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Your 2020 checklist: 6 steps to a safer digital life

[File art: Getty images]
[File art: Getty images]

With 2020 now here, we at USA TODAY have some tips on how to take hold of your digital life.

We’ve got six things for you to do.

- Change your passwords to keep hackers away.

- Go through your subscriptions to weed out the ones you’re not using.

- Scan your analog photos and organize your digital collection.

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- Clear out your smartphone apps.

- Back up your data

- Pull out the smartphone and interview your parents, kids or other loved ones, for posterity.

Ready everyone? Here’s a detailed breakdown.

Passwords and managers

You’ve heard us say it a zillion times. Hackers just need one password to break in and steal your digital data. So if you use the same password over and over again, you’re asking for trouble.

You need one unique password for every website you go to, and it needs to contain a combination of lowercase and uppercase letters as well as numbers and symbols. Some experts have recommended really long words, like ilovelemsointhespringtimehowaboutyou as a variant, but just try typing that one over and over all day, and see how you like that?

If you’re like me, and have 100 or more passwords, you wonder, how to keep track of them. Use a password manager.

Apps like Dashlane ($59 yearly), Lastpass ($36) and Zoho Vault ($12) let you use a master password to open the manager and the app does all the inputting for you.

Why change your passwords? Let’s see – how many websites were hacked into in 2019? A few names instantly pop to mind: Ring, Capital One, Facebook and on and on it goes.

Subscriptions

Quick – how many websites and services do you currently subscribe to? Can you name them all? Have you used them lately? Okay, it’s time to sit down and organize those recurring fees.

Let’s go through the obvious names like Apple’s iCloud, TV+, Netflix, Spotify, Disney + and Amazon Prime. Do you use them all? The beauty of subscriptions is that you can cancel anytime. The negative is that they ding your credit card, whether we use them or not. So pull out a pad (digital notes on a smartphone if you must) and write them all down.

Add up the monthly cost, and weed out the ones you’re not using. It will take some detective work to figure out how to get out. But in general, go to the account section of the website, click it and you should be able to cancel from there.

Scan/Organize photos

How many reports of fire, earthquakes, floods and the like do you have to read about before you finally get around to saving your precious photo memories before it’s too late?

Companies like ScanMyPhotos (starts at $25) and iMemories (49-cents a scan) can do the heavy lifting for you. Or you can also take photos to your local Federal Express Office location and make copies at a self-service kiosk.

Backup

All those amazing photos you’ve taken on your phone won’t look so great if you lose your phone and hadn’t backed them up. And no, posting them on Facebook doesn’t count, because the social network lowers the resolution to about a tenth of the original size.

You have several choices. If you’re an Amazon Prime member, Amazon allows for unlimited uploads, at full resolution (but only for photos, not video.) You can access it via the Amazon Photos app.

Google Photos is a free service, that offers unlimited backup for photos and videos. However, Google lowers the resolution, just not as drastically as Facebook. For photos and data, many look to online “cloud” backup, from Google Drive, Apple iCloud, Microsoft OneDrive and Dropbox. Google, Apple and Dropbox charge $9.99 monthly for 2 terabytes of storage, while Microsoft starts at $69.99 yearly for 1 TB, or $190 for 2 TB.

If you’re willing to go old school and pick up a hard drive to connect to your computer or digital device, the prices are amazingly affordable, at around $100 for a 4 TB drive.

However, drives are known to eventually fail, especially ones with moving parts. One popular alternative is the SSD, or Solid State drive, which are more reliable, and expensive. Look to spend around $100 for a 1 TB model.

Clear out your apps

All those smartphone apps have higher resolution than ever, and thus take up tons of storage space on your devices. Not only that, but they’re also data hogs. A quick check of our iPhone found TikTok at 500 megabytes, Google Trips (which doesn’t exist anymore) at 400 MB, and rarely used Amazon Photos at 323 MB.

Obviously, all have to go. Just go to your settings on your smartphone to get rid of them.

Interview loved ones on your smartphone

Everybody (or at least most) now owns a fantastic video camera, and it’s sitting in your pocket or purse. Pull it out over the holidays and preserve your family’s stories for generations to come. (After you’ve cleared out apps and made room on your smartphone of course.)

Look for a quiet area of the house, and a shoot with little distraction in the background.

Sure, new smartphones have image stabilization to steady the shot, but there’s no human who can keep their hand steady for an extended 15-minute to 30-minute interview.

For $11 you can pick up this tabletop tripod from Amazon that includes an adapter for your phone. This would be great on the kitchen table. If it’s too low to get mom or dad in the image, place it atop a bunch of books.

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