Generation Z’s commitment to environmental causes and championing of best sustainable practice is widely reported. Their behavior is provoked by bearing witness to more of the devastating long-term effects of climate change, such as rising sea levels and extreme weather events and awareness of what this means for the future, Generation Z has genuinely powerful motivators for taking action and advocating for sustainable responsibility to be high on government and business agendas around the world.
Despite this enthusiastic environmental consciousness, Gen Z is not necessarily completely joined up in their approach and for example, finds themselves at the forefront of an unsustainable habit: online account hoarding. According to a recent survey conducted by Veritas Technologies, almost two thirds of Gen Z consumers acknowledge owning multiple dormant online accounts that they no longer use. This spiraling data hoarding habit is resulting in unnecessary data storage in polluting data canters that run on fossil-fuels 24/7. Data canters are responsible for emitting approximately 2% of the world's total carbon emissions, the same level of emissions from the airline industry which has come under great scrutiny from environmental activists.
These dormant online accounts encompass various services we use to run our daily lives, including banking, shopping, entertainment, insurance, phones, broadband, and utilities. This alarming hoarding habit revelation highlights the contrasting behavior exhibited by Gen Z, as their dedication to environmental causes and ‘eco-anxiety’ seemingly clashes with their own account hoarding practices, posing a challenge to align their personal habits with their environmental values.
Ian Wood is the Senior Director and Head of Technology at Veritas.
The consequences of data hoarding
As data demands continue to soar, so does the energy consumption of data canters, intensifying their carbon footprint. The issue is so critical that tech giant Google has recently sought to address the issue of dormant online accounts. Recognizing the environmental impact of inactive accounts, Google announced its initiative to automatically delete inactive accounts after a specified period. This move by one of the industry leaders underscores the growing concern over the environmental consequences of data hoarding and the need for proactive measures to reduce unnecessary data storage. By taking steps to address the issue at a systemic level, Google sets an example for other companies and reinforces the importance of responsible data management for both the planet and cybersecurity reasons.
Hoarding data and maintaining dormant online accounts can pose significant security risks that cannot be ignored. Storing excessive amounts of data increases the potential attack surface for cybercriminals, making it easier for them to exploit vulnerabilities and gain unauthorized access to sensitive information. Dormant online accounts, especially those associated with financial or personal data, can become attractive targets for identity theft and fraud. These accounts may contain forgotten or weak passwords, outdated security measures, or outdated software, making them more susceptible to hacking attempts.
Maintaining dormant accounts without regular monitoring leaves them vulnerable to unauthorized access, as individuals may not notice suspicious activities or changes in their account status. Overall, hoarding data and neglecting to deactivate or secure dormant online accounts significantly heighten the risk of privacy breaches, data leaks, and financial losses. It is crucial for both individuals and organizations to practice responsible data management, including deleting unnecessary accounts and regularly reviewing security measures to protect personal information from potential threats.
Despite attempts to harness the heat emissions generated by data canters to heat public swimming pools or student accommodation. With Generation Z inadvertently leading in carbon emissions from unnecessary data storage, there is a pressing need for individuals to take responsibility for their digital footprint. With carbon emissions from data projected to reach at least 10% by 2050, urgent action is required to ensure sustainable data management practices. Simple actions can be taken, here are three of my top tips on how to identify and delete unnecessary data:
1. Conduct a thorough account audit
Start by making a comprehensive list of all the online accounts you currently possess. This should include social media platforms, online shopping websites, email services, and any other websites or apps that require user accounts. Take note of the ones you haven't used in a while or don't remember signing up for.
2. Check email inboxes for account registrations
Search your email inbox for keywords such as "account," "registration," or "welcome" to identify emails from online platforms where you may have created accounts. Review these emails to determine which accounts are still active and which ones can be considered dormant.
3. Utilize account deletion or deactivation options
Once you have identified dormant accounts, visit the respective websites or platforms and explore their account settings. Look for options to delete or deactivate accounts. Some platforms may have specific account deletion procedures, such as providing a confirmation email or completing a form. Follow the necessary steps to delete or deactivate the dormant accounts, ensuring you comply with each platform's guidelines and requirements.
Only by adopting greener technologies, optimizing energy efficiency, and embracing renewable energy sources can we effectively combat the polluting carbon emissions produced by data centers and pave the way for a more sustainable digital future. It is crucial for Generation Z, and indeed us all, to prioritize responsible data housekeeping and take steps towards reducing our digital footprint to create a positive impact on the environment and the future.
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