| Pauline Siebers

Spring cleaning and data management: how to tackle them ONLINE

From May 2019 I will travel for an indefinite period, following my work opportunities. At the moment I am in the middle of the preparations for this adventure, and they coincide with spring cleaning (on this side of the globe) and the start of a parallel clean-up … online!

Call it coincidence, but my travel preparations coincide with the start of a riot around internet regulations and the monitoring of our online privacy. The infamous GDPR regulations have barely sunk in or the changes to article 13 (continued by article 17) have already been announced and even Mark Zuckerberg has gotten himself involved — everyone wonders what his intention is, but only Mark himself knows that. I call it “the start of a riot” because I see many more options to help us better organize our Internet use — a subject I’ll get back to in a future blog post.


In addition to the macro level of the discussion about who / what can stay and who / what may be replaced on the Internet — with emphasis on social media — I have started a micro level clean-up. Over the years, I have left my details with an incredible number of online platforms, newsletters and websites: half of which I don’t even remember and of the other half I use only a small percentage on a daily basis. About time I’d check what those sites know about me and to unsubscribe in case of lack of use. Halfway through this process, I suddenly realized that I have created a system that makes this an efficient process and, yes, of course I love to share that system with you!



To make this process as efficient as possible, and also to be repeated every so often, it consists of three parts: a basis to maintain (the moment you register somewhere), the cleaning (the moment you get the cleaning bug), and interim checkups.



To install the basics, you probably need to make an extra effort once. However, if you keep this up to date, it’ll be a piece of cake — as with any cleaning.


Every database that has your data due to your given consent (exactly the point that all those privacy regulations are about!) has sent you an email. The basic set-up therefore simply consists of creating a folder in which you collect all emails confirming that you have linked yourself to a website, platform or newsletter. For that purpose I use a folder within my email program Spark and I have labeled that folder ‘Breadcrumbs’. Nowadays, almost every email provider has the option to create folders or labels, in order to archive your emails in a well-organized way. But you can of course also save those emails (via ‘Print’ => ‘Save as PDF’) in a folder on your computer or in a program such as Evernote, for example. Whatever makes you happy.



At first, this part can take quite some time. Certainly when you haven’t checked for a long time where you’re registered in the world that is called the Internet. Here too, the following applies: the more you check this, the less time you spend on it.


With regards to newsletters, every newsletter nowadays has the option to unsubscribe, usually via an ‘unsubscribe’ link at the very bottom. If you cannot find that link, simply reply to the newsletter with UNSUBSCRIBE as subject and content, preferably supplemented with a human ‘please’.


For websites and other platforms:


1. Go to the relevant site and log in.

2. Unable to log in? Via ‘Forgot your password?’ you immediately find out if they still have your details: if so, you’ll receive an email with a log-in link; if not, you’ll receive an error message (meaning: your data has already been deleted) and you’re done.

3. Once logged in, go to your account / profile. What does it say about you? Is it relevant and do you want to stay registered? Then you are ready. Do you want to remove yourself? Then there is usually the option to delete your account / profile under ‘Settings’. Another option is the ‘Help’ or ‘FAQ’ page: they often describe the answer to the question ‘How do I delete my account?’. Nowadays this option is also mentioned on the ‘Privacy policy’ page and otherwise you’ll find an email address which to use for your request for deletion.


I have submitted my request for removal several times (also via the site’s contact form) and was pleasantly surprised with a few responses. Of course these were the somewhat larger institutions — which deal regularly with changes in (online) memberships — but my request was treated with great attention every time. The email exchange that followed became a wonderful experience for two people who said goodbye to each other with a lot of warmth! I always enjoy it when I notice that, despite the detachment and anonymity that the Internet also offers, someone speaks to me in writing as if we are facing each other in the same room. Human to human.



An organization where I left my email address with great joy is As you can read on their ‘about’ page:


“We believe in a more open and connected internet. We believe you deserve complete control or your information including how and where it’s used. We are on a mission to provide a better solution. “


Every so often sends me an email with the reminder to check who has what kind of information about me. Such a check takes a bit longer the first time, and is actually part of the cleaning, but every time after that the list becomes shorter because I have indicated what I agree with and / or where I want to delete my data.


Please note that is an initiative built on blockchain, and there are of course many alternatives. A Dutch / European alternative that is mainly focused on the data check is My Data Done Right from Bits of Freedom. I highly recommend this tool too to keep track of who knows what about you on the Internet!



If you’re still dreading the cleaning, you may want to take this additional advantage into consideration: it creates more awareness, the moment you leave your email address for that free download or online webinar or newsletter — in addition to your human curiosity. Stay spontaneous, sign up, join in, but also keep an eye on when the novelty is finished and…unsubscribe!


I notice that, with some unsubscribe options, I hesitate because of a feeling of decency. A misguided form of loyalty that says “Finish what you started”. When I notice this particular feeling, I ask myself: “Says who? For WHOM am I doing this?” If it’s to keep the peace, or for the strange fear that some stranger no longer likes me, seriously … no thank you.


Okay, time to continue my offline selection of which items stay and which items go. Sigh. Is there an app for that?




Photo credit: Franki ChamakiUnsplash

...Social Media Shaman... Your guide for finding your best Self on- and offline... ...Writing is how I express the experiences of who I am and what I do...
Post By Pauline Siebers


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