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Establishing Your Digital Identity

Your Digital Identity and Privacy

Online personas are an extension of us, a part of ourselves. Collectively, they form our online identity- which can be quite abstract depending on how many forms of social media and sites a person engages with. But that’s alright, because we learned that we can control our online identity by picking and choosing how we present ourselves and what information we depart.

In order to protect our online identities, we were taught to not post anything “bad” or “incriminating” in the eyes of our family, future employers, or anyone else representing authoritative judgement. These things might “follow” us for the rest of our lives because “nothing can truly be deleted from the internet.” Audrey Watters in The Web We Need To Give Students defines this as digital citizenship. And that’s easy- don’t post pictures or videos of partying, acting out, or otherwise behaving on the more wild side.

To cement this sentiment, a professor during my junior year assigned a paper that required us to explore our digital identities. In order to complete the assignment, we had to type our name into the Google search bar. If I do that right now, I’ll see my LinkedIn and Facebook account in the results, as well as academic mentions on App State’s website news. And if I’m honest, these results barely begin to encompass what I consider my digital identity. If someone had knowledge of and were to search my most used gamer tag/online alias, that would expand on my online identity, but still not cover everything.

At this stage of my life, what would significantly fill in the blanks of my identity for anyone looking is a repository of my work- an accessible, online, and controlled portfolio. As someone who has spent the last 18 consecutive years of their life attending one academic institution or another, it would be an understatement to say how encompassing education has been. But this isn’t wholly reflected anywhere online- when it should be. I would expect this sentiment to be relatable, and therefore fully agree with and admire the efforts of UMW and The Domain of One’s Own Initiative to give students autonomy of their online identity. And I appreciate that their focusing on educating students on what they can control, rather than just what they cannot- i.e. privacy legislation. 

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) lays out privacy rights in the context of students and their parents. Its purpose is to provide access to the student’s records and be able to challenge the record content and the release of the records to third parties. Information on this can be found here.

By providing students of greater control of their digital identity, they are educating students on how to manage it as well- beyond the digital citizenship they are accustomed to. Going further into the Age of Technology, this is incredibly important as pressure to present yourself online as you do in real life increases. This is evident in the way that an influencer’s power is positively correlated with their perceived authenticity. But as authenticity and online interaction increases, it is arguable that user-controlled privacy decreases.

Some users feel like they have nothing to hide, and this reflects in their perceived apathy toward the increased data mining by corporations and lack of attention towards privacy-related legislation in the works. For example, while Americans are concerned with COVID-19, the EARN IT Act is currently threatening to end end-to-end encryption. This would give law enforcement officials and the government a backdoor into user information, currently held by tech companies.

 The amount of government surveillance that would be made possible would infringe on users’ right to privacy. Despite the gravity of the implications, many people are unaware of this legislation. This makes education on digital citizenship, online identity, and privacy advocacy even more critical. Therefore, I would like to argue that there should be more efforts to educate students on their digital identity by giving them full control of it within their rights.

3 replies on “Your Digital Identity and Privacy”

I applaud the acts of UMW. There is the concept of big data floating around and what is ethical for corporations to collect and how they can use them. The debate is common. Is information you generate online “yours” or since you posted things to facebook, do they then become owned by facebook itself? I’m sure there are stipulations in various places throughout the TOS that allow such activity and give facebook the rights to market that created data however they want. But is this ethical? Online privacy is heavily being encroached upon lately and I’ve taken to using various alternatives, like duck duck go instead of google, firefox instead of chrome, NordVPN when necessary, among other things. I’ve taken a few computer security classes and hold a few Microsoft tech associate certifications as well as CompTIA Networking and Security+ certs from some time in community college a few years ago. We explored various tools for privacy and exploiting it. There are a few frightening things you learn. If you use TOR for example, certain sites will not allow you to use their networks. Google begins acting weird and other data-collection heavy sites will outright prevent you from accessing their site. VPNs still seem to work mostly, however, some sites do not allow access from certain providers and regularly blacklist VPNs, even blacklist bifurcated servers. They could argue they are protecting the safety of their sites by doing so, however, I have a feeling it has to do with a lack of data collection capability.

Giving people the right to their digital information, and how it is used, is essential. Some sites at least let you view your data now. Snapchat currently has an option that allows you to download your data (although I still steer clear of the application). Transparency is increasingly important in data collection and online life. Giving people control of their online world is ethical, and critical to moving forward in a digital age.

This is really insightful and eye-opening to me. I think our generation has been branded as the “technology generation” but I sometimes feel that I do not know enough to be given this title. For instance Jarrod, I do not know about half of the things you are talking about with data and privacy. I don’t know if this is due to my own ignorance or lack of education. Either way, I would that not only is transparency so important, but so is clear education on our rights early on.

Thank you, Jarrod, for commenting what you did on my blog post! As someone who is interested in breaking into the InfoSec industry, I was thrilled to learn about your experience and hear your response.

I was unaware that some sites don’t allow VPN users or TOR users access. And it was surprising to hear this, as there seems to be a big push to use VPNs. Also, I would think that using TOR would expand the websites you have access to- without taking away.

But I fully agree that transparency and user control is ethical and necessary going forward.

And Shannon, I don’t think it’s out of ignorance that you’re not as familiar with privacy and security. These aren’t subjects taught in even the CIS core classes here. I’ve only learned the little I know from seeking out couple electives and finding a few security professionals to talk to.

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