Google "Me on the Web" online reputation tool
As the Internet and social networking have evolved, many people are concerned about what search engines and tools churn up when people search for their names or other information online. If you're applying to a university or for a job, a photo of you setting fire to a police car in downtown Vancouver is probably the last thing you want people to see. Or maybe Facebook's automatic face detection system "accidentally" identifies you amid a crowd of drunken revelers the day before you apply for a business loan. Online reputation management isn't just about being in control of what you post about yourself, but knowing about (and responding to) what others post about you. Savvy Internet users have "egosurfed" for years by conducting searches on their own personal information, and many set up automated searches and alerts to send them notices if their names or other details appear in new places on the Web.
Now, Google is taking a small step to bring those tools to the masses with "Me on the Web," a new component of Google Dashboard that enables users to monitor details of their identity on the Web and get informed when new things pop up. Me on the Web enables users to set up Google Alerts for their names, email addresses, and other personal data that appear on the Web, social networking services, or news stories. Google is also linking to information and resources about trying to control third-party information about you.
Of course, one catch to this system is that users have to have a Google account and public profile—which means turning over some portion of their personal data to Google. Google takes information users enter into their public profile and automates the process of setting up alerts to let users know when that information appears elsewhere on the Web. Google has no concept of a private profile: Google profiles are visible to the world, any anyone with a user's email address can discover them.
With privacy breaches becoming seemingly commonplace amongst businesses and Internet companies, there's some irony in being required to disclose personal information to manage privacy and reputation. Fundamentally, Google's "Me on the Web" isn't any different than doing queries via a search engine—after all, entering your own name into a search form is the same as handing it over to a search engine operator. One difference, however, is that Me on the Web—and Google's profiles—collect all that information in one place. The security- and privacy-conscious usually go to efforts to make sure their ego-surfing doesn't trace back to any one point.
"This is just one of our first steps in continuing to explore ways to help make managing your identity online simpler," Google product manager Andreas Tuerk wrote in a blog post. Here's hoping there are many more larger steps soon.
Here are some tips to keep in mind before you -- or your tech-savvy kids -- click the upload button:
No. 1: Use passwords and privacy settings
Social networking sites, like Myspace and Facebook, allow users to keep their profiles private, so only people they approve can see what they've posted. It's smart to make use of this feature, especially if your profile page has a blog to share diary-like thoughts. "Potential recruiters or employers don't need to know about your personal drama," says Anastasia Goodstein, author of Totally Wired: What Teens and Tweens Are Really Doing Online (St. Martin's Griffin). Goodstein also advises teens not to post liquor advertisements, pictures of pot leaves, or violent or sexually explicit song lyrics on their web pages. "Even if they aren't drinking or smoking pot, it can give the impression that they are," she says.
No. 2: Take charge of your bio
Type your name into a search engine and see what comes up. Google also has an "alerts" feature (google.com/alerts) which tells users when a certain word or phrase pops up on the Internet. Creating an alert with your own name is a way to monitor any new information that may appear. Solovic did this and discovered one site had really outdated information about her business. Luckily, the site's hosts were willing to correct it. But often times it can be difficult to amend online information. For a monthly fee, Reputation Defender (reputationdefender.com) will scour the Internet on your behalf and work to remove any inaccuracies.
No. 3: Ask about archiving
While doing a web search, have you ever noticed that some of the results are marked as cached? This means that whether or not the web page is still accessible, the search engine has taken a snapshot of it. In other words, just because your recent college-grad took down a web site featuring her embarrassing Spring Break photos, it doesn't mean the site is gone forever. Before posting anything on the Internet, first find out if the site is protected by Robots.txt, advises David Axtell, an intellectual property and information technology attorney with law firm Leonard, Street and Deinard in Minneapolis. Pages that use Robots.txt can't be archived by a search engine. To find out if a site can be archived, contact the web site host provider. Or, log onto The Internet Archive (archive.org) and type the name of site into their Way Back Machine. If the site pops up, that means it can be archived -- forever.
While it's true that the Internet can be an amazing resource, you need to exercise some old fashioned common sense when posting aspects of your life online. You have to think, Is this something I'd feel comfortable having on the evening news?' And if it's not, then you shouldn't be putting it online."