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May 3, 2013 — by Wesley Johnson
Are you guilty of online vanity searching? No, I don’t mean looking for bathroom furniture; a “vanity search” is dropping your name, age and hometown into a search engine to gauge how popular you are online. I’ve done this numerous times and the results I receive often evoke feelings of disappointment and rage. Disappointment due to the lack of forum posts about my rugged good looks & majestic head of hair; rage due to there being other Wesley Johnsons (presumably with less-rugged good looks and hair that’s only somewhat majestic) & personal information aggregators. The latter topic will be the focus of this article.
A personal information aggregator is a social network that scrapes information you’ve left on various websites (Twitter, Facebook, Myspace, Friendster, etc.) and compiles it into a single profile. All this is done without your permission. Part of this unwanted profile is viewable to anyone who drops your name, age and town into a search engine; the more sensitive data is kept behind a paywall. To access the more sensitive data, one simply needs to be willing to pay a nominal fee. This makes folks like my friend Joseph M of Greenville, KY quite nervous due to his being in Federal Witness Protection. Oh! Sorry about that, Joe; I guess you’ll be moving again. Please be sure to pass along your new address once you’ve settled in.
One of my many self-Googles revealed to me an unwanted profile on MyLife.com (perhaps you’ve seen there “See Who’s Searching for You!” advertisements). Here’s the information it contained: name, age, living history and immediate family (their ages, too). It was almost 100% correct! I’m sure its accuracy may at least partially be blamed on my father’s habit of spilling family details on various high school & college reunion websites. The My Life F.A.Q. page explains their process: “The information in these listings comes from a variety of records in the public domain and is already accessible to anyone who may be trying to reconnect with you. MyLife.com® has simply assembled a listing on your behalf…” Even though I’m attention-starved and desperate for friends, the existence of my unwanted profile bothered me.
I scoured the My Life F.A.Q. page in hopes of finding a way to remove myself from the site; I found out I had three options – emailing them, “officially” signing up to decide what the public sees on my profile, or calling them (a “service fee” may apply). After unsuccessfully trying the first two, I decided to give them a call; my unwanted profile was expunged from the site after a brief conversation with a customer service representative. I wasn’t charged a thing! My Life definitely gets the Wesley Seal of Approval for quickness and understanding.
Removing yourself from a personal information aggregator can be a cumbersome affair. Some feel these sites over-complicate the removal process in hopes of inspiring people to give up. Here’s a suggestion for anyone reading this: do a self-Google and see if you can find any unwanted profiles. If you find a listing (or any gossip-y message board chatter), look for the site’s F.A.Q. page for information on how to remove yourself from it. A handful of businesses have cropped up in recent years to help protect your only reputation. If you elect to use one of those, be sure to verify their integrity before signing on.
No matter what you call it – vanity searching, ego-surfing, self-Googling, braggadocio-Binging (shout out to Thesarus.com)- it’s smart to be aware of what people are saying about you online. You don’t want potential employers acquiring misinformation posted by an ex-best friend on the Topix forums.