Online Data Identity
Ever since I was introduced to the internet, I have tried to be careful with the personal information I put out on my behalf. The first few social media accounts I created never contained my full name until I was a senior in high school. My profile names and usernames have always been under the band One Direction members' names', a funny phrase, or the name of a character from a show just to keep my full name from being at anyone’s disposal on the internet. Eventually, as I grew older, it became inevitable to stay “off the grid,” having the personal data on the personal or professional platforms I use. To this day, and to my knowledge, only my Facebook and LinkedIn profile have my full name; the rest of my social media accounts' names' are a funny phrase or the name of a TV character.
With the effort I have put in to keep my name off the internet, I, like many other people, have been curious about what information the internet has on me, from social media search appearances, to images and any other information out there. Due to my cautious use of aliases on most of my Internet activities, my name did not project many search results; the results that were yielded are the outcome of my fabricated professional image on the Internet. In the effort to control what is out on the Internet about oneself, steps like these are a good stepping stone.
I “Googled” Myself
Naturally, the first place I used to search my name was Google. The results of the search were as I expected. The first link is my LinkedIn account that I currently use. This is great for employers, I assume! However, the rest of the links in the first page of the search are not associated with me. This part surprised me because I was not aware that so many Angelica Tome's existed. I assumed this because, one, Angelica is not so common, and two, I have never heard anyone else’s last name be “Tome.” I also browsed through the images that came up for my name search. The first image was an old profile picture that is linked to my LinkedIn profile, but the other images were unfamiliar to me.
To further search for information, I searched my name on my most used search engine: DuckDuckGo. This is a search engine made to protect user’s data and information from being tracked and sold. The first link that appeared was the same that Google brought back: my LinkedIn profile. The rest of the links were not associated with me either. I also decided to look at the images, and surprisingly, none of the search results were of me or associated with me.
Google and DuckDuckGo are fairly similar in the way that they retrieve information. It gathers information from various sources such as Wikipedia and Wolfram Alpha to return results that are the most relevant to what was searched. However, Google chooses to keep record of IP addresses and personal information of the user, while DuckDuckGo does not. This difference between the two led me to hypothesize that Google has more personal information and data on me because I have used it for a longer period of time, and I have accounts with Google thus resulting in a larger scale return of results than that of DuckDuckGo.
Lastly, I used a free online data broker, FastPeopleSearch, to look myself up. I searched myself twice, one with my permanent home, and the other in Michigan. There were no results for my name when I searched with Ann Arbor, Michigan as my location. However, when I searched with my permanent home, I received detailed results about myself. My address, age, relatives, how long I had lived at my current address, and my neighbors’ information all came up with this simple search. How did they get all this information? I wasn’t sure, but I knew it was bound to appear with all the information that is put online through online services and physical mail and deliveries.
I had to take some time to process how that much information about myself, my neighbors, my relatives was attained by a data broker site. FastPeopleSearch gathers their information from publicly available sources such as driver’s licenses and registrations. Given that information, it makes sense as to why my information is available to the public. Additionally, the information of my relatives was slightly inaccurate, so the data that is available to FastPeopleSearch varies based on what public information is available at the time.
Presentation and Privacy
With the information that is on the Internet about me, I am not disappointed with the search results that come up when I directly searched my name on two search engines. If anything, I was offended (totally joking)! My professional headshot nor the link to my LinkedIn that appeared under my name search are unprofessional, which is what I crafted when creating my online presence. I believe the search result information is partially representative of my online identity, however, only if whoever is looking me up knows what I look like or knows me personally. I don’t post content that would be considered irrational or misconstrued by the general public, rather it mainly consists of social rights issues, online activism content, personal stories, and humour. I was curious to see if by adding certain keywords after my name, I would have different search results. I tried a few different keywords, like my high school’s name, U of M, and my usernames on certain platforms, but the results were similar, if not the same.
It has been a while since the internet became available to the public, so I would think more people would know about personal data collection online. However, it is certain there are people who are not aware about the online data collection happening behind the scenes of ordinary Google searches and typical social media posts or engagements. It should be strictly emphasized to know about online data collection, at least at a beginner level, or it should be taught at school or work. We are in a generation where technology has so much influence in people’s lives that it is crucial to know what impact technology has on online presences and personal data. I was aware of the information I was putting out into the Internet, so the results for my name are ideally the online identity that I want people to see when they search my name.
My online data identity is only a partial part of my real self identity, and that is how I want it to stay. If there were more information that came up in the results, I would be concerned if it were unprofessional or very personal to me. This is not to say that there is NO non professional information out there about me because it is on my social media accounts like Facebook and Instagram. It is just a few edits to the visibility settings here and there that are not accounted for. My online data identity is carefully crafted to be representative of my professional life, but it is not my real self identity. I enjoy traveling and dancing, I love my culture, and I have a very spontaneous personality that could not be depicted solely through a Google or DuckDuckGo search, or though an anonymous data broker.
The simple search of my name on the search engines returns less information than other people I know, and in a way it is both good and bad. These results are good because all of my information is not publicly available, unless you go to the data broker websites like FastPeopleSearch and get limited, yet valuable amounts of information. If someone wants more information, they have to pay about $40 for one search in alternate data broker sites. However, this may also be bad because it appears as if there is not much information coming up in popular search engines, but I am sure there is more data out there than what I am aware of if I were to pay for those data broker files. This may result as being bad because questions like “why are you trying to hide your online identity” may arise as well as assumptions that suggest I am trying to hide my real identity for certain bad reasons. The most shocking part about this is not how much information data brokers potentially have, but the fact that commercialism is a big factor in all of this. People will pay money to have access to a full report of themselves or someone else’s online data.
After searching my name on multiple search engines and data brokers, I am satisfied with the search results. As previously mentioned, I have tried my best to be aware of what I post and what data I feed to the internet data collectors. I do feel I should be more careful about reading the Terms and Conditions for anything I use and sign up for in order to be aware of the personal information that I am giving apps and websites access to. The limited information that is readily available to the general public about myself, however, I am okay with. Unless someone personally knows my personal social media accounts, I probably won’t be as easily discoverable in search engines as I would be on Facebook or LinkedIn. Even then, I am cautious with who my Facebook friends are and who I connect with on LinkedIn and other social media platforms.