Google Yourself Challenge: How Much Can People Learn About You Online?
This article is made possible by our underwriter Equifax.
By now, we’re all familiar with the concept of Googling someone. If you’re not (seriously, where have you been?), it’s the act of typing a person’s name into the search engine to learn more about them. You can find lots of information about an individual through Google, such as where they live, where they work, their level of education, and if they have a criminal past.
While others may Google you, however, it’s just as important for you to Google yourself. Why? Because the pictures, videos, and other personal information about you online will affect you at some point in your life – whether you know it or not.
Who Is Searching for Your Information?
Several types of people might try to find out about you online. Here are a few types to be especially aware of.
It used to be that the only background information an employer had on you was the resume and references you provided. Then came the Internet. While your resume and references are still helpful to employers, they’re secondary to the online research that potential employers conduct about you. Employers aren't stupid. They know that anyone can fake a resume and coach their references on what to say. But Google doesn't lie. Not only will employers check your name on Google to verify facts, but they’ll dig deep to make sure you don’t have anything in your past that will reflect unfavorably upon the company.
2. Creditors/Financial Services
In the past, to get a loan you had to sit down with a loan broker and hand over your financial standing on paper. The problem with that was there was a lot of room for fudgery – paper can be copied, modified, and even forged. Nowadays your credit score is stored in an online database, which is accessible to anyone in a position of power to give you money.
Stalkers can learn about you on Google, but they can also follow your every move through your social networks. Have you heard those horror stories about people getting robbed blind while they’re not home because they posted about how they’re enjoying their glorious vacation all over Facebook? It happens – but that is the least of your worries. What if a stalker showed up at your job or followed you around based on the information you’ve posted and shared? It’s tragic and frightening.
4. ID Thieves
Shopping online is easy and fun – until your identity is stolen. You’re setting yourself up for potential disaster by storing your credit card info on the sites from which you purchase frequently, but you’re still not completely safe even if you avoid this practice. In fact, keeping a credit card at all sets you up for identity theft because credit card companies store all of their users’ information digitally. When a security breach occurs, like the one at Global Payments recently, your card is compromised along with your peace of mind.
What Tools Will They Use?
There’s more to this than Googling – here are the tools people are most likely to use to get information on you.
Google is the number one way for any of us to find information on someone we search. Literally. It’s the most visited website in the world. Most of us search for information about other people for benign reasons, but there are bad apples everywhere.
Know what the number two most-visited site in the world is? Yep, it’s Facebook. While we don’t have a lot of control regarding what lands on Google about us, we have absolute control about what people can discover about us on Facebook. If someone wants to know what you’re up to, you can bet they’re browsing your profile.
3. Online Police/Sex Offender Registries
If you think your past won’t come back to haunt you, you’re wrong. Employers especially use these sites to make sure you’re telling the truth when you check that box saying that you’ve never been convicted of a felony. It’s better to be up front about your indiscretions than fib about it and get caught. At that point, you look like a criminal and a liar.
Ancestry.com is intriguing and interesting because it’s an incredible way to learn about your family history. But like any other tidbits of information about you that appear on the web, the information on Ancestry can inadvertently cause you more stress than you signed up for.
How to Protect Yourself
You could stop using the internet entirely…just kidding. Follow these steps.
1. Research Privacy Settings and Set Privacy at Maximum
Every social network you join has privacy settings. If you don’t manually change them, you’ll receive the default settings. Those default settings are rather loose, because it is a social network after all, and the whole point is for you to share with the community. Sharing doesn’t have to mean putting yourself at risk, however. Check your privacy settings and configure them accordingly. On Facebook, for example, you can choose to have your profile public or private. Keeping your profile private will only grant those who you personally allow to have access to it, greatly reducing your chances of someone from accessing your information for nefarious purposes.
2. Use Google Alerts
It’s not just celebrities whose names and likenesses are all over the web – you are, too. To keep track about what’s posted about online as soon as it appears, set up a Google Alerts account. The service will send you a message whenever it comes across any web-based material featuring your name or selected keywords.
3. Don't Share Your Password
Never, ever give your password to anyone – even the employer who thinks it’s OK to ask for it. Outside of the office, keep your password guarded even more closely. Pick strong passwords that are easy to remember with this great tip from Mozilla (via Lifehacker):
4. Stay Completely Anonymous
Unless it is absolutely necessary, don’t use any personal information when creating online accounts or leaving comment on websites. Also avoid using the same account name on all the websites you visit. Doing so will allow stalkers to look through all your comments and figure out your real identity.
5. Just Be SMART!
You can’t stay offline forever—and even if you do, other parties will still store your information online without your permission. Your only real option is to be as informed as possible about your online privacy so you can make the best decisions regarding your safety. If you don’t want something online, don’t put it there.
It’s time to open up this discussion. Have you Googled yourself? What are your thoughts about online privacy? Have you been a victim of hacking or stalking? Has your employer asked for your password? We want to hear about your experience with this subject in the comments below.