Rebooting my digital identity

How long are you supposed to hold on to your digital identity? What does it even mean to have a digital ID?

In my blog post series I call Securing your digital home, I’ve written about digital identity, keys and secrets. I started writing about this because I wanted to put some better structure around my digital life, and care for it a little bit more. After all, so much of what we do today is tied to our digital identity.

Your digital ID is, most often, made up of an email address. I’ve had my current personal email address for almost 10 years. While that’s not an enormous amount of time, I have managed to accumulate a whole lot of legacy around my ID, because of my active digital life. This ID, with my name attached to it, is spread all over the Internet, quite literally. Goodness knows how many accounts, services, subscriptions, and other databases it’s kicking around in? I don’t even want to know…

For someone who doesn’t allow Google to sift through my personal mail, I’ve also had to find creative ways to fight lots of spam over the years.

This has all come to a point where I feel dragged down by all the legacy attached to my ID, and how exposed I am online. It’s become a mental burden, and I don’t feel comfortable with it.

What does it mean?

It’s very well defined what it means, and how it works, to change your national ID. But that’s not what we’re talking about here. I will still be myself online, and I won’t go anonymous or anything :) It’s a matter of letting go of old things, stuff you care less about today than what you did in the past.

Some people hold on to their email addresses with more care than others. I’ve got friends and family members that’ve changed email addresses multiple times in recent years. I’ve held onto mine for a long time, but I feel it’s time for a reboot.

How to reboot?

First, you need to pick a new ID. Currently I’ve got self-hosted email with Gandi. While this has served me well, I feel I want a service that’s easier to use and more secure. After lots of research, I’m decided to go with Protonmail.

Second, you need to figure out what accounts and services you want to keep. Since about 7 months ago, when I got a new password manager, I’ve been keeping track of all the various accounts, services and subscriptions I’m using. With this, I’ve now got a good idea of my usage patterns. I can now go back and assess what accounts I want to keep, and what accounts I want to close.

Third, you need to let people know that your email, your digital ID, is changing. In the past, I’ve often posted my email publicly. But this time around, I’m planning to be a bit more conservative about how I distribute my email, and to who. I want to preserve a higher degree of privacy. The way I’ll go about it is by, over a period of time, create a couple of public posts on various social media platforms, telling friends and followers that they can get my new email via DM. That way, only people who really want my email, will get it.

Lastly, I will keep my old email running for a couple of years (perhaps even indefinitely), just in case I still need it to recover something. I’ll set an auto-reply such that people that try to reach me, know how to get my new email address. I will also keep a safe backup of my entire email history for future reference.

The future of digital identity?

Changing accounts, migrating data, remembering passwords, recovering important information, letting people know… It’s a lot! In my opinion, it’s pretty clear that new and better ways to manage your digital identity will emerge in the future. Exactly how, is yet to be answered. Recently I’ve spent some time reading about different approaches to Ethereum identity standards, and the ERC 780 specification. Very interesting!

PS: I have not yet changed my email, I’ll let you know when I do ;)

Photo credit: Protonmail