With the invention of the internet, many have been able to build an identity for themselves online by providing information about their life, forming a data identity. Online databases can now store information about billions of people around the world, and with how frictionless data has become it is easy to build identities for people based on the data that is present.
My identity on the internet is something I always wanted to explore. I aimed to find out how the world wide web has built my identity online and how much it relates to reality. I have been using the internet since I was six years old and have been active in online forums ever since I was 10. I have been leaving digital footprints ever since and I am interested to find out the legacy I have been leaving behind for myself. For instance, I frequently post information about my personal life, my activities, and my projects. I am not too concerned with sharing details about my online presence, but I am interested to see how much is out there and whether it should be a point of concern. I will be using Google as the primary search engine to find information about myself and my activities on the internet.
Google Search: "Ali Baker"
I will begin this exploration by querying a simple Google search of my name, “Ali Baker”. My name is a fairly common one and leads to many results far away from my actual identity. If you were to look up “Ali Baker”, you would find a white female American internet personality who shares my name. This is very far from my identity, since I am a middle eastern male Jordanian student who currently attends the University of Michigan. An employer, an investigator, or even some random stalker might have a hard time finding information about my identity due to how common my name is in the world. Since my name is rather gender neutral, search engines could have trouble in pointing out my gender.
Google Search: "Ali Baker Ibrahim"
To make the search more precise, I would use my legal name. Ali Baker isn’t my legal name, it is actually “Ali Ibrahim”. If I were to make the search more specific to my true identity, I would query “Ali Baker Ibrahim” and it would pull up my LinkedIn page as the very first result. Just by clicking on my LinkedIn page, a lot of information about my identity and my past can be found. You would know which schools I attended, my professions and interests, my projects, and aspirations, and my contact information. This might seem a bit concerning, but it isn’t that a big deal for me. I have knowingly put all this information publicly so that I can try to network and find jobs within the United States. It is almost an implicit requirement to have a LinkedIn nowadays so that you can present yourself to the professional world and establish a presence. A big consequence of having a LinkedIn profile is that some personal information is out there in the wild for anyone to see.
If someone were to inspect my LinkedIn further, they would find my Github profile and username. From there you can find out what projects I have been working on and make the assumption that I am an individual involved in a technological field.
Google Search: "bakesbasha"
It would be very easy to figure out that my nickname and my alter ego on the internet is known as “bakes” or “bakesbasha” since it is my name on Github. If I were to Google search “bakesbasha”, it would only return information related to my life. This would reveal many things about my personal interests and hobbies.
It reveals that I love producing music on my SoundCloud. One of the first results is a track of mine, “mishwar”, publicly available for everyone to see and listen. It also shows you my Twitter account, where I mostly tweet about tech news, football, sports, and video games. It would be a great way to find out more about my interests. I also tweet about political things, so someone can easily figure out where I stand on things politically. My public Instagram account is exposed for everyone to see, which features pictures of me, my family, my friends, and my whereabouts. In my Instagram bio, I state where I am currently located purely for business and social reasons.
It would be easy to find out about what projects and activities I'm involved with. On my Instagram, you would find that I am working on a project called "Jordan Street Art", a virtual map which shows the murals around my home country. From there you can navigate to the website and learn more about the initiative and view the source code of the website through GitHub. After viewing this project, someone can assume that I enjoy artistic endeavors and projects.
I am a founder of a project that stores information about the street murals and graffiti around my home country Jordan. Within this website, I store a lot of data pertaining to the location, information, artist, and details of street art found around Jordan. I have displayed all this in an easy to use map for anyone to view around the world. This website has gone viral around Jordanian social media, exposing the work of the artists in our local community. This is a great way to acknowledge the local talent around Jordan within the street art community. However, this website can be used to silence and target these pieces of art. I live in a conservative and authoritarian country where free speech is not a right that someone can take for granted. Since art is a form of self expression, the Jordanian government could use this platform to track the activity of artists who they may deem as “dangerous”. The government could target artists who paint controversial murals that go against their ideas and imprison them. Street art has also been used in the past to fuel revolution and protests around the Middle East during the Arab spring, so I need to be wary of what information I post on this website. I have a great responsibility to not post anything that could harm others and the people around them. Posting street art online could lead to a lot of social and political issues, it is for that reason I need to be careful with how I use this platform.
Analysis of my Data Identity
Since I actively use these platforms and services, these pages can form a pretty accurate identity about myself. Someone can easily figure out that I am a left leaning, Liverpool supporting, computer scientist from Jordan who currently students in the United States. The information online represents a good chunk of my actual identity and personality offline. There aren't many websites which show my information without my permission, I have given full consent to Instagram, LinkedIn, GitHub, and Twitter to publicly display my information online for anyone to see. There are some third party websites however, that store my tweets without my permission and consent which I find to be an invasion of my trust and privacy. Although my information is publicly available for everyone to see, I'm not that keen on having third party websites scrape my information, since I have only given permission to first party websites to use my data. I would not want someone to store my deleted tweets in a data bank because I feel that would be creepy, I deleted those posts for a reason.
You might be thinking, “why is this all public? Why aren’t you cautious about what you post online about yourself?”. I mainly do this because anyone who knows about my social media handle would probably know me personally so I wouldn’t mind sharing that information. My goal as an artist and programmer is to reach a wide audience so that I can promote myself and my projects. I'm not that bothered with the idea of my information being out there for anyone to see. Those who know of my social media handle or my nickname "bakes" would be people who would know me personally at some level. However, I should probably be a bit more careful, since anyone can form a link between my professional life and personal life on social media by just accessing my GitHub profile and noticing my username.
With the steps and process I outlined during this essay, I realized that it isn’t that difficult to find out basic things about my identity. As a consequence of trying to build an online platform to promote my work, the internet has a great storage of my data and activity. Although I don't really care if my information is out there for everyone to see, others might take issue. I need to make sure that whenever I post something on any of my platforms, I need to consider whoever is involved within the post. This essay helped me consider the ethics of using my platform and working on data related projects. Although my project has good intentions, I need to consider the possibility that it can be used to harm the work of others. In a way, I am sort of a “data broker” for information concerning murals and street art within the country of Jordan, so I need to act carefully when distributing this data for everyone to see.