Big Data and Our Future Selves: Identity Citizenship and Reporting in the digital age

By Enyu Fan, Danni Long, Zhuokun Liu, Zihao Liu

Identity—What does it mean?

aaeaaqaaaaaaaatuaaaajdi3mjkzotcxltyyn2mtndzimi1hogixlwuxmgjjm2yymgzmnwIdentity has various definitions under different fields. Within psychology, “identity is the qualities, beliefs, personality, looks and/or expressions that make a person (self-identity) or group (particular social category or social group) (Leary & Tangney, 2003).” Looking into a broader definition, identity is the trait that people describe themselves. This concept involves in psychology, philosophy, sociology, etc., whereas in big data field it could also utilize itself, developing each sector.

Offline Identity

Offline identity, also called real-life identity, is used broadly in the society. For instance, if you want to travel to another country, you need to apply for a visa and bring your passport in order to examine your identity. In real life, identity is everywhere. Applying with Simple Sequence Repeat (SSR) it could be used for genetic fingerprinting; using social ID card it can relate to many aspects, making people’s lives more convenient. Particularly, in criminal cases, it can identify one person with precision. From abovementioned applications, big data in identity extremely broadens its application range, which aroused public’s concern.


Each person has a name given by his/her parents, used to be differentiated from other people.


Place of birth is the place where person was born, used to identify a person uniquely, and shows the person’s original country.


Since each one has a unique fingerprint, it is often used in crime scene to track the criminal.

Social Security Number

In most countries has a person a Social Security Number, used to track his/her social security.

Tax ID

A tax identification number is an identifying number used for tax purposes.

These five characteristics aim at unique identification of a person, which can be governed conveniently and effectively.

Existing with personal identity, numerical identity, qualitative identity, accidental and essential identity changes, cultural identity, multiple social group, identities legal and technological views, offline identity solved many real-life problems such as product quality, wrongly taken infant, authorization and control. It provides us with so many conveniences that living in such big data society, just clicking on the Internet we can finish the process.

Online Identity

Online-identity1.png“When you’re young, you know, you make mistakes and you do some stupid stuff (…) I want everybody here to be careful about what you post on Facebook, because in the YouTube age whatever you do, it will be pulled up again later somewhere in your life”                                                                                                                                                          –Barack Obama


With fast development of Internet, online identity plays an important role gradually. Back to 1990s when Internet industry just began, people tended to hide themselves behind the screen. They felt untrusted behind the symbol of anonymous, which caused less information change and effectivity. Most people used avatars, nicknames and profiles to show their second identity on the Internet. However nowadays, people prefer to show their real identity and share what their real thoughts are. Web-business catches the opportunity trying to link information from all available sources to re-create one persona (Adam, 2005). Take Amazon as an example, every customer can create his/her own profile to experience the online shopping. Using the data from shopping and browsing history, Amazon can then collect and analyze the data, showing customers with product recommendations that could facilitate shopping efficiency next time. Similarly, each website you browsed has been modified to your preference due to your own online identity and company’s big data strategy, which brings people with more efficient information.

At this level, online identity is equal to digital identity. Different characteristics of yourself are partial identities within the online identity. Because Internet cannot completely show each partial identity, it causes some issues and complexities.

Sometimes people would have different identities on the Internet and reality, which is hard to examine whether it is real or not. Also with the property of anonymous, children and young people tend to be cheated and get injured. How to regulate online identity is still waiting to be resolved.

Digital identity also makes an intentionally creation of users’ alternate identities. People could use the digital identity to open multiple credit cards to manage finance and to preserve privacy. As prevailed today, most online payment is done via credit card, where people need to show their digital identities. It also involves in the simple authentication and access management. When you have to sign up for an account, you usually need to type in the authentication number after filling the basic information, which is also your digital identity apart from robot.

In Microsoft Research Lab, there is a so-called application MyLifeBits, where it can continuously upload and record people’s location. This cannot be imagined back to several year ago when technology was still developing. Compared with the past, MyLifeBits increases the storage capability, which means it can record more data. It provides devices with multiple sensors recording a wealth of information. With sensitive sensors, it could examine each slight movement of people, bringing with more accurate result. Certainly, these cannot be completed without an increase in computing power to analyze, process and visualize.

Citizenship and News Reporting

Citizenship is the status of a person recognized under the custom or law as being a legal member of a sovereign state (Wikipedia). It includes political citizenship, cultural citizenship and emotional citizenship. Belonging, identity, participation, political rights, social benefits under the political citizenship form the social property of a person. To strengthen the self-recognition, big data in change of media provides with much more aspects, such as online debates, blogs, social networks, online communities, content sharing, open source software and music industry.

For news reporting, media companies would collect data from their advertising, usership, content, accounting organizations (Stone, 2014). The trend of data-rich media will continue to rise, and the potential of big data will always play its full roll in the media.




Adams, S. (2005). Information Behavior and the Formation and Maintenance of Peer Cultures in Massive Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Games: a Case Study of City of Heroes. DiGRA: Changing Views – Worlds in Play. Authors & Digital Games research Association.

Citizenship. Wikipedia. Retrieved from

Leary, M. R. & Tangney, J. P. (2003). Handbook of self and identity. New York: Guilford Press.


2 thoughts on “Big Data and Our Future Selves: Identity Citizenship and Reporting in the digital age

  1. I think the problem with this identity and “right to be forgotten” concept is where the lines are. There is a lot of legal framework that would need to be discussed, agreed upon, drafted, and implemented. While Argentina has been considering this right to one’s own data on the internet since 2006, it has gone relatively unnoticed in the mainstream population, especially in the EU, which is often needed for real legal change to happen. If you consider that when you sign on to a website, when you open a web browser, your every action can be saved and traced, it is hard to understand why there are still some people who post or do things on the internet that are detrimental to their careers or personal lives. However, the number of impulsive and frankly less intelligent individuals is growing at an exponential rate. The laws that are already in place to protect people against slander, black mail, and revenge postings are usually sufficient as long as it is someone else who is making claims against you or sharing photos or videos that you did not give consent to have taken of you. When you do however, give your consent, it is hard to make a law to protect you form your own bad decisions when that is not how it would happen in “real life” or off line so to speak. This is a really complex, morale and legal issue in addition to a question about big data. Thanks for the introduction/summary!


  2. Interesting point of view! I would also like to add the importance of online identity when applying for a job. Although not an “official” selection step, the hiring committee often searched for the applicant on Google, LinkedIn, Facebook and other social media. For this reason, a recommendation during career workshops is to hide our profiles for users we did not befriend yet. Especially for those being very public in their online activity, having their real profile posted online may act as a double-edged sword for them. On the other hand, not having one may be considered negative as well.


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