You would be amazed at the amount of information that is available online. In just a few simple clicks you can find out so much information about a person including their family, where they live, and even their purchase history on Amazon or eBay. It’s creepy, so I recommend a few steps to make sure your personal information STAYS personal!
- First and foremost: Check all three major search engines: Yahoo, Google, and Bing. Not only the main web results, but also look through their image results. (This is where you get to kindly tell your friends to un-tag you in their public pictures on Facebook)
- You should get in the habit of searching your name, (and business name) in quotes, every month. If you have a somewhat unique name, you’ll be amazed at where you’ll come up. If your name is something like “Bob Smith,” you’re probably not going to be found. Of course, if you want to be found, it may be best to add a middle name or initial for professional purposes.
- Search your phone number, physical address, and email address every month as well. You may find that you’re listed in a few public directories, or that your phone number was on an old classified ad. It’s very common for websites to steal content from other sites (like Craigslist) so your ad for a dining room set listing your phone number may still be up even though you sold it months ago.
- Search your username! If you’re active in online forums, or have a username for Facebook, eBay, Amazon, Twitter or any other sites, search that username. Many times you’ll find others who use that username on social media sites, other times, you may find posts that you wrote years ago. My username on a lot of work at home sites is “QueenBuzzy” which comes up in search engine results with other people, as well as the vintage Queen Buzzy toy.
- Set up Google Alerts to be notified if your name, or business name, appears on any sites online. Visit: Google Alerts for more information.
- If you’re running a business, you’ll want to monitor Google’s local reviews, as well as Yelp and any industry message boards. Be sure to address any customer complaints quickly and professionally. You don’t want to get into an online argument….it’ll just make you look like a jerk.
- If you don’t like what you see, contact the websites to have them remove your information. Many online phone books will allow you to opt-out of being listed. However, if you own a home, it may be trickier to remove your name from the physical address since it’s public record. Most sites will have a process for you to contact them for information removal.
- Be aware of reputation management companies who claim to come in and clean up your online identity. Many times they’re just filling the search engines with fluff about how awesome you are (as to get rid of the other listings,) which will push the other listings further down the pages, not actually remove them. You’ll find an interesting article on the practice on Rip Off Report.
The best way to maintain a professional and positive appearance online is to follow one simple rule: If you wouldn’t post the information on a billboard over a busy freeway, don’t post it online!