- 1 My Online Date Identity: Speculations
- 2 Information found via Search Engines
- 3 Portrayal in Social Media
- 4 Portrayal via Data Brokers
- 5 My Online Data Identity vs My Actual Identity
My Online Date Identity: Speculations
Before diving headfirst into the search process, I just want to hypothesize about what I expect to learn from myself. I do admittingly expect to find very minimal information about me online as I have deliberately avoided putting much information about me out on the web in the first place. Aside from some social media accounts that I manage that have my real name attached to them, I usually browse the internet with a pseudonymous email and name to best avoid having my online activities connect to the real me. Of course, I know from searches on me in the past that there is some information about me online that was posted by others and therefore outside of my direct control. All things considered, I postulate that my online public data identity will do a poor job at actually encapsulating the characteristics of who I am, and thus, will be a misrepresentation of who I actually am outside of the web.
Information found via Search Engines
The first page of results for the query “Calvin Kerns” on Google is heavily dominated by links related to an MMA wrestler named “Calvin Kerns.” In case it’s not immediately clear, let me just say that this is not me. None of the links on the first Google results page directly linked to my Facebook profile, but there was a link to Facebook page that contained a list of users named “Calvin Kerns” that I was able to sift through to find the specific link to my profile (I was the 4th result on a list of 16 people whose names explicitly contained “Calvin Kerns”).
I also did find a link to my LinkedIn profile on the first page of Google results. On the second page of results, I did find some more links that pertained to me. For instance, I found a link to an article about a scholarship I received for a medical summer camp I participated in and saw many links to the Medium blog posts and comments I wrote for this very class. The third page of results contained no information about me, however.
Under the “Images” tab for a Google search query of “Calvin Kerns,” I actually see two images of me pop up near the top of list.
Following the link of the first image takes a viewer to the online article I mentioned that talks about a scholarship I received as a high school junior in 2017 to attend a medical summer camp called OsteoChamps at Michigan State University. Following the link attached to the second image takes a viewer to a webpage for a University of Michigan freshmen program called the Douglass Houghton Scholars Program (DHSP, for short) that I participated in from fall 2018 to spring 2019. The page linked to is a subpage of the DHSP website that specifically contains quotes written by former DHSP students advocating for the program, one of which is a quote written by me in 2019.
Portrayal in Social Media
My Facebook profile contains a sparse amount of public information about me as I’ve provided the minimal amount of details necessary to create the account (I made it mainly to use the Messenger mobile app that Facebook operates). All that a public viewer can see is my current profile picture and three of my previous profile pictures, all of which are outdated.
As mentioned earlier, the Google results contained a link to my LinkedIn profile, in which an arbitrary viewer could see at a minimum that I study Computer Science and User Experience at the University of Michigan.
Portrayal via Data Brokers
Searching for “Calvin Kerns” on this data broker site resulted in 30 different records returned, with my entry corresponding to the 14th record on the search results page.
I ultimately did not view the report because of a surprise fee involved, but the search results page did have some superficial details about me. This information is all factual: My middle initial is indeed S, my age is 21, I live in Fremont, MI, and I am related to Edward Kerns (my father) and Kamelia Kerns (my mother).
My Online Data Identity vs My Actual Identity
Comprehensive Online Portrayal
Synthesizing all discussed information, my online data identity can be summarized as the following: I am Calvin S. Kerns. I am 21 years old, live in Fremont, MI, and am related to an Edward Kerns and a Kamelia Kerns. I attend the University of Michigan studying Computer Science and User Experience, participated in the University of Michigan program, DHSP (for which I wrote a quote), and wrote some Medium articles for a class called SI 410. At one point, I had considered becoming a pharmacist and received a scholarship to attend the OsteoChamps medical summer camp at Michigan State University. Appearance-wise, I have had both a clean-shaven face and a beard, short hair, and braces.
My initial hypothesis regarding how little information about me I would be able to find online seems to have been largely corroborated by my research findings. The fact that my online data identity can be encapsulated in a mere paragraph is a testament to that. Additionally, I’m not sure how Truthfinder’s result-ranking algorithm works, but if results are ranked according to the amount of available information for each entry (with those with more information available ranking higher), then my position half-way down the list would seem to conform with my claim that my online profile is quite limited.
Furthermore, the majority of these details are quite superficial and reveal very little about my true identity.
Evaluation of my Online Information
All of the details previously mentioned are indeed factual: there is no falsehood among this information. However, the provided information misrepresents in the sense that it provides a scarcity of information about me that extends beyond basic identifying details. For instance, virtually nothing can be said about my personality, my interests, my behavior, my abilities, my activities, my hobbies, my broader social network, my life events, etc. The information publicly available about me online reveals just as much about me that something superficial like an image of me reveals about my actual character.
Not only that, but the majority of the information online is quite dated. For instance, all of the online photos of me smiling show a younger me with braces, a clean-shaven face, and short hair, but I have been free of braces for a few years now, have a mustache and beard, and have longer hair now (usually worn in a pony tail). The most accurate photo of me is my current, year-old Facebook profile picture, but even that doesn’t prove that I don’t have braces anymore and depicts me with shorter hair still. I severely doubt that anyone could compare an online image of me to a photo of me taken now and be able to identify me as the same person—that’s how disparate my online and actual appearance are from each other. Additionally, the article about the medical camp I attended in 2017 makes me out to be an aspiring pharmacist, which was true at the time, but that information has long since been superseded. Fortunately, the information of me on the DHSP webpage of quotes does accurately portray me as majoring in computer science and user experience. However, if someone just read the article about my summer camp scholarship, they’d likely form the impression that I went on to study pharmaceutical sciences in college, which of course is a misrepresentation of my situation now.
I am fairly glad that there is such a small degree of public information about me online as I don’t appreciate having people be able to glimpse at mere snapshots of my life published online and make comprehensive judgments about me based off of that information. However, this scarcity of information can also act as a double-edged sword: having so little information online about me can cause people to extrapolate from the minimal information available to form their judgements of me, which, as a result, can produce a very skewed perception of what I am like. I am not too terribly comfortable with people having misguided perceptions of me since it could, for example, have a negative impact on employers deciding whether to hire me or not. If it were possible, I would like to reduce my data identity to as close to naught as possible so that no one can find out anything about me online, which would force them to actually meet me in person to learn about my true identity as opposed to the one depicted online. However, much of the information presented about me online is beyond my control, such as the information in news articles, data brokering sites, etc., so I have no choice but to submit to the fact that I do not have full control over my data identity. This principle is somewhat concerning and raises many ethical concerns that I hope will be considered as the internet continues to develop.