Your Data Self

Note: This article was originally posted on

by Aaron Titus

Georges-Pierre Seurat was a 19th century French painter credited with starting Neo-impressionism and developing a painting technique called “pointillism.” His famous painting, La Parade, contains the detail on the right: A complicated series of blue, orange, pink, red, black, and yellow dots that together create a man’s profile.

This detail is the single best visualization of your “Data Self” I have seen. Your Data Self is a collection of your credit report, Facebook page, Google results, Bank account numbers, archived e-mails, and an endless parade of other data. Like pointillism techniques, which juxtapose contrasting dots to create vibrant masses of shaded tones, each piece of personal information is a single dot. Perhaps one is your address, your middle name, your pet’s name, or your favorite color. Maybe some represent your family, and others represent your friends or religious beliefs. Some represent your travels, magazine subscriptions, and purchase habits. Still others are intimate thoughts.

Taken individually or in small groups, they do not mean much- they may even seem to contrast or contradict one another. But all together they form your profile, or Data Self: A pretty good, but not 100% accurate representation of who you are. And this profile is exactly what data brokers, government actors, and marketers (among others) are trying to determine.

We leave trails of dots as we interact with others, especially online. As Gregory Conti, a computer science professor at the United States Military Academy at West Point, explained, “Free Web services arenít free. We pay for them with micropayments of personal information.”

Since your Data Self is a digital alter-ego, with the power to enter contracts, grant access to your financial assets, have surgery, or commit crimes, you should actively shape and control access to your Data Self.

  1. #1 by Mike Valentine on July 7, 2009 - 7:45 am

    Great illustration of the data privacy issue! I hope that we can start to view all privacy issues this dispassionately so everyone can understand why it matters.

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