Posted by : Amitha Amarasinghe Sunday, January 6, 2008


Or haven’t you done it at least once during last 2 years? If not do it now. Type your first name and surname, (or the most common combination of names you are using) into Google’s search box and hit “search”. You might well be surprised, how easy for some one to trace all your online behavior, and track all the content you have added to the internet using your real name. If you are using a pseudonym, try it as well. Things you’ve said and done, on numerous websites is freely available to anyone who wish to obtain them.

What does this mean? The Internet is not a safe and secure place, as many people assume. Anything you (or anyone else) posts about yourself, is liable to be crawled by and appear in search engines. Little by little, this behavioral information about you, on the World Wide Web, will accumulate to compile a comprehensive profile of yourself, readily available for anyone who’s interested in you. That “anyone” could be your high school crush, your girl friend or boy friend, your spouse, your boss (Hi boss! are you reading this now? ), your potential employer, a business contact, a customer, or even a detective from your local police, FBI or even CIA! According to a recent research "about 53 per cent of adult internet users admit to looking up information about someone else, celebrities excluded."

This is why it is very important, for you to maintain a good “Online Persona”, on every online community that you are a part of. Everything that you say, comment, or upload will leave a trace about you on the World Wide Web.

Think about an occasion when you posted some offensive comment on some one else’s blog, or a forum post. Would you do that in your real life, to one of your work colleague? Most probably you will not. Why? Because, you have a reputation among your work colleagues, and making such offensive comments will negatively affect on that reputation. Then think about the similar situation, on the internet. The comments you’ve made on that forum, or the blog, will add up to the massive amount of behavioral information about, you that are gathering on the World Wide Web and, will be crawled by the Search Engines. And those comments will shape up your online persona. What if, most of the comments you make online are rude and offensive? That is going to be the trade mark of your online persona. Every time, some one Google for your name, they’ll presume you as some one “very caustic”. And, that “some one” may possibly would be a potential employer, who’s willing to pay you 3 times the salary that you are earning at present.

Some one might say “I haven’t posted anything on the internet, by my name so I don’t have to worry about this”. But, even if you haven’t posted anything about you, some one else might have! What about your annual company party last year? A colleague may have posted some pictures, featuring you and few others, and made a comment about you. If you are a popular character in a particular industry, or a discipline (sports, or music etc), some one else could have posted an article on something you’ve said or done. And you are totally unaware of this, unless you are not regularly “maintaining” your online persona.


This is something that you cannot resist, underestimate, or completely ignore, unless if you plan to live the rest of your life in a small island somewhere in the Pacific Ocean, and being totally disconnected from the civilized world. Search Engines has established in our world so strongly, and most people think Google is the best thing happened to them, since the invention of light bulb. And we can’t expect the usage of Search Engines to go down in the future, for “spying on” or search for individual names. In fact, it will start to grow in popularity, