Ego Searching for Privacy Protection

By PatB
Contributing Writer, [GAS]

Ego Searching for Privacy Protection
The Pew Internet research team recently published a poll saying less than half of us have ever performed an “ego search,” or an internet search of ourselves, using either Google or some other search engine.

From the AP here:

More Americans are Googling themselves — and many are checking out their friends, co-workers and romantic interests, too.

In a report Sunday, the Pew Internet and American Life Project said 47 percent of U.S. adult Internet users have looked for information about themselves through Google or another search engine.

That is more than twice the 22 percent of users who did in 2002, but Pew senior research specialist Mary Madden was surprised the growth wasn’t higher.

“Yes it’s doubled, but it’s still the case that there’s a big chunk of Internet users who have never done this simple act of plugging their name with search engines,” she said. “Certainly awareness has increased, but I don’t know it’s necessarily kept pace with the amount of content we post about ourselves or what others post about us.”

What if other people Google you?  Are you concerned what someone might find out about you by performing a routine search?  What if that person was a prospective employer?  Or a business partner?

For anyone concerned with their online privacy, it is important to perform ego searches regularly for not only your own name, but for your e-mail address, your home address and even your social security number.

In most cases, we tend to publish our own information on the Internet. We might not have intended to post our personal information in a public forum, but sometimes leaks of information happen or we were careless when responding to a blog posting or someone’s guestbook page.

Search your name: Unless your name is extremely common, like Jack Johnson, Charlie Smith or Cathy Brown, it is not that difficult to retrieve your name from an Internet search — depending on what search tools you use and how careful you were to keep your name off the Internet.

If you are a homeowner, chances are your name is in at least one publicly searchable database. And if you signed up for LinkedIn,, Facebook or even MySpace, you likely used your real name when registering, and that information is searchable too.

To search, begin with Google since it is the most ubiquitous, and use quotes around your name. You may want to narrow the search by including your state, territory or hometown, depending on how common your name may be.

Another great search tool is Spock specializes in searching social networks like MySpace, Facebook, Hi5 and LiveJournal as well as LinkedIn. And it also acts like its own social networking site allowing users to verify tags about people to aid in people search accuracy.

Finally, try to use Pipl combines a Google Search with Zaba search,, and social networking sites such as LinkedIn and MySpace. It also does Web “deep searches” and will pull hits off of your wish lists and reviews, as well.

Search your nickname.  Some people have great online nicknames, but then make the mistake of writing their real name on their Facebook page right under that awesome nickname.   If that nickname was used in a profane political rant, it can still be tied to you.

Search for your e-mail address. This is an often-overlooked ego search. Check Google for Web postings, but don’t forget to check newsgroups too. If someone is trying to track you down online and they know your email address (for instance, off of your resume), they can try to use that information to learn more about your identity by seeing what else you have written online or emailed to public forums.

Search other personal information. You can search for your home address and social security numbers, too. You may be horrified to discover that someone has posted an excel spreadsheet on a server somewhere containing your and 10,000 other people’s social security numbers, and Google found it. Or maybe it shows up in a legal document online where it’s not supposed to be.

If your information is exposed, there is not much you can do about public records such as home purchases, marriage licenses, or other legal documents. But if your name is associated with an old MySpace account you no longer use, you can get the old accounts closed. Other items, such as blog posts or comments in forums that may tie you to politically incorrect statements, can often be deleted if you ask the forum or blog operators.

To completely avoid tying your real identity to online accounts, you should strictly use fabricated names and accounts that won’t be traced back to you.