Abstractinfosphere which creates a discord or difference between my physical and digital embodiment. Additionally, the number of recurring inaccuracies I found online made me feel that some organizations still use this information regardless of its validity. These issues cause me to feel confusion as to what is more valid, my physical or digital identity. This also causes me to feel a general mistrust for organizations that benefit from sharing this data regardless of their data privacy statements.
I hypothesized that if I could get more information about how my data was stored and used, then I would be able to have agency and decide where I did and didn't want my data. After analysis and comparison of my data identity versus my physical identity I feel a:
- Lack of understanding of how my data is captured, stored, and used.
- Lack of agency over my digital embodiment.
Potential solutions to these problems are the ability to control where data is used and stored through Zero-Knowledge platforms and physical storage systems such as external hard drives. Data network protection services such as VPN’s will also help to alleviate these obstacles.
While researching “James Benjey” through google and other search engines, I compared publicly available and private data to help understand the relationship between my physical self, digital self, and the data that organizations use to define me. I used Fastpeoplesearch.com to understand what information is available publicly within our infosphere. I used Google Timeline to examine my digital embodiment in context to locations and where I have been on the planet. Using MyUofMHealth.org I attempted to discover how and where my medical records are stored. By searching online over these platforms I sought to examine the accuracy of the digital data compared to my physical data. Additionally I wanted to understand what information is available to who and what would I need to feel more control over my digital environment.
I organized my found data into three categories: “Public data”, “Protected data”, and “Private data” to help compare characteristics of where it exists and how it is used. Public data is information that exists in the public area of our infosphere, I have no control over how this information is stored, shared, or used. An example of this would be my address, email address or phone number. Protected data is information that is not publicly accessible or in the public area of the infosphere. I have some control over where this information is stored, shared, or used normally because of a regulatory force or encryption. An example of this are my digital health records only accessible with my consent and protected by law. Private data is information that I have almost complete control of where it is stored and shared. An example of this would be data stored on a local machine or external hard drive that is not connected to the internet.
Physical Embodiment, Digital Embodiment, & Perceivance of Self
When making a Google search for “James Benjey”, most web results are directly related to the University of Michigan. Image 1 is an example of how my digital persona mainly embodies a research student because most results are academic pages. This is because most of my digital actions have been related to my recent activity at the University of Michigan. My past experiences as a dancer are not as well documented, this may be because of the medium in which dance exists. It must be filmed which equates to large files that need to be hosted on expensive servers, not realistic for a non-profit dance company, as opposed to websites maintained and hosted by the University of Michigan.
This results in a digital embodiment of the self that reflects my experiences as a student more so than as an artist. When people search for my name, they may perceive me as someone who has mainly focused on data science over the arts. The way others perceive me impacts my own definition of self meaning the reinforcement of my digital identity impacts how I see myself. Because my dance identity is related to shows and in person performances, which have been stopped since Covid, my digital identity has taken a more dominant role in establishing how I perceive myself.
Accuracy of Physical embodiment & Digital embodiment
The relationship between myself and my digital embodiment is somewhat accurate - there is enough inaccurate information and lack of information to question whether it can be used to represent the physical self without context. Looking closer at the details publicly available information illustrates the holes in the story.
For example, I moved residences over four times during 2013 but none of those residences are listed in public records that I discovered. My thoughts are that because I did not use the addresses to receive mail or enter them online to any inforgs, they were never recorded. This is an illustration of discord between my physical and digital self. I have memories of those places however I can’t prove that I lived there unless I dig up old rent receipts. There was no digital record so it did not happen according to my digital self.
In the opposite way, there are some records that I’m not sure are accurate such as a “relative” found on fastpeoplesearch.com named Cecil Mcgranahan (https://www.fastpeoplesearch.com/cecil-mcgranahan_id_G9156151579029466321). According to my digital embodiment, this person is connected to me though they do not come up in analog genealogy records.
The image of the map above is another example of this discord. I have visited many of the locations listed but there are many unlisted and some places I've never been to. An example of this impacting me by a larger inforg would by University of Michigan defining me as an out-of-state student because I studied abroad. I am a Michigan resident but currently my digital embodiment says otherwise. Michigan has a lengthy appeal process that includes sharing more sensitive information to validate accuracy and reduce discord.
Barriers that keep trust form forming
After examining MyUofMHealth.org and attempting to understand where my medical records are stored I found that there is no explicit information explaining storage procedure. The process to access my own records is complex and allows for viewing of “important pieces” as opposed to having access to all information. Because I don’t understand where my data is being stored I am unable to fully trust that MyUofMHealth.org will not share it with other organizations knowingly or unknowingly. An example of an organization unknowingly sharing information would be a data breach caused by human error or malicious intent.
After analyzing my digital embodiment and comparing it to my physical embodiment, I found enough major differences to question whether they can be used to accurately reflect one another. This poses further questions such as, “What are the consequences of being defined by potentially inaccurate information?”
It is difficult to reach a transparent understanding of organizations actions. I don’t understand where and how digital information is stored on a physical server and to what extent it is protected. When I give my data to an organization, it is difficult to know who else it will be shared with unless they explicitly state their intent. Even then it can be difficult for me to trust an organization because most data privacy statements do not explain where data will be stored.
These obstacles lead to a lack of agency over digital embodiment. It is difficult to control where my data is stored, shared, and used which leads to difficulty controlling data privacy.
In order to start feeling more in control of my data, I need to understand who my data is being shared with by creating clear regulatory data sharing standards among organizations with impactful consequences for organizations that defy regulations. I want to reduce copies of sensitive data and create back ups where I feel secure. I want to hold an encrypted copy of data by using an external drive with an additional analog security system.
Combining the ability store encrypted data on hand, using platforms that give me knowledge of where my data is stored, and creating more clear rules for organizations to exist by will aid in creating tools that can provide agency and data privacy.
- Floridi, L. (2010). Ethics after the Information Revolution. In L. Floridi (Ed.), The Cambridge Handbook of Information and Computer Ethics (pp. 3-19). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. doi:10.1017/CBO9780511845239.002