The general population is doing a much better job of keeping track of what personal information shows up online, but there's still a lot of room for improvement. Almost half (47 percent) of all Internet users have performed a self-Googling—more than double the number fromfive years ago—according to a new report by the Pew Internet & American Life Project. However, few of those people check with any regularity, and over half of Internet users still have not checked up on themselves even once.
Pew asked 1,623 Internet users about their views, education, and how they manage information about themselves online. It found, to no surprise, that younger users and those with more education are the most likely to search for themselves on the Internet. Those under 50 and with a college degree are significantly more likely to self-search than their older and less-educated counterparts, as are those with higher household incomes and those who have broadband at home. Men and women are equally likely to perform self-searches.
But only 3 percent of those who have given in to curiosity told Pew that they did so on a regular basis—74 percent said that they had only done it once or twice. The remaining 22 percent said that they did it "every once in a while," although that categorycan bevague. If asked, I would say that I do it "every once in a while" too, but compared to the general population, I probably do it regularly. What can I say? I'm vain.
Or am I just smart? Pew suggests that people ought to partake in a little 'Net vanity more often in order to ensure that whatever shows up about them is accurate and acceptable for public consumption. Luckily, 87 percent of self-searchers reported having found accurate information on themselves, up from 74 percent in 2002 (butonly 62 percent said that the information they found was what they expected). 11 percent said that the information they found was not accurate, and four percent said that they have had "bad experiences" due to inaccurate or embarrassing information being available.
What could those bad experiences be? Well, it's no secret that employers are increasingly searching for job candidates online before making important hiring decisions, and many openly admit that what they find online can affect their decisions. Particular fields, such as teaching, can be more affected than others,and Internet users are still learning about exactly how much of their personal lives is too much to make public.
It's not just employers who might find last weekend's party photos that involved you puking out the window of a cab (*cough*)—your grandparents or that hot date you (almost) had are at risk of finding them, too. In fact, more Internet users (53 percent) admitted to Pew that they Google other peoplethan those admitted theysearch for themselves.
Pew recommends that users become more familiar with the privacy controls on social networking (and other) sites that allow them to put in personal info or upload photos. Thiscan help control the flow of personal information to the general public while still allowing Internet users to take part in recent Web 2.0 trends if they want to do so. Surprisingly, teens are the most likely to keep their information private with the available tools, despite also being the most likely to use such sites to share information with friends. It looks likeus "adults" have a thing or two to learn after all.