just the start. Even though they’re gone from your phone, it doesn’t necessarily mean that your account with the company behind the software doesn’t exist anymore. In fact, in the vast majority of cases you’ll still be signed up with them. To really decouple yourself from a service, you’re going to need to close your account for good.
This is where things get a bit more time-consuming. For the vast majority of online services, you’re going to need to visit their websites to get rid of your account. A good starting place is your email address. This will help you identify which accounts you’ve previously signed up to. A simple search of “account confirmation” or “new account” are good starting points.
Once you’ve found the accounts you’ll have to manually close them. This can be done through individual apps but is probably best handled through your desktop browser. It’s just easier. If you already know the accounts you want to delete then JustDelete.Me is your best friend. It hosts links to the account cancellation pages of a huge amount of services. Click on a link, sign-in, and then you’ll be in the process of unsubscribing.
While it’s tempting to consider automated ways to unsubscribe from services and apps, it’s worth remembering the saga of Unroll.Me, which promised users to help them unsubscribe from newsletters they had signed up to. In April 2017, it was found that the parent company of Unroll.Me was scanning user emails and selling data to third-party companies. It has just settled with the US Federal Trade Commission over the practice.
Stop paying subscriptions
Subscription fatigue is real: every company from Netflix to snack delivery firm Graze wants you to sign up to their services and make regular payments for goods. As Apple and Google increasingly move into the payments space, it’s become easier to use their platforms for subscriptions.
If you sign up to something through one of the app stores, it’s likely that you’ll pay for the subscription through the details that are registered on your account. It may put extra money into the hands of the big two companies but it does mean it’s easier to unsubscribe from subscriptions in one place.
Google users can visit here to see all the subscriptions they are paying for through Android’s ecosystems, whereas Apple fans can check their subscriptions here. Both pages let you unsubscribe from regular payments in a couple of clicks.
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