Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Do You Know Who's Googling You: Big Brother is Lurking, Too

Update 4/21/09 at ReadWriteWeb, Marshall Kirkpatrick reports on Google Profile
a service whereby people can go in and alter their google results. But, as Kirkpatrick points out, do we really want to give Google more information about us then they already have?? and it's not going to help us track who's searching our identities online anyway. So, we just have to get used to the fact that we're really not going to know exactly who's searching our names daily. And, even if we could find that info out, how much of our privacy might we be willing to give up for that info? IMO, I'm fine with paradoxes and mysteries in life.

Recently, a number of folks have come to this blog from this post in an attempt to get some info on whether or not one can find out who's googling you to find out stuff on your identity. This post is meant to be a better answer to the original post, taking apart first what people will find when they search you, and if there is any way you can find out who they are....

Did you know how much info about you is Public Info that *anybody* can find with search?

I'm totally serious here. Give yourself a minute and just google yourself. Chances are that you'll find a lot of things you may not want other people to see. Believe it or not, information on the Internet is Public information, and anything you put on the following types of sites will more than likely show up in search:

  • Any social network where you have a profile and the privacy settings aren't configured to hide you. That includes Facebook, LinkedIn, Yelp, and any other place you can think of that's got some sort of "social" component to it. Keep track of them and take advantage of the privacy settings!

  • Any blogs where you have written something under your name as a contributor to the blog

  • Any online newsgroups, forums, or message boards where you have used your name. Yes, it can be from the Olden Days of the web (read: USENET) and it might still come up in search. And not the whole conversation either. Just enough to incriminate you. ;-)

  • Photos on Flickr that are tagged with your name or your Flickr account. The same probably goes for YouTube and other sites where you can tag your pics. Here's a slightly incriminating pic of me on Flickr:

  • Some sites where you have a screen name that is associated with your real name in its system. Not all sites hide or real name separate from your screen name

  • Any comments you've left on sites that use Disqus. (IMO, this is wicked annoying!)

  • Anything you put on Twitter. Yes, your "tweets" are part of your Permanent Record out here

  • If someone searches you on Amazon (that was kinda funny!)Although it won't tell you who was searching
  • ....

    And don't forget the variety of search engines that are out there, including BlogDigger and Icerocket and even Technorati that, esp. if you blog anywhere, you just might show up....

    So, then, is there *any* way to find out who's googling/searching your identity on the web? Honestly, right now, to get results on who's doing a general search on you on any search engine, the answer is No (not to my knowledge anyway.) But, if you own a blog, you should have a stats tracking package. You can find out lots from reviewing your stats. Here's some info on someone who visited this blog today

    From this, you can see it was someone in Holyoke, the ISP they used, part of this person's IP address, when the person came in and then left. Now, if this were someone who was stalking me or leaving nastygrams, I could contact the ISP and I may be able to get info on this this person's IP addy. From the IP addy I could then track who/where the person is. But if that person's nastygram was connected to an identity, and then to a site of some kind, then I could even find out who owns the site by going to and researching the domain....

    But if you don't have any of this info, there's really no way to know who's searching your name regularly.

    There's no way even to know if your employer is searching your name. Frankly, I'd be *more* concerned about an employer searching info on public search than I would the Government, who's got a whole bunch o'info on you anyway (although if your employer is the government, you should be *really* careful what you put online.)

    There's not even a way to know if potential employers, folks you've just filled out applications for or set resumes to, are searching you. There are currently no laws banning them-as there are laws to govern what can or can't be asked in an interview. Then again, whatever you put online is, basically, public information and if they can find it, there's nothing that says they can't look at it.

    And there's no law that says they can't discriminate against you for it either (there haven't been any test cases yet.) You can bet, though, that what you do and say that gets put online just might impact whether or not you get hired by certain employers. Even your credit report can be screened, and companies that offer credit report screening as a service....also see this article in IT Manger's Journal on a survey of H.R. professionals on what they search...

    So what if an employer can't ask you whether or not you have kids, or how old you are? They can find out lots of other information that we perceive as being private--yet isn't.

