Samantha Thick

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The Age of Information is an exciting and terrifying era to live in. There are endless debates about individual’s privacy and the deregulation of privatized technology companies that control information flow. Some believe privacy is a luxury of the past and as the world becomes more digital, we must give it up, others believe tech companies are unrightfully using our information for their own benefit and we must fight for privacy. My personal data identity falls somewhere in between these two arguments. I believe in technological evolution and digitalizing the future to connect the world and make things more accessible. I also believe my information is mine and I should have the sole ability to decide what gets shared and who uses it.

My Data Identity: As Private As A Social Media User Can Be

I have taken the efforts necessary to implement my data identity into how I use social media and the internet to the best of my ability. From what I found in this project, I am happy with the results and how my public information represents me. Remaining private while also being active on public forums and social media is easier than many may think. To educate both sides of the privacy argument I will break down how I personalized my internet portfolio.

Social Media Privacy Settings

Before getting into what my online data identity looks like to the digital world, I wanted to highlight some of the privacy settings social media platforms and how I use them. As an active social media user, I enjoy the information and interaction these platforms give me access to but understand concerns people have with how they invade privacy. The biggest complaint about these sites is that they are too public and share too much personal information with the world. I was raised to keep as much personal information off the internet as possible but also raised in the age of a social media boom, making me more aware of the privacy settings applications provide than most users my age.

Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat

Facebook is one of the most confrontational social media hosts largely because it was one of the firsts, has older generations as users, and has made mistakes in the past. It has also learned from its past flaws to an extent when it comes to improving user privacy settings. Twitter has had similar issues but has come a long way in its privacy settings from when it originated. Instagram, my personal favorite site, mostly because I enjoy images and looking through photos but also because of how easy it is to make a profile secure, is less open about how they use your data than Facebook and Twitter. Similarly, Snapchat has many different privacy and personalization settings available, but they are slightly harder for the user to find.

All these social media hosts allow the user to make their profile private, some like Instagram and Twitter do so more obviously, while others like Facebook hide these controls better. By setting my profile to private I limit the ability for anyone that I do not previously approve of from seeing anything more than my profile picture and biography. I limit the amount of times these profiles appear in searches as well by using a diminutive form of my name as my handle and adjusting settings like Instagram and Facebook have that allow me to turn off their ability to share my information with their affiliates and search engines.

One thing Twitter does remarkably well is make it easy to turn off personalized data tracking. Under the "Personalization and Data" section of their privacy settings Twitter has in depth explanations of what they are doing with your data and how they are sharing it but by clicking the slider to turn these setting to "off" you can easily protect your data. Facebook has similarly detailed explanations offering six different privacy categories through their settings. Instagram and Snapchat are less straightforward about how they use your data. Neither host goes into great detail about how they use your data and Snapchat hides the settings under confusing language making it more difficult to turn them off. Both make the personal account information settings, like who can see what and when, obvious under the "Settings" tab, however, to get into the details of how they use your information and manage the way your data is shared is not as clear. Snapchat for example makes the user navigate to the "Additional Services" --> "Manage" --> "Data Saver" to turn off different information tracking and sharing options

From my personal experience the biggest steps in securing my online identity were to change all the default sharing options from "Public" to "Only My Friends", making my profiles private, turning off location tracking (which by default on most of these sites is turned on), and most importantly not connecting my accounts to my phone number, contact list or to one another. By keeping each application separate and not connecting my profiles it is harder for the internet to connect the dots on my trends and personal information creating a barrier between all the different pieces of my online identity. I share more through my Snapchat than any other application, including my location (only while using the app), contact list, phone number, and camera roll. This comes from the nature of the application being less social media based, and more communication based. This is tricky however, because they are a social media host in all other accounts, especially concerning how they use and share personal user data. The main way I retain privacy through Snapchat is by turning off settings, like the “Lifestyle & Interests” tracker and on "snap map" my location is in "ghost mode" when by default Snapchat tracks and shows your location while you use the app.

With these precautions I have made it that the only way to find my profiles is to be logged into the application and specifically type my exact Profile name into the search, or to look through the "Friends" list of those I have accepted as my "Friend".

Did These Privacy Precautions Work?

After testing my online identity through Google Search Incognito Mode(avoiding saved settings in my normal chrome window) and I was happily surprised with how little the internet knew about me. Almost all I found were professional profiles and images I purposely made public for the purposes of academia and job searches.

Google Search (Incognito Mode)

My Google exploration was done three times, each search more specific via location than the first. I began by searching my full name "Samantha Thick" and the results I got were 5/10 accurately linked to me. Of these five pages all were related to professional sites and profiles such as LinkedIn and Portfolium. The images in this search returned three of me, one my LinkedIn profile, the other two were near the bottom of the results and were from Newspaper articles about my high school basketball performances.

My next search limited the scope by adding "Ann Arbor Michigan" after my name. This search returned almost the same results the only difference being an image that linked me to my job with the University of Michigan.

Finally, I replaced the "Ann Arbor Michigan" with my hometown and state. I expected the most information to be found about me with this search, because I am from a small town, and had an successful athletic career in high school. This supposition was correct. Most of the images and articles were me and majority of them were articles reporting game statistics and breakdowns. When searching as specific as full name and hometown some information is inevitable to be shared as my address, birthday, and other personal information is found through the Michigan resident database and voting records database.

Conclusion (Is My Internet Persona Accurate)

In conclusion, I am proud of how I have managed to be an active social media user and keep my personal information private. Although people who know me only through their screen still do not know the real me, I feel in control of how they perceive me. The things I post for my friends and family to see are highlights of my work and academic life, they show a more confident, fun, adventurous, and successful side of myself but that is because I am willing to share that part of myself with them. Most of my posts relate to my travels, fun times with friends, and the amazing opportunities my job offers me.

The public that only sees my search results from Google, will see a young, successful high school athlete that has carried those achievements into her work and personal life at the University of Michigan. All this information is factual and although I might not be as confident or put together as my internet persona conveys, I think it overall gives a positive and accurate representation of who I am today. I still have work to do in limiting the amount I share with certain applications and companies but for now I agree with and support what the internet portrays as my Data Identity.