Recently, my online data identity was stolen. Someone used my name and photo and logged into Venmo. They went to my list of friends and charged all of them around $400. Never before had I been in this type of situation, but this opened my eyes. While most people are lost in the sea of people online with similar names, "Alexa Rathi" is unique. I am the only person in the entire world named "Alexa Rathi", making me less of a target but easier of a person do discover information about. There are two versions of myself; one on the internet and one in real life. While I believe that people should have ownership of what data is shared with the public, I also believe that democratizing data and using it for public benefit should be encouraged.
Google Data Dive
Query: Alexa Rathi
For being the only Alexa Rathi in the world, I was happily satisfied with my online presence, especially with the sites and information that I want to be public. The first such website was my LinkedIn which outlines my educational background and my professional work history. The next profile is my Facebook. While google shows the link, my Facebook setting is set to be private outside of my name and photo. The next link is my WayUp profile that I created while recruiting followed by my YouTube account with a video that has hundreds and thousands of views.
Further down, this specific search brings up my social media profiles (such as instagram and twitter) as well as clubs that I am involved in at the University of Michigan like the Social Venture Fund and Entrepreneurs Leadership Program.
Query: Alexa Rathi, Google Images
I was surprised by the images that appeared on the images tab on google. The first one was my Twitter profile that I have not used in four years. A majority of them are from my YouTube videos while the rest were from sites such as Medium and Pinterest.
Query: Alexa Rathi University of Michigan
This query was the most interesting to me because when you mouse over to images, it pulls up numerous profiles from the Entrepreneurs Leadership Program. Even more interesting is that it pulls up only girls from my cohort year in the first 15 pictures, then only men in the next 10 pictures. I tried to understand why this is, however there was no clear indication in the website as to why this was the case.
Query: Alexa Rathi Instagram
The only photo that was taken from my instagram was one I posted in 2015 that made its way to my Pinterest profile picture. This was surprising to me because this is the social media that I use the most is Instagram. I am happy to see they keep their photos secure and privacy seems to be top of mind for the company.
As I began to think more about what this means, I realized that my online identity is not who I really am - And I like it that way. I realized there are 3 versions of you"
- who you are online
- who you are in person
- who you are biologically
If someone looked me up and put all of the pieces together, they would understand about 30% of my life. I am passionate about investing, entrepreneurship, and dance. It evens says that on my LinkedIn Bio! They would know that I am academic oriented and have a lot of connections in different places. The most they would be able to tell is who I am as a professional which I am happy to share. Social medias such as LinkedIn allow for data to be shared in a controlled and proper manner.
My real identity is some type of mixture of all 3 things. The part the internet would not know is who I actually am and what circumstances and situations have made me that way. The part where I share my love for jewelry and fashion or the part that I have multiple family members. The part where I consider myself native to two countries or the part about my home life and upbringing. The part that they will know is exactly what I look like on a biological level. They will be able to detail every single part of my face and decode who I am if they ever saw me in person.
Reflection & Future Change
While I blame big technology and social media companies for not ensuring privacy as well as the capitalistic society we live in for itching to continuously sell personal data, the person to blame most is myself. When posting photos, creating online accounts, or anything else, I know that I am increasing my web presence. While there is nothing on the internet that I do not want people to see, I need to be more careful for the future as my responsibilities increase. Additionally, I have realized that my identity is also part of other peoples identity. If I post photos or virtually link myself to a friend, I am compromising their identity as well. Lastly, the person that is Alexa Rathi online is not the same as the person that I am. While there are overlaps, it is hard to piece all of the bits of information together.
Additionally, I also believe that data should be shared. There are some interesting companies in this space right now. For example take Akido Labs, a LA based company that is working to take democratize public health data. Let's say a police officer needs to identify a homeless person on the street - Akido Labs is working to gather information from local homeless shelters, medical reports, etc. and streamline it to the officer. This helps the situation immensely as the police officer might be able to better direct the person in need. One of the biggest arguments against a company such as this is that private information will be shared. While this is true, there are ways that we can mitigate this. One common method is encryption of data by removing all "Personally Identifiable Indicators"(PPI). We can then use information that is stripped of any personal references for public gain.
Future Privacy Laws
I am hopeful with laws such as the CCPA (California Consumer Privacy Act) in the United States and GDPR in Europe, big technology companies will have to re-evaluate on who can own, control, and process data. Before publishing information, they will have to ask individuals for their authorization.