Internet identities

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The internet scares me sometimes. The other day, I had a date with a girl that I met (on the internet, actually!) just a week ago. She already knew a ton about me, she said, because she’d Googled me before our date! I was a little shocked, to be honest. It wasn’t that she searched my name–I know people do that, and I don’t think it’s so weird–it’s that when she did, she was able to find so much! It’s crazy to me that now anytime I apply for a job or a loan, the company will track down a bunch of details about my life to decide what to do. How can I better manage my internet presence? I don’t want people to be able to find me quite so easily.

We live our lives online these days, and that means that a lot about us is available to curious internet searchers. That’s a fact that disturbs many Americans, so it’s not just you! Seventy-four percent of Americans say it’s “very important” to them that they be able to control who can get information about them. And 66% of us are concerned about the security of our records with search engines. Social media sites fare even worse: 69% of us think the information these sites have on us isn’t secure. And that’s just the information that the companies have: like you, many of us don’t like our peers to be able to find us so easily. Young people are beginning to react to this problem, with 60% of teens keeping their Facebook accounts set to “private.”

You, too, can set your account to private. But that may not be all it takes to limit your online profile. Your best bet is to start by doing what your date did: Google your name. See what comes up. Make a list of your social media profiles, and go into the settings to make sure they’re as private as you want them to be. If your name appears on any private sites, you can politely request that it be removed.

With that said, there are a few things you may want to consider about your position on internet searches. It’s certainly true, for instance, that you should be careful to manage your social media presence in a way that doesn’t threaten your career–70% of employers check out potential hires on social media. But information that you might have considered “private” was already available to relevant companies before the internet, experts say. The credit experts at YourCreditBlog point out that credit scores made your loan payment history available to lenders long before Google came around, and modern lenders will still care far more about that report than anything that might crop up in a Google search. Employers, too, will have access to facts about you through your references and the real-world trail that you’ve left over the course of your career–so while you don’t want your Facebook profile picture to show you funneling a beer, it’s not as if the internet is the only thing that can derail your job application.

It’s also worth noting that, in some instances, you want to be found. A scandalous Facebook photo won’t help you get a job, but a great LinkedIn profile might, and that means that it pays to pop up in relevant searches. Recruiters recommend a strong professional online presence (it does have to be professional, though), and this is something that is even more important for entities like businesses. Small businesses can be made or broken by their Google search ranking, the SEO experts at Bambrick Media say. What you don’t know can hurt you, so when it comes to managing your online presence, don’t just erase your social footprint: put your professional self out there!

“Privacy – like eating and breathing–is one of life’s basic requirements.” ― Katherine Neville

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