The search for greater self-awareness is one of the main features that makes us human. I hold the improvement of self-awareness in high regard because I believe that your familiarity with how well you know yourself and how well you understand how others see you, is proportional to your roll in the global team we call humanity. My search begins with an exploration of my online data identity, in an attempt to improve my understanding of how much of my data is shared and/or accessible; we all have an online data identity… it sits dormant until summoned and since it was produced autonomously, there is no way of ensuring that the data is of the highest quality. That’s my hypothesis, so walk with me to explore this topic together.
My Internet Identity
Let’s start our journey in Google-land by searching for “Santiago Perez,” then analyzing the output. *Types in name and presses enter* Wow… I have never met so many “Santiagos” in my life… until today. A slew of “Santiagos” was fetched and they all have diverse stories. My curiosity made me click on some of these people and it was entertaining to “get to know” some of my fellow Santiagos, virtually. Now, back to the focus of becoming acquainted with myself via Google. As I kept scrolling, I eventually found myself. There were three or four links that took me to pages which mentioned me and some of my accomplishments from my days at Schoolcraft college in Livonia, Michigan. These arbitrary links came in many forms, ranging from fitness center challenges, to academic recognition. These online embodiments were accurate and stable, but somewhat redundant. For example, while I did get enjoyment from some older documented events, I do not think that this data is relevant in the present. This immediately made me realize that our online identities accumulate data without our consent and now, I have to work on strengthening my relationship with this data. I acknowledge that not everything will be within our control and this discovery put one more item on that list.
I continued rummaging through links in search of my virtual self. About six Google o’s deep, I finally found some more information. However, it was not fully accessible and seemed to be, what I consider, private data. To me, private data are things like previous/current addresses, family members, phone numbers and contact or location data that should be available only with your consent. It was disturbing to see some of my private data displayed in a public place. I felt as if someone had been monitoring me, recording data, then creating a poster of all their findings and hanging it in the middle of town square. Pretty creepy to say the least. I began digging and researching the data broker’s website and what, if any, options I have to help in removing the personal information. I found out that in the U.S. truthful statements about another person are safe to publish. However, defamation is illegal. This gave me peace of mind, but also made me get creative with what I should do next. You always have the option of contacting the website directly, and politely asking to remove or update any information, which is exactly what I did. I figure if they are not willing to take down some of my data, then maybe they can just update it to get rid of fallacies, such as mistaken family members.
After googling, I proceeded to Instagram and got a clever with the search, by creating a fake profile and page to investigate with. I quickly popped up, but not as the first find. I was near the bottom half of searches with the same name as me. I already knew that I would pop up pretty quick because my profile is public. However, I am going to change my profile’s visibility to private because if someone wanted to study me, for good or for bad, I would have no control over it. I quickly proceeded to change the visibility, then went and redid the search. This time I didn’t pop up. Now, if someone is interested in me, for whatever reason, they must send me a friend request, or I must give them access to my profile.
Facebook is another one of my social media accounts, but I use it for the marketplace more than anything else. I like searching through the marketplace for good deals and I also post things to sell. I have sold quite a few things on the marketplace, and it is very convenient. I created a fake page then searched myself and I came up rather quickly. You could see everything about me on Facebook, such as school I am attending, jobs from the past, old posts, and even things that I once sold on their marketplace. I do not want strangers knowing all this data about me so I made my profile private, although you can still see the items I have sold through the marketplace. This does not bother me as much because in my opinion, a buyer or consumer should always be able to research the seller. When doing online sales, transparency is key for many reasons. My understanding of how others view me tells me that consumers must have peace of mind, when shopping, of authenticity so that the word “scam” never enters the mind. When I first started buying things on Facebook, this was my main concern, and I would only shop with those individuals that kept the transparency throughout their profile and the buying process; therefore, I will do the same.
In conclusion, this experimental process of improving self-awareness, by taking a look at my online data identity from an outside point of view made me smarter about how I might be viewed, amongst other things. Before this experiment, I thought of myself as in control of my life and data. I now realize that I was living with fictional expectations. We all have an online fingerprint that has been generated for us with no regard to consent and knowing this, improves your self-awareness. Another take away for me is that since the internet is here to stay, we can now think of ourselves as immortal. Our online data identity is eternal and humans in the distant future will have their own perspective of us via the data of today. I am not sure of how to interpret these results right now, but with a continued search for greater self-awareness, I am sure that I will have a fixed notion of these results at some point in time.