When Panicky Tech News Can Help You Be a Calmer Digital Citizen Getty Images

When Panicky Tech News Can Help You Be a Calmer Digital Citizen

I had signed up for Unroll.me way back when, but when I looked at how the service worked -- ostensibly, it unsubscribes you from emails you may not remember signing up for, then collates the rest into one readable digest -- I never followed up. It honestly seemed easier to do a search for "unsubscribe" in my inbox, then turn on a Spotify playlist and just roll on through those emails, clicking and unsubscribing as I went. Also, I did not like the idea of giving a third party access to my personal email in-box.

As it turns out, neither do a lot of other people. Following the New York Times' revelation that Unroll.me's parent company had been spelunking through Unroll.me users' inboxes for Lyft receipts and selling the aggregated data to Uber, there was the entirely expected user outrage, and then the reminder about how lax most of us are regarding which apps we let access our email, our Google assets, or our social media accounts.

Since Unroll.me had been pestering me lately to use the service, I took the current news cycle as a chance to just delete my Unroll.me account altogether. And then I decided to dedicate a few hours to some spring cleaning, digital style. Here is what I did:

Go through all my social networking accounts to see what apps were authorized to access them. Revoke access for out-of-business apps or ones that I had not seen any appreciable, useful integration from in a few months.

(A whole lot of moribund sites ending in -tsy and a lot of dead services missing vowels in their names got the ax.)

Go through all my password managers to see which applications, user accounts and passwords I could delete. This way, my data set was clean and up-to-date. 

Go into my mobile platform's app store and delete any old apps I had already uninstalled or that I literally did not remember downloading. This prevents me having to sift through updates to find the genuinely useful ones. (Farewell, Martha Stewart apps. You don't work on my tablet.)

Run a quick search on my laptop computer for any leftover cruft from apps I might have tested, then deleted. This is where Windows users have it all over Mac users; the uninstall process is not as clean on a Mac. I had to spend minutes digging through files in my Preferences folders to make sure I wasn't hanging on to anything.

Run a quick search through all my emails for the phrases "Your username" and "your password" and "your account." This was a last-ditch effort to find any sites, services or apps I might have signed up for and neither remembered nor used.

This whole process took me about ninety minutes. I estimate sixty minutes was spent going through all my old accounts for which I still had passwords saved, checking to see if the site was still alive and whether I needed the account, then clicking "delete."

Do I love that people are all worked up over the revelation that a "free" email service actually makes money off user data? No.

Even though it's pretty obvious what the business is for any "free" service on the Internet -- Google reads all your email so it can sell user data to its advertisers, so why would a service predicated on cleaning your inbox refrain from doing so? -- it's still pretty unpleasant to be so starkly reminded that your primary value to the tech services you use is as a lucrative data set.

But I do appreciate the reminder that we all download apps, sign up on sites, and subscribe to stuff we eventually do not want or need. Think of these reminders as nudges to do some digital spring cleaning. And remember that when it comes to web-based services and "free" cloud-based apps, you aren't just the user. You're the product too. 

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