What People Can Find Out About You Online

Who’s Looking You Up, Why it Matters and How to Take Control
 Recently we published an article about some of the places where information about you can be found online. Maybe you read it and thought to yourself, “Okay, I’m profiled online. So what? Who's looking at this stuff, anyway?”
To answer that question, start by searching for yourself. Put your first and last name in quotes and enter it in a search engine. It’s actually recommended you do this every once in a while to see what’s out there about you.

You will likely find the information you posted on social-networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn. You may discover news items about you that were posted in newspapers, such as when you bought your house or won an award. You may also find someone else with your same name -- it can be fun to read all about the alternate you. Maybe the other you is an award-winning writer, a gourmet chef or a noted golfer. Go you!

If you have searched for your name, you’re probably not the only one. According to a Pew Internet study, seven in 10 adults who use the Internet have searched online for information about other people. Your namesake probably did a search as well and found you!

So who are these other people looking you up?

Your friends and relatives. Typically these folks are just curious and their searches are mostly for fun. If you are dating, it's a good bet your significant other(s) have looked you up to see what they can learn about you before getting serious.

Your current or potential employers. Don’t think your boss is hip enough to do an online search for you? Guess again. According to a 2010 Microsoft study, 79% of recruiters and hiring managers in the U.S. have reviewed online information posted to social networking sites and blogs to screen job candidates. And 44% of online adults have searched for information about someone whose services or advice they seek in a professional capacity, according to the 2010 Pew Internet study.

Total strangers. Who knows why they are looking you up, but chances are someone you’ve never met has done a search for you. What they can find out about you can be alarming. As reported in part one of this article, sites known as "aggregators" pull together a lot of information about all of us. For example, they may grab your address from the white pages and then provide aerial photos of your home from a mapping site.

Such sites often provide incorrect information about you based on the information they find. In the worst-case scenario, potential robbers or stalkers could discover inviting details such as your address or photos of your house. And while not as alarming (or illegal), more commonly the strangers using this information are advertisers and marketers who pay for this information to target their products to you. Yes, once in awhile this might help you get an ad for something you could actually use, but more often than not you simply get bombarded with spam, phone solicitors or junk mail.

Why does it matter?

Since it is convenient, free and accessible by anyone with an Internet connection, your online profile is quickly replacing background checks, credit checks, references and many other methods previously used to get information about you. Those older methods provided you with more control over the results.

What these people are reading about you is often more important than who is reading it. Microsoft's 2010 study also revealed that 86% of U.S. hiring managers have informed candidates they were rejected based on what's been found online about them. If someone posts an article that criticizes you (accurate or not), it could affect your online reputation. Even something as seemingly innocent as a silly photo can make a difference.

Michael Fertik, CEO of ReputationDefender, has spoken about online reputations on several TV shows, including "Dr Phil," "Good Morning America," Fox News and CNN. He sums it up best: "Your online reputation is your reputation. People making employment, romantic, friendship and business decisions about you rely on the Internet as their top source of information. You deserve control over your digital image!"

What can you control?

Here’s one trick: Most search engines work by relevance and popularity, so if you can ramp up sites where you do have control over the content and can put yourself in a positive light, you stand a better chance that any negative information will be buried. Celebrities have been known to hire media firms for the sole purpose of drumming up positive online PR so the negative sites get pushed to the bottom of search results.

If your problem is something you can’t just bury, or you feel like the content posted is truly detrimental, there are companies like ReputationDefender that specialize in proactively monitoring your online identity and taking aggressive steps, even through the legal system, to get misinformation corrected.

So yes, while there are a lot of sites, and it might take a little effort, being proactive with your online reputation can help you control what others may find. These days, that’s one of the most important things you can control.
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