I broke my search down into two queries. First, I searched my full name only, then I searched my full name paired with my hometown to see if this would yield more specific results. I was planning on doing more variations, but these two queries were all it took to find an alarming amount of information about me.
While searching just my name, many things were uncovered about me like my university, my jobs, my major, my location, pictures of me and my friends, as well as all of my social media accounts. Additionally, I was able to find my Medium account and the blogs I have posted. More interestingly, my softball recruitment videos buried deep within YouTube appeared as one of the first results.
Searching my name paired with my hometown yielded more troubling results. I was able to find out essentially everything I needed to know about myself. In particular, a profile of me on FastPeopleSearch was one of the first results. This had my address, age, an interactive map of where my house is, my past addresses, and a list of my relatives. I expected that I would find pictures of myself online from years of social media usage and high school sports, but I never suspected that it would be so easy to find my home address for free. It is safe to say I was very unsettled from this experience.
After the concerning results from Google, I was not looking forward to my search on, Ecosia. However, when I searched my name, I was pleasantly surprised when the only result that was about me was one of my offensive highlights softball videos and my high school track statistics. While I don’t necessarily want people to see my sub-par fifty-five- and two-hundred-meter dash times, these results are much less troubling than Google.
When I searched my name paired with my hometown, my LinkedIn and Twitter accounts appeared. I was surprised to see Twitter in the results, as I have not used this account in years. While exploring images, the only one I found was a thumbnail from my softball recruitment video. This is in stark contrast to Google that had multiple images of me appear, as well as images I have posted on social media of friends.
Lastly, I explored a search engine I have never liked, Bing. Again, I was surprised to find that upon searching my full name, very little information about me appeared. Among many Catherines, Katherines, and Cathys, the only thing displayed about me was my softball recruitment video – a general theme I am seeing here is that this video is very persistent.
When I searched my name paired with my town, a profile of myself was displayed on the side of the page that had my school, major, LinkedIn account, work experience, and a “People Also Searched For” section. What is most concerning to me is that I have never heard of some of the people listed in this section. Bing claims this information is from LinkedIn, but how did it have the names of people I do not know and have not connected with on LinkedIn? There were no pictures of me displayed in the images section, but I would rather there be pictures than an in-depth profile down the side of the search results page.
My Online Identity
My Information Across Platforms
When I started this online data identity journey, I expected the information about me across different search engines to be relatively stable, or equal. I was surprised and confused to see that this was not the case. Why did Google have so much more information about me? Why did Bing associate me with people I have never heard of? It felt as though my questions would never be answered.
It is strange that one search engine can hold a great deal of sensitive information, while others might display surface-level information. The question of whether or not publicly displaying where I live is ethical, plagues me. It feels wrong that anyone can look up my name and hometown and one of the first things that displays will be my address.
The information I found about myself on the search engines was accurate. From social media accounts to sports statistics, to my addresses, to my university. The only mildly incorrect information was Bing’s “People Also Searched For” section as there were people in that section that I do not know. I now wonder how Bing found those people, and why the search engine thought I was associated with them.
While the information was accurate, it is not representative of who I am. My softball videos were persistent throughout my queries, yet I do not play softball anymore as I decided not to pursue a collegiate career. My Twitter account and pictures I have tweeted were also highlighted, but I have not used Twitter in years. Even when I did use it, I posted superficial information like wishing people ‘Happy Birthday’, linking to Instagram posts, and retweeting others’ tweets. I was not comfortable in the Twitter environment, and therefore never expressed myself. This made me realize that if someone were to explore my Twitter account, it would not paint an accurate picture of who I am today, or even who I was when I used the account.
While I can see both positives and negatives regarding the ease of obtaining personal information, I feel that the negative outcomes for having an abundance of personal information easily accessible outweigh the positive outcomes. Having my address, or anyone’s address, displayed could be dangerous for many reasons. Displaying an interactive google map of my house – including street view – and the surrounding area takes this one step further. I now feel that we are fed an illusion of online privacy; nothing is truly private.