My Data Identity
I have a pretty basic name. While my last name is not very uncommon sounding, its spelling is very unique. I have googled my name before, and so I know that there are few Tuohy’s, but among those few include the famous Tuohy’s from The Blindside and so I had an idea that some of my top searches would be the famous family (no relation to mine), my family, and only a couple other people with the same unique spelling. Before conducting my search for the sake of this project, I predicted my online profile would be fairly sparse, but accurate to who I am (or the side of me that I want to share) since I know that I am very cautious about what is shared online; even though my accounts are private, I have always expected anything I post to be discoverable by future employers or anyone who looked me up. After conducting my research, I can confirm that none of the information I found about myself was “untrue” or inaccurate, however it is certainly tailored to the things that I have felt comfortable posting/being tagged in over the years, most of which consist of family photos, academic or school related content, or professional or volunteer content.
When Googled, the first things that come up are my LinkedIn and Facebook as those are the only social media platforms I use my full first and last name. Clicking first on my LinkedIn, my photo is not visible nor is my headline (however, that may be because I was not logged into LinkedIn). My volunteer information, however, was visible on LinkedIn and also on the independent page of the volunteer organization. Moving to Facebook, pages I “liked” and my profile/header picture are visible, but not much else as I am on private. So far, all the easily accessible information appears to be fairly academic or extracurricular oriented, which I expected and prefer. Not much farther down on the first page of the Google search, my social media platforms that use my nickname “Carol” rather than Caroline are visible(Instagram and Twitter), but still pretty locked down besides header and profile picture. One thing that I noticed though is that my full first and last name are used as Instagram and Twitter usernames for another person, which could potentially be confusing, as usernames on those platforms are a nickname. This individual who uses my first and last name seems to be a middle aged woman who I think would be difficult to confuse with me given any context about either one of us, but I think it is good to know who I could potentially be confused with. If I could go back to when I created all these profiles for myself, I maybe would have tried to be consistent just for the sake of less confusion.
When Googling my name and looking at images, I see that several public accounts that have tagged my first and last name have images of me, but in terms of pictures I post to Instagram or Facebook, I have not seen any. Most of my profile and header photos, however, are accessible. If I try to get more specific by including “Michigan” in the search as my school and home state, it includes more extracurricular photos (not actually of me, but of people in organizations I am in) and also a women Carolyn Tuohy who spoke and the Ford School of Public Policy a few years back. This has made me wonder whether photos of me come up in a google search of one of my friends or peers in a club. I actually went on to Google a few of my best friends and go to images to see if this was the case, and only for one of them did an image of me appear; I am sure if I had gone on a more extensive dive into all the people in my life I would have seen a few more photos of myself.
Something I would have expected/desired to be more private, however, is my phone number, address, and list of relatives (some being as distant as second and third cousins). While I understand why, now as an adult, address and phone number are easily accessible and pretty public, the list of family members was a tad unsettling. I am not sure where and how the information on my family tree has been collected or where we have been linked, but interestingly it was found on voter records websites, so perhaps common addresses were linked and traced. My dad’s side of the family is a blended family, but no legal adoptions were made, so when I was linked to a step-aunt, I was surprised as it could not have been through birth certificates and marriage licenses, but rather information gathered from elsewhere. I must admit, I have Googled my family’s name in the past, but like myself, those sharing my last name are pretty locked down besides professional and academic endeavors. For my parents, this makes sense as their online data profile did not begin until they had the discretion of an adult, but I find it interesting the same is true for me and my two sisters whose profiles probably began around ages 12 or 13. No matter what platform we were on (AIM, Instagram, Snapchat) my parents always insisted we friend them so they can keep an eye on what we post, which at the time was irritating to me, but looking back I am grateful it kept me from posting anything I would regret.
Reaction to Data Identity
After thoroughly searching the web for any “dirt” on myself or embarrassing pictures I may not want associated with my name, I must admit I seem pretty boring. This definitely has its benefits and it is how I have intended my data profile to be my whole life, however, there are some downsides that I could not have foreseen. Freshman year, everyone posts a little excerpt about themselves in the “2021 Admitted Wolverines” Facebook page in the hopes of finding a roommate with their social media linked. Not only is my social media very private, but when you google me, not much about my personality or interests comes up. I remember when looking for a roommate before freshman year being concerned about this, and now as I approach graduation I realize perhaps the same scenario will present itself when moving to a new city and looking for a roommate. If I go on a blind date or meet up with friends of friends in new place, I realize that most people are going to do a quick Facebook or Instagram search before they meet you. For me, there will not be much. As Denick explained in “Exploring Data Justice,” “The processing of data from across our lives can fundamentally shape social relations, the kinds of information valued and what is ‘knowable’ and therefore acted upon” (Denik, Hintz, Redden, Treré, 2019). It has been this fact that has kept me so fearful of posting the wrong this online, but it is this same thing that makes me worry I didn’t show enough of myself where it could shape my future social relationships. Though I do not think this to be a particularly “bad” thing, I would guess like myself, people may feel more comfortable with someone they can find more information about than simply their clubs and major in college.
As previously mentioned, I would not say that my data identity is incorrect. It has all the right information: family, friends, schools, professional and academic accomplishments, and volunteer information. However, it does not embody who I am. If my profiles were more public, someone could maybe gather how I have dry humor, a passion for healthcare and education equity, a newfound love for dogs, and sarcasm. None of these are things I am ashamed of or want to hide from the "future employer" figure that has been drilled into my head by my parents and teachers, but still, I want my accounts to remain private. Reflecting on it, I do not know why I am comforted with the idea that my entire identity is not discernible from a quick Google search; my address and phone number are easily found, but not aspects of my personality are, which thinking about it, is pretty backwards to what one may think of the conventional idea of personal privacy (in person, personality is evident, whereas personal information is not). I am sure my comfort comes from the twisted idea that I have somehow "successfully" have not up all of my privacy. Despite my fear that I could come across one dimensional or boring, I like choosing what information about myself is shared with whom. Though I know no "private" account can protect my privacy and what is on the internet is fair game to be discoverable, for the purposes of someone conducting a surface level search on me, I am fairly confident I prefer my data identity currently as is.
Dencik, L., Hintz, A., Redden, J., & Treré, E. (2019). Exploring data justice: Conceptions, applications and directions.