Retaining Control of your Digital Profile and Personal Information

Is Your Data Safe? Who Owns Your Data?

The issue of data safety and ownership is a concern for many people who post writing or images online.

Audrey Watters states in her book, Claim Your Domain, that “…you should be in control of your virtual place and your digital portfolio. After all, it’s your work, your identity, your data.”

People who create digital portfolios and post their words or images online may not realize that these pieces of their intellectual property may be used by others, especially companies.

Facebook is a primary example of this (the fine print in FB user statement outlines that the company owns all posted content).

In a Plagiarism Today article (link is above), author Jonathan Bailey reports that a Facebook supervisor told him, once you post something online such as uploading an image on Facebook, it is accessible to everyone with or without your control.

This sounds terrible, but it is also understandable why Facebook must absolve itself of responsibility for plagiarism and “stolen” intellectual property. It’s too complicated to mediate fights between content creators and plagiarists! Facebook, however, also claims the right to use or transfer photos and other Intellectual Property that is saved on the site. (This is stated in the FB user policy text.) Ownership reverts to the original poster only if and when their Facebook account is deleted.

Given the practical reasons for FB to claim ownership of users’ content, Watters’ belief that users should own and control their online content and identity is perhaps too optimistic. It seems unrealistic for a huge company to promise to grant all rights for content to users: too many legal issues might arise.

Watters is correct when she declares that we should own our work, identity, and data, but the very nature of the internet makes intellectual theft almost too easy.


Establishing a Digital Identity

If other people can steal our online identities by plagiarizing and re-posting our photos, name, and words, how can we ever be sure, when we’re online, that we are interacting with a real person who is portraying their real self?

In the blog post, “Digital Identities: Six Key Selves,” author Bonnie Stewart discusses the idea of how people can use online resources to create many kinds of alternative personas. The first one she discusses is a false, “Performative, Public Self.”

Instagram seems to be a good example of this “Performative, public self” phenomenon: users can choose to post only beautiful photos of themselves or their lives. This can, unfortunately, lead other people to compare their actual lives with the carefully curated fake lives of people they follow on Instagram.

Although Instagram was created simply as a way to share photos, it has become a competitive domain, one which people use daily and follow obsessively, forgetting how fake it is. Consequently, we are noticing an epidemic of low self-esteem, even suicide.

A link to an article about UPenn student Madison Holleran explains how she used Instagram to make her life look perfect even while she was suffering from crippling depression. Holleran committed suicide by jumping off the top of a parking garage.

The below link mentions an ESPN magazine article about Holleran, entitled, “Split Image.”

Stewart’s blog post mentions the many ways people change their identities online, even if they aren’t consciously doing so.

Simply using social media makes us think about how we want to be seen. What we save to sites and services such as Facebook and Instagram only confirms this desire to be seen as perfect and enviable. Ultimately, when we are online, we often create a second self, a fake identity, even though we are simply trying to establish a personal domain.

2 thoughts on “Retaining Control of your Digital Profile and Personal Information”

  1. There is a subtle difference between ownership and usage. You retain ownership of all your content on Facebook, but your user agreement grants them very broad license to your content. You also have some control by doing more with your privacy settings.

    Looking at the different selves and how those selves are manifested is interesting as well. Are digital selves much different than how we present ourselves in-person? Depressed people will often mask that depression, not only online but with those that see them day in and day out. Perhaps one is more amplified or refined than the other.

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