Beck, “The Invisible Digital Identity”

In the study of digital writing and rhetoric, the field has been centrally concerned with the visible digital identity, one that users can regulate in online spaces and platforms. However, Beck argues that ‘with each click of a web page, we also have an invisible digital identity constructed through third-arty elements and tracking technologies” (126). For Beck, identity in digital spaces is intimately tied to digital surveillance and tacking technologies. Identity is “constructed by computer algorithms and tracking technologies, and those data elements become a digital apparatus for digital social engineering and marketing of virtual bodies” (128). Beck outlines three defining characteristic of the invisible digital identity:

  1. It’s regulated: by controlling flow of information, web companies can regulate behavior on the internet.
  2. It’s made up of an ecology of objects, materials, and dimensions.
  3. It refracts the internet: one’s invisible digital identity, harvested from web browser and machines, creates unique and customized experiences for each user.

Beck notes, via Lierouw, that there are three stages of internet development: the relational Internet (“the interpersonal and personally customized character of online and mobile communication”); the enclosed Internet (“growing technological and legal restrictions on new media devices and systems”); and the ‘mean world’ Internet (“these sense of risk or exposure online that has been used to justify the expansion of increasingly invasive private and state surveillance/security regimes”) (Lierouw 617 qtd in Beck 128).


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