Do you know how much anyone can find out about you by doing a simple web search? The truth is, you may be surprised how easy it is for people to learn more about you online just by Googling your name.
All it takes is a few minutes of research, and the average Internet user can find all kinds of information, including your website, Facebook page, and maybe even photos of you. In short, if it's publicly available online, anyone can access it.
This may not be a bad thing depending on your situation (and your level of experience with the Internet). For instance, if you're looking for a job and you have an online portfolio, you want people to be able to find it so they can learn more about you and your work.
However, you can put yourself at risk simply by not knowing what's out there. What do you think you'll find when you Google your name?
One thing to consider when reviewing your public web content is its impact on your reputation. Let's say you're applying for a job, school, or new apartment. Some institutions will Google your name during the application process and take what they find into account, no matter how unfair it may seem. You'll want to know if there's anything connected to you that could be harmful (photos of you drinking irresponsibly) or just plain embarrassing (an ancient profile on an online dating site).
You can also unwittingly expose your contact information if you're not well-versed in Internet safety. For instance, have you ever posted an ad on Craigslist? You may not realize that this type of content can be found online with a simple web search. If you include your name, email address, and phone number, anyone can access it—not just people browsing on Craigslist. They could even learn your home address if the phone number is a listed number.
To get the most complete and accurate search results, search for things like your name, email address, home and work address, city, and phone number(s)—all written in a variety of ways. Also, put quotes around your search terms so Google will know to search for the exact phrase. Here are some examples:
If you find any information you don't want visible online, you have a few options. If you posted the information yourself, all you have to do is remove it. If someone else posted it, you'll need to ask the website or individual to remove the information for you. Keep in mind that they're not obligated to comply with your request. If you need help negotiating with a website, contact WiredSafety.org, and its volunteers will do their best to advise you on your case.
You can also use a service like BrandYourself.com to try to improve your search results instead of removing the information. This is a great option if you have the same name as someone else—maybe someone with a less-than-stellar reputation—and that person keeps showing up first on the results page. BrandYourself will help you position your information closer to the top so people won't get the wrong idea about you when they do a cursory search for your name.
Google yourself now if you haven't done it already! You never know what you're going to find.
If you want to learn more about Internet safety, review the following tutorials.