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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 your search engine of choice to gauge how popular you are online. I’ve done this numerous times and the results I’m given 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) and personal information aggregators. The latter topic will be the focus of this article.
A personal information aggregator is essentially a social network you’re signed up for without permission. These sites scrape personal information you’ve left on various websites (i.e. Facebook, Friendster, MySpace, Twitter) and compile it into one profile. A portion of this profile is viewable to any member of the public that searches “your name, your age and your town.” Super sensitive details tend to be kept behind a paywall (paywall: (noun) a virtual gate only a paid subscriber may pass); interested parties, to the best of my knowledge, don’t have to meet any criteria to access the information provided they have the cash. To many, including my friend Joseph M of Greenville, KY who’s in the Federal Witness Protection Program, sites like these are a problem. Oh! Sorry about that, Joe; I guess you’ll be moving again. Please let me know your new address once you’ve settled in.
One of my many self-Googles led me to a profile created for me on MyLife.com (you’ve probably noticed their “See Who’s Googling You!” advertisements). Here’s the information it listed: name, age, living history and immediate family (their ages, too). It was almost one-hundred percent accurate! This, I’m sure, can be blamed on my active online life (not to mention my father’s obsession with spilling details on various high school & college reunion websites). Even though I’m attention-starved and desperate for friends, this didn’t sit well with me. I put a bit of research into removing myself from the site and found that I had three options –emailing them, “officially” signing up to determine what details are publicly viewable, or calling them (a “service fee” may apply). After unsuccessfully trying the first two, I dialed their call center and spoke with a customer service representative. A few moments later, my profile was pulled from the site and I wasn’t charged a thing. Good job, MyLife.com; you all win the Wesley Seal of Approval for quickness and understanding.
Removing yourself from these types of sites can be a cumbersome affair. It’s generally thought that some sites in this category overcomplicate the removal process in hopes of inspiring people to give up. I suggest that everyone reading this do a self-Google (or drop your details into any other search engine) and see what sites have cobbled together a profile for you. If you find an un-wanted listing (or any gossip-y message board chatter), look at the site in question’s F.A.Q. (Frequently Asked Questions) page for information on how to expunge yourself from it. A few businesses – TrueRep.com, ReputationChanger.com, and Reputation.com – have cropped up in recent years to help protect your online identity. Even MyLife.com offers a “personal record remover” that will extract your information from some personal information aggregators. Make sure you thoroughly research any sort of reputation protection company before signing on with them to ensure their integrity is sound.
No matter what you call it – vanity searching, ego-surfing, self-Googling, braggadocio-Binging (shout out to Thesaurus.com) – it’s smart to be aware of what people are saying about you online. You don’t want potential employers acquiring misinformation tweeted by an ex-best friend or posted Topix.com.