Come on. Admit it. There’s nothing to be ashamed of. You Google yourself, don’t you?
If not, you should. Here’s how:
- Open a web browser
- Go to http://www.google.com/
- Type in your first name and last name in quotation marks, like this: “Larry Page”
Google earned $50 billion in 2012. Any company that pulls down that kind of cash is good at what they do, and Google’s damn good at finding things.
I, for one, have embraced our Internet overlords, and I’ve jumped feet first into an online lifestyle. If you’ve visited my About.me page, you’re already aware that I’m not just a security geek, but I’m also a “husband, father, writer, filmmaker, martial artist, gamer, and social media junkie.” I’m also a public speaker. My choice to live online has helped me get screenplays produced in Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Hawaii, and Australia, and it’s helped me land speaking engagements and training opportunities, both domestic and international.
But what about the information I don’t want posted online?
I Googled myself to prep for this post, but I had to go through 12 pages of search results before I found the inevitable MyLife hit. I opted instead to try another angle: Googling someone in my circle of friends.
I decided to search for her first name and last name in double-quotes from a browser that wasn’t logged into any social networking services (i.e., entirely anonymous). Aside from the traditional social networks (Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc.), I was able to find out the following about this person from the first page of search results alone:
- What she looks like
- Her age
- That she’s married
- That she has kids
- Two (2) places that she’s lived
- The high school she attended (which inadvertently revealed a third place she’s lived)
- The college she attended
- Names of six (6) relatives, including immediate family and in-laws
- The books that she likes
- Her middle name
- Her maiden name
- Places where she’s worked
- The school that her children attend
I did a little more digging, from both the second page of search results and from pages returned in the first page of search results, and I was able to find the following:
- Her email address
- Her phone number
- Her voting record (party affiliation)
- Her college sorority
- More names of her relatives
- Names of her children (and their relative age)
- Pictures of her children
- Organizations that her children are involved in (well, one organization, to be honest)
Google, you sneaky bastich, you… <waggles finger menacingly at computer screen>
This information about my friend is already on the interwebs, and I’d wager that a comparable amount of information about you is also available via the same means. Back in 2008, hackers were able to compromise Sarah Palin’s Yahoo! account by using publicly available information to answer her secret questions. Imagine how easy that would be today!
So what can you do about it? I have a few ideas.
- Update the privacy settings on all of your social network profiles. My friend did a decent job locking down her social media profiles, but she still had a couple of older profiles from other services that she doesn’t use anymore, services that she subscribed to before security and privacy stories were ending up in the news every day. Which leads to my second suggestion…
- Delete online profiles that you don’t use anymore. Sites like Delete Your Account exist to help simplify this process. Take advantage of their generosity.
- Contact the site’s webmaster and ask them to remove the page. It takes a little digging, but you can usually find a way to reach the webmaster via the About Us page, the Contact Us page, or even (as in MyLife’s case) the User Agreement. Easier still, you could head on over to this Reddit link for a list links to the opt-out sections of the eighteen (18) sites that are most likely to end up in your search results. Google also has a nice little write-up with guidance on how to keep information out of Google.
Stay safe out there!