My Data Identity
A Bit About Me
I can say with full authority that I have worried about my online persona before. When I was younger, I didn’t like the idea of people who barely knew me seeing my life pasted all over social media. Now, my fears have moved into my professional life as I prepare to graduate. What would an employer see if they Googled me? Would it hurt my prospects? Will they have preconceived notions about who I am as a person? Perhaps, but probably not. I have always kept a lot of my life private. I would never post on Facebook and while my other social media accounts are associated with me, they are never connected to my full name. I have always been conscientious of my digital footprint and fearful that my adolescent personality or passions will haunt me in the future. The way the internet captures everything is scary and invasive, and I have worked hard to fight against it. Instead of my personal life, search inquiries will find the professional image I want them to see online. Although there are a few exceptions, it seems.
Upon searching my full name and nothing else, I found my LinkedIn as the fourth result. This was slightly suspicious, even on incognito mode, as my name is quite common. Following this thread, though, I found my carefully curated page. I have a brief summary, hidden profile photo and no descriptions for the array of positions I have held. I want people to know enough about me to be interested, but I feel strange saying too much about myself on this page since it is so accessible. That being said, my UX Portfolio is linked to this page where there is a lot to learn about me. In fact, it breaks many of the rules I set for myself regarding privacy. Within my website, I share my projects, resume and many of my hobbies. I will admit, I was hesitant about adding in this personal info, but I like the idea of curating exactly what someone knows about me online. I can only do this to a certain extent because a lot of data is collected without my permission. I also know that the world is only going to move more online, so I need to figure out ways to stay private by my own standards. I would much rather people find out I like to travel in my own words than allow them to snoop through my private study abroad Instagram that I shared only with close family and friends. They will hopefully feel satisfied that I gave in and shared information about myself and decide not to snoop further. However, if they do decide to do this, they may try some more specific searches related to my location or education.
‘Julie Palmer Ann Arbor’
Following this new search query, I was once again able to find my LinkedIn as the first result. This was not surprising and also reassuring to know. I was also able to find my Behance and a link to a local magazine I work for, nothing for me to worry about. My least favorite portion of this search was easily when I came across my full home address as the third result. I realize this is true of many people due to things like WhitePages, but I do not enjoy how easy it is to find this information on me. I did not curate this information myself, which is a red flag to someone who cares about privacy.
‘Julie Palmer Saline’
A quick scroll through my LinkedIn will inform you that I grew up in Saline, just fifteen minutes south of the Diag. Unsurprisingly, my LinkedIn is the first result to pop up with this search. However, my past life (pre-college) is also on a larger display. For eleven years, I was a baton twirler with the Saline Twirlettes. There is no shortage of websites and articles showing specific details of my team, competitions and embarrassing photos. This is the first time that my online identity has been truly taken out of my own hands, visibly at least. Lingering, is the thought that this information could lead someone to personal details and data that could be used against me. I must sound paranoid; I've probably watched too many dystopian movies. However, I did not approve a single one of these posts. Yet, anyone in the world with access to the internet can find them. I will admit I am not entirely against my baton twirling postings, though. This is a part of my life that shaped me as a person immensely and therefore accurately represents who I am. I am proud of my accomplishments on this team and have them to thank for becoming a person of compassion and hard work. Even though they make me nervous, I am willing to overlook them in our invasive and public society. I think this display, although not curated by me, is important to who I am as a person and depicts my childhood years respectfully.
As I continue to reiterate, I like to keep my personal life locked up online. This includes my social media, although my family and friends have made this more difficult. My Facebook is the most accessible, and while I do not post, other people post and tag me in content from time to time. I would prefer if they didn’t, but I have the opportunity to hide photos on my profile if I wish. This allows me to keep things private, but things sometimes slip through. I've found that the Facebook interface fails to show with clarity what information is available; I don't even want to think of the other invisible data they have collected without my knowledge. My Twitter is not linked to my name, and I rarely post. I took a top-down approach and reached out to my friends and use it primarily to DM funny tweets to them. My Instagram is linked to my name. However, my name is so generic that anyone would have a hard time finding it and be disappointed to see I am private and selective on who follows me. I have no other social media accounts of note. An employer searching my name on social media would almost surely come up empty handed.
How Do I Feel About My Online Identity?
I am very conscious about the information I share online. My search query results did not exactly scare me, but I do wish I didn't find a few things. That being said, I am comfortable sharing here what a Google search may get wrong about me. First, I am more than my LinkedIn. While I spend a lot of time on my school work and honing my professional skills, I am so much more than that, which my online identity does not depict. To be fair, that is how I like it to be, but I got to wondering. Where do I draw the line when it comes to posting about myself online or sharing personal data with sites? Is it harmful or helpful that people know that my number one passion is film? Probably not, but I would never want to share too much personal info about myself that could lead to me getting hacked. Ironically, I have been hacked twice - in different facets of my life. This has made me more cautious about saving credit card information on my browser and signing up for sketchy accounts. It also makes me think more about keeping personal info that is used in security questions out of the hands of others, like I noted in my 'Saline' inquiry. I constantly worry that I am entering online spaces that will make me more vulnerable to the unethical practices of data collection. We currently live in an opt-out world for the most part, and I can't keep track of everything I am supposed to opt out of. I truly believe that everyone's digital footprint will have a vital impact on their future as we continue to move online and become more vulnerable to data collection. I mentioned it already, but I am someone who worries about a loss of control. I cannot think of a better example than my online identity. I cannot predict the future, but dystopian stories suggest our entire lives will be online, and it is only a matter of time. Will my reluctance to lose privacy inhibit me from future opportunities? This is probably something I will grapple with over the course of the next few years.
At the end of the day, my online identity is mine and mine alone. I can be cautious of what I put out there, but other things are going to seep in. Sites can gather my data without my knowledge and people may misconstrue my identity. From the beginning, I have tried to keep myself as private as possible. The expansiveness of the internet scared me when I was thirteen making my Facebook account and has only scared me more every year since. I know that corporations and governments have ulterior motives that can be harmful or invasive. I also know I cannot escape the iron fist of online data in 2021 as they get more sneaky with privacy and information sharing settings. I think I have control over my professional online persona, but we all need to expand our worries to what higher powers are doing with our information. I can only hope that I've done everything I can to keep myself sane in this online world.