These days, thanks to the fast development of Information and Communication Technology (ICT), we get easier access to more extensive and timely information and are able to communicate with each other more conveniently and efficiently. Media like Facebook and Twitter become hot platforms where people can share their daily fun and express their emotions freely, while apps like Instant Checkmate gains lots of fans due to their high efficiency of information searching. However, when we are immersed in this fascinating world created by high-level technology, we should also pay attention to the potential risks that the ICT has. In the following paragraphs, I will take the experience of searching myself on the internet as an example, to illustrate my concern about this booming technology.
- 1 Name searching in Engines
- 2 Instant Checkmate
- 3 Social Media Use
- 4 My feelings about my data identity
- 5 Conclusion
- 6 References
Name searching in Engines
My name is '孙志远', and I tried to search my name in several different search engines including Google and Baidu (a popular search engine in China). Both of these engines are widely used and famous for their enormous information bases. I expected to find some interesting and special information about myself, but none of the search results were very satisfactory. The information that search engines gave me is mainly about a patriotic hero who shares the same name as me. There are also many lawyers, businessmen who are named ‘孙志远’, but none of them are related to me. After adding constraints like the name of the high school I attended, the result became more accurate. One of the results presented the information of my high school admission with detailed time and accurate middle and high schools’ names. I felt surprised about it because I had completely forgotten the date that I received the high school offers. This surprising result encouraged me to change other constraints like the Twitter account. Sadly, the result turned back into inaccurate again.
Reflections on search results
After deeply looking into this name searching period, I find the search result is reasonable. To begin with, the common appearance of the name ‘孙志远’ in China contributes to the high probability of my sharing name with those famous people. My family name '孙' ranks third in the Book of Family Names, which is one of the most important Chinese Classics recording some common family names in Chinese history. Obviously, ‘孙’ is not a rare family name. What’s more, my second name ‘志远’ means having lofty ambition in Chinese. Parents always attach high expectations on children’s future development, so ‘志远’ is also a common second name expressing parents’ best wishes for their children. All these factors make the rate of people named ‘孙志远’ very high. Secondly, search engines always list results of the same information by their searched time. Most results about ‘孙志远’ are information of people with a huge contribution to society or successful careers. On the other hand, my life experience seems to be mediocre. When I was a child, I was too busy with my studying to spare time to do some extracurricular activities with broad influence. At the same time, I seldom participated in competitions, so I also lost some chances to become famous by winning prizes. Therefore, search results are information about those ‘孙志远’ with a high level of social focus instead of me. Moreover, different relevancies of different constraints are because those constraints have distinguishing importance. After reflecting on my past life, I recall that I was admitted through a special examination other than the centralization examination to high school (a.k.a. Zhongkao). This special examination benefits some students well because it will reduce their pressure to a large extend. Many students attended this examination and it gained a high level of focus. Thus, my high school should conduct this examination fairly and post the final result to the public. These constraints are important because it’s a special experience for me which also has attracted a lot of attention. However, the constraints like Twitter account are almost meaningless. Although I have accounted for many mainstream social media both in China and internationally, and also enjoy using or even deeply immersing into social media to stay in touch and socializing with others, I seldom post my own life on it. As a result, I haven’t gained some uniqueness on those social media which may set me apart from others.
To get more information about myself through the Internet, I try to look for some efficient apps. I noticed that almost all examples from previous years mentioned an app called Instant Checkmate, an online personal information search website.
potential risk in legitimacy
I tried to search myself on the Instant Check, but it failed because it only works for people in the United States. When I first heard about such a website that gives you all personal information with just one click, I was both curious and scared. I was scared because I was worried about its legitimacy and ethicality. Unfortunately, such a website is indeed legitimate because it only gathers information from another website. However, along with the convenience it brings to us, there is also serious potential risk. The information can be accessed too easily, with merely several clicks and a simple consent of not using information for illegal activities, which has no binding on one's behavior and no penalty for illegal use. You will never know how the viewer of your information uses it, and it may hurt your privacy security.
illegitimacy and inequality
Although I did not find myself on the website, my curiosity drives me to search several celebrities on it. The results of some celebrities’ information are very accurate, while for some celebrities, I cannot find anything of them on this app. This makes me think of two things. First, is the privacy of the celebrities with lots of information on this app being threatened? Although the website is just an aggregation of information, it does lower the threshold for people to attain the information. Much information normally hidden deeply in a corner of the Internet before is now exposed into people's eyes straightforwardly. For example, if a celebrity's personal number is shown on the website, will he or she be continuously harassed by his fans or haters? Second, is there any unfairness when treating celebrities and ordinary people like you and me? The reason for failing to find some celebrities is probably because the website either creates a block list for certain people or the celebrities hire their legal teams to deal with such issues. Is there unfairness behind this? When it comes to private security, should celebrities be treated differently just because of their identities?
Such websites are not allowed in China
I also tried to find the counterpart applications in China to see if things work out, but I only find apps that have limited access to criminal and credit records. This phenomenon reflects that the Chinese government has attached many importances to the protection of privacy and security. Such apps that reveal full personal information have been prohibited since 2013. According to BBC News, several violent flesh search events have given rise to this prohibition. In early 2013, a shopkeeper posted a security camera screenshot, claiming the girl in the screenshot to be a thief and asking others to conduct a flesh search. Soon, the girl's name, school, and address were exposed to the public. Through these pieces of information, many people criticize this girl directly, even abuse her severely with rude words. Finally, this girl suicided under huge pressure while later proved to be innocent. The Chinese government took action to prohibit flesh search and also the information search apps that accelerate this process. I know China has long been criticized for its abuse of private information and lack of action in privacy protection, which I do not deny, but at least in this issue, China has done a laudable and fruitful job. At least, when I was in China, I never received a spam call in the mid of the night claiming that I was involved in criminal activity and had to transfer all my money into a certain account for protection.
Social Media Use
After knowing the importance of personal information security, I try to think deeply about the potential risk of my privacy security.
Risk on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram’ accounts
For international social media, I use Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn. However, except for LinkedIn, I only view others' content on other international social media. After hearing many tragedies caused by personal information security problems, I learned to protect myself by not using my real name on them. Therefore, unless I append my social media account after my name, I cannot search for any result about myself. The goodness is that it is very hard for others to associate these accounts with me directly. However, if they can trace back to the email address used when I registered these accounts, it would be easy for them to identify my identity, since I used the same email address that contains my real name. This is also a common problem that existing in many of my friends. They either use a school email account or the same personal email address to register other accounts. This behavior will make their accounts easily linked together.
Risk on accumulation personal information on LinkedIn
I registered my LinkedIn account one year ago in order to stay prepared for future job search. I put my previous experiences and my contact information on it and keep updating it once in a while. I also added many alumni and relatives. Only by doing so will LinkedIn push more job positions to me. At the same time, more personal information and relationships are exposed to LinkedIn. Therefore, my LinkedIn account might be my biggest weakness if one wants to peek at my personal information.
My feelings about my data identity
After searching myself thoroughly using different methods, I genuinely feel fortunate and reassured for not revealing much personal information online, because it is quite hard to not leave traces on the Internet given such frequent use of the Internet. Up to now, the searching results of myself on the Internet cannot reflect the real and detailed me. As a matter of fact, there is some true and highly-related information about me on the Internet but it is good that such information is not collected and associated together to form my data identity or at least the data identity is not easy to find.
Meanwhile, I also feel a little disappointed that the digital me looks so boring and dull. While in the real life I am a unique and attractive soul as other Zhiyuan Suns on the Internet. I have a persistent love for mathematics, a unique taste of cuisines, and great enthusiasm for bodybuilding. All these characteristics make me stand out from my peers. While my personal information is well-protected, I lose the opportunity to showcase my vivid and lively personality. And therefore blocking other kindred spirits making friends with me.
According to Floridi, "Digital evolution must no longer be offered to a customer in the trade-off between privacy and security. Privacy is not for sale, it's a valuable asset to protect". As a participant in the global infosphere, we should attach more importance to our information security. As the beneficiary of the extensive source of information, we must also respect others' right of privacy while enjoying the convenience of ICT.
“Self-Understanding.” The Fourth Revolution: How the Infosphere Is Reshaping Human Reality, by Luciano Floridi, Oxford University Press, 2014. https://www.spp.gov.cn/spp/llyj/201803/t20180324_372129.shtml https://www.bbc.com/zhongwen/simp/china_watch/2013/12/131218_flesh_search_crackdown