Most people have done it—taken a time-out from surfing the Web to type their own names into the search engine. For many, the impulse is driven simply by curiosity. What results come back about me? But for savvy Internet users, the check-ups are a regular part of managing their online reputations.
The reasons to be vigilant are many. Just consider what everyone else is doing.
According to a Pew Internet report that tracked Americans’ use of the Internet in 2009, 69 percent of adults go online to find information about one of eight “types” of people. Almost half—46 percent of adults—said they looked for “someone from their past or someone with whom they have lost touch with.” Nearly as many, 44 percent, checked up on someone “whose services or advice they sought in a professional capacity.” Others searched for friends and family members, sussed out their colleagues or neighbors, and got the 411 on prospective dates.
It’s clear that the information that’s readily available about a person—your so-called digital footprint—matters. And it’s likely to be seen by a range of different people.
What’s more, even Internet users who are careful about what they disclose online still must contend with the X factor: the information that other people post about them. In some cases the concerns might relate to character—a friend’s photo of your Friday night antics might prompt laughs in one context, but provoke uncomfortable questions in another. Say, if it’s seen by those in your professional circle.
Just as worrisome is the ease with which seemingly mundane facts can be put to ill gain. Prevailing wisdom used to hold that a person’s name, date of birth, and social security number were the Big Three of identity theft—keep those details under lock and key and you’ll likely be safe from potential fraudsters. Now, the same Pew report suggests that 87 percent of Americans can be identified with an even more basic trifecta of personal data: gender, zip code, and date of birth—oh my! Many people give out that kind of information when they’re signing up for various online services In addition, facts like that can often be gleaned from profiles and postings on social networking sites and other sites that list year of graduation from high school or college.
The good news is that awareness of the importance of monitoring your Internet image is on the rise. Pew tells us that 57 percent of adult internet users now use search engines to find information about themselves online—up from 47 percent in 2006.
Here, then, are a few suggestions for privacy protection:
• Take the time not only to understand privacy settings on social networking sites, but also to change them according to your needs.
• Delete unwanted comments posted by other users on your profile.
• Remove your name from photographs that were tagged to identify you.
Keep surfing—and be aware!
Betty Chan-Bauza, Vice President of Product Management, Identity Theft 911
Betty has spent two decades with startup and Fortune 500 companies in the electronic payments, telecommunications and fraud and security industries. In the past, she has worked for Accenture, Iridium and Visa, and she was most recently a vice president at LifeLock, an identity theft services company that experienced exponential growth during her tenure.
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