John Wisniewski

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You probably already know what you're getting into if you clicked on this page, but I figured I better introduce myself just in case. Soon you'll know enough about me that I'd consider you a friend. So hello, my name is John Wisniewski. I know you probably want to get right into my essay, so I won't say any more. Buckle up and get ready to read: If there's one thing I've learned (and that I hope to convey), it's that having an online identity is unavoidable. Despite people’s varying comfort levels with online data collection, allowing users to control their data would significantly improve online environments.

Public Information

Not a lot of my information is public, and I have worked very hard to achieve this. When you look me up ("John Wisniewski"), no results appear, and this is because there is a prominent politician that shares my name. He looks a bit like Joe Biden and seems to have served in the New Jersey legislature [1].

To find information about me, you have to look up my name in addition to other parameters. For instance, if you look up "John Wisniewski Umich," the first result is actually about me! This page is my LinkedIn page, which I will talk about soon. And if you look up my name and my home city, you can access my voting records and information, which contain my address.

Many public results illustrate my past involvement in sports. If you look up my name and my high school, you can access articles in the newspaper about my performances in swim meets [2][3][4]. You can also access my 5k splits [5] and my mile time [6].
A photo of my linkedin
You can't access my best 5k time, as my coach mistakenly thought my name was "Jon" the entire time I ran cross country.


As promised, I felt it was essential to address the premier online source of information about me: My LinkedIn profile. My profile is pretty standard, showing my educational and professional history. Honestly, I'm glad this is one of the first results, mainly because it's a situation where I control the narrative. I have added all the information and can verify it to make sure that it is correct and accurately portrays me.
A photo of my LinkedIn privacy settings

Even though I curate the information, I don't fully control how LinkedIn uses my data. When I created my account, I didn't look into the privacy settings. When researching this project, I have noticed many areas where LinkedIn was using my data in ways I didn't want. I noticed they were using my location and demographic information to present more relevant ads. Personally, I don't understand why anyone would have this turned on. As I often do on any platform, I have since revised these settings to limit the amount of data on me that is collected.

Is my Public Identity Accurate?

Despite the somewhat surprising amount of correct information online about me, I like to believe that the answer to this question is no. My first name and last name are exceedingly common (my mom says our last name is like the Polish version of "smith"). Beyond merely the lack of online information, Google does not accurately portray me. No one reading the 2014 edition of the school paper I linked earlier will be surprised by this. Even when you use more detailed parameters, results come up that still aren't relevant. I often wonder how other people interpret the information they find when they search for me. Do they realize the information is from someone else? I will never know.

Perhaps the most telling part of my online identity is my public LinkedIn profile. LinkedIn is one of my very few public profiles, and I have never posted. I probably never will. LinkedIn also was collecting my data even as I used the app, which has made me much more hesitant to participate. Even though I control how I am presented here, I am still not comfortable with having my profile public. Every day I think about making my profile private: however, the small hope of being offered a job makes me keep it public. While some people thrive on having public profiles, I often find them restricting. Even though I can make my profile private, I feel heavily pressured by both society and LinkedIn to keep my profile public. There is also a big push for you to use your real identity, thus you cannot remain anonymous. I wish I had more control of how I was presented here: if my profile were private, my experience would improve significantly.

The rest of my outdated information doesn't really bother me. What scares me about my online identity is that my address is so readily accessible, and a public institution that is the foundation of our country is the source. Despite not being at high risk, I still feel uncomfortable and wish I could take this down. However, I'm more concerned for people who need to protect this information, domestic abuse victims immediately come to mind. Despite legally being public (and only in certain states)[7],
A photo of the Instagram search screen. My name is entered, and none of the results are me (I promise)
I feel this information can pose a (not insignificant) threat to our electoral system. If you knew that your address would be displayed online after you voted, and you feared your abuser would act on this information, would you vote? How many people do you think can't vote or express their democratic voice out of fear for their safety?

Private Information

Beyond my LinkedIn account, I don't appear much online. However, this isn't to say that I'm not online: I have public accounts on Tik Tok, Snapchat, and Twitter. I'm also active on Discord, Slack, YouTube, and GroupMe, but it is much harder to search for individual users on these platforms. I have attempted to look up these profiles in their respective apps, and it was hard to find them. Most of my profiles are anonymous or not associated directly with me. My "professional" Instagram, and other social media profiles, didn't even show up when you search my name. This was interesting because I figured even if my account were private, people would still be able to see it: however, this is most likely not the case unless you know my exact username.

Is my private identity accurate?

The way in which my personal internet history is reflected pleasantly surprised me. I always worry that my activity on private accounts will come back to haunt me. Despite how my online presence might present me, I am routinely much more active on my personal accounts. In these spaces, I often feel comfortable experimenting with my identity. As Sarah T. Roberts puts it, “[the internet] is a place where one could try on different identities, points of view, and political stances,” [8] Because these private spaces only reflect parts of me that I post, I can freely express myself, among an audience I can control.

Despite the private nature of my activity, I'm more than positive companies are still collecting my data. As my primarily used platform, Instagram probably knows me quite well: they collect how I use the platform and data based on my device and location [9]. Instagram appears to collect a lot more information for services I will never use, which I cannot turn off. Even LinkedIn has a much better privacy policy. When they generate insights, they don't identify you, which is a significant step towards data privacy.

However, even if it is only to exterior viewers, the slight hint of privacy has allowed me to feel much more comfortable. I routinely meet new people, which forces me to learn and think about new cultures. I also can interact with people similar to me, something I struggled with even in college. Unlike some social media influencers, I am incredibly uncomfortable with leaving traces of my identity online. Having some control over how my data is presented allows for me to benefit from these systems. Unlike LinkedIn, which I never use, I greatly benefit from and routinely interact and engage with sites where I have more control over my public identity (and can remain anonymous to outside viewers). Even my friends with public accounts have noted that controlling how their data is collected would significantly improve their online experience.

Concluding Thoughts

While researching this project, I was continually surprised at how my life is presented online. It is a purely qualitative view: sports and educational achievements define my existence. Meanwhile, there is a lot of information that I haven't directly consented to display. Because of my mostly private identity, I often lose control of how I am presented. Overall, One of my primary goals in life is to feel comfortable in both in-person and online environments. Privacy plays an essential aspect in this, and when having a data identity is often unavoidable, even the illusion of privacy can be significantly impactful.


  1. Wikipedia:John Wisniewski
  8. Roberts, Sarah T. Behind the Screen: Content Moderation in the Shadows of Social Media. Yale University Press, 2019.