I Google people.
If I had said this a decade ago, you would have thought that I was confessing to something akin to being a peeping tom or voyeur. But today, everyone reading this knows that I am telling you that I look people up on Google to see what the Internet says about them.
Privacy vs. Anonymity
I see some of you out their squirming to write something back in defense of privacy that you think you have a right to. I am sorry to be the one to tell you, privacy and anonymity are not the same thing. There are parts of your life and data that the law will protect. Most of it is fair game. And game is the right word.
Somewhere it got into our conciousness that if we use handles like "RubberDuck21" or "CyberToad69" that no one would know who we were, and we would be anonymous on the Internet. That sitting at home in your PJs, you can go online and create a whole new, disposable, and untraceable identities. That what you do online is somehow protected and private and anonymous. Well this has always been false.
Going online with an alias of CyberToad is just as anonymous as putting on a mask and going to a Halloween party. It works until you start talking. As soon as you open your mouth, you start giving yourself away. This means that if you go online, and shop, chat, blog, or search, there is data stored that makes a profile of you. This profile was not created by the penetrating act of hacking and ID theft, it is just a gathering of information that you gave away, freely.
How to find People
Have you ever Googled yourself? If not, you should. You may have to use more than your name, especially if you are a John or Sarah. There is some other Roy Hayward that is a hairdresser in the UK. He takes the number one spot on Google for my name, but he is not me, and no one is really confused. When I Google people, I generally have a few bits of information in addition to a name.
When you talk to someone on the bus or the plane, most people learn one or more places that you have lived. We volunteer this information in casual conversation. When we volunteer information we are surrendering some of our privacy.
So now we have at least the state, and most times the city. Most meetings give away a few other things like gender and ethnicity, whether we have a family, etc. If you are a professional, you may give out your industry and even your employer. With these small and common pieces of information, it becomes obvious that I am not the Roy Hayward in the UK, but the Roy Hayward in Utah. It works the same for you.
Armed with this information, people like myself go to Google.com and search for people they wish to know more about, people we have met, and want to do business with in some fashion. I generally find out what I need and want to know; "Is this person real?" "Are they who and what they said they were?" These are the questions that I am answering. When my daughters start dating, I may go for the criminal background check, but that costs money.
Now I can see some of you starting to go through a bit of paranoia. That is unnecessary. There is nothing wrong with this, and withholding your name at dinner parties will make them less fun. So relax.
Control you Message
The real question and purpose of this article is to let you ask yourself this question: "What do people find when they look for me?" Yes we are back to Googling ourselves. If you are a member of an online community or social network like LinkedIN or Facebook, if you have a MySpace page or a blog, you should want people to be able to find those. They tell who you are. They tell your story. You get to control the message. There is going to be data out there that will include you, so be apart of it.
Now there are also some things that you should be cautious of. Even if you purchase ID theft protection, posting you birthday, social security numbers and bank account information is probably bad. Intimate details of medical conditions in the wrong forum might be bad. You should use your judgement here. There are lots of blogs out and about being safe online, so I won't go into exhaustive detail here.
What do you do?
Now here is the question. What do you do (or want to but haven't had the time yet)? I have a LinkedIN profile, a Facebook page and Blog. I haven't done MySpace yet. I just haven't gotten around to it. If you look me up, I am not the hairdresser from the UK, he can have the top spot, but I am in the top five. I know that some people use Twitter. What methods do you use to promote your information on the Internet?