    So, I wonder about things like Spokeo and the latest darling FriendFeed that allow your "friends" to follow you much easier. Makes me think: if my friends are following me, who else could be following me?

    What about online reputation management stuff? I went in recently and looked at Rapleaf recently, and they appear to have upgraded a number of features. Rapleaf lets you know about social profiles that are out there --it reminded me of a Plaxo profile that doesn't come up in regular search. This was nice to know! So, it may be good for tracking your social networks.

    Another is Spock where you put in info about yourself and then ask for "trust" from others. I'm not too sure how useful Spock might be for me--so it's possible that it will become one more thing I've registered for that I don't use.

    Now, this still does not solve the problem of knowing who might be looking *you* up in Google or any other search tool out there.

    The only advice I can offer is: remember when you're teachers used to threaten you that what you were doing would go on your permanent record?

    Congratulations! With all that information you've voluntarily put on the Internet (sometimes in a quest to be social), you have created your own a permanent record!


    For more info: Who's Googling You? from PCMag
    and this interesting forum thread from the Chronicle of Higher Education
    and this transcript from channel 5 in Boston.

    Update After reading this from CBS46 Atlanta, I've decided to take a look at which boasts the ability to tell you that your information was searched--just not whom was searching you (for "privacy" of the searcher.) It seems, though, that to use Ziggs, you have to put in a profile *and* pay $4.95 per month. Ziggs also says that if you put up a profile on Ziggs, that profile will get fairly high in search.

    LinkedIn profiles also get up pretty high in search--and they're free.

    Another "reputation management" service is Naymz--which, I believe, you have to be invited to get into, and requires putting up another profile...

    These "reputation" services are proprietary and require that you put up another profile on their service. But these will not stop Google from shooting out all that other stuff that you put out there on *other* social networking sites. And none of them will tell you *who* it is who's looking at you--only the basic information comes to you from Zigg. So, it still boils down to watching where you go and being careful of what you put online. Whether or not you have a Zigg profile, or a LinkedIn profile won't make a difference if you have a MySpace page or a Facebook page that has information you don't want others to find (see this on Arlington, OR former mayor Carmen Kontor-Gronquist, who lost her position due to her MySpace photos.)


    db said...

    Great info, Tish--and pause for thought!

    Tish Grier said...

    Thanks, Mr. B! The more time I spend on the Internet, the more I become a privacy advocate. And while I might not care what a potential employer (or anyone else) finds one me, I'm *very* concerned about people (esp. young people) who don't fully understand nor realize that there might be consequences to what they put online. Sure, some folks say if *everyone* is doing it, then it will become "no big deal." But, that's not quite the case right now.

    Julia Bradley said...

    Thanks Tish for sharing this info with your audience. It's so important to realize that with heach profile and each post on the web, you're creating a bread crumb trail...or in some cases a big online footprint that others can google and see. To that point, for those who post information about themselves online, it's always good wisdom to keep it mostly professional. If you wouldn't show your mom, you shouldn't put it online. One last comment, Ziggs is free. You can create a professional profile at Ziggs for free forever. The $4.95 is for a top-listing services in search engines. Disclosure: I work at Ziggs. Thanks for your thoughtfulness.

    Tish Grier said...

    Thanks, Julia for stopping by--and for disclosing that you work for Ziggs (as well as adding some important thoughts.) When a post is written with thought, and with an intention to add to the conversation, I don't mind letting the poster say a little about whom they work for. and :-)

    Anonymous said...

    Thanks, Tish. We do self-publish much of what's out there. I published what could be a sister post. Particularly see the second half for people search aggregators.

    To your point, I don't know who has been searching my name. However, I do know when my name appears on the Internet. I set up a Google alert on my name (and variations thereof). I should get an alert later today after I post this comment:

    Tish Grier said...

    Thanks for the link to your post Maurene--some great points in it! And yes, we do self-publish--yet while many of us know the consequences, I think there is a significant number of people who don't. (frankly, it's a project I'd like to work on...)

    good recommendation for the google alert for our names. I'm one to google my name every week or couple of weeks to see what's what. This also helps me keep track of my blog as well. If it's not in search, I know there's a problem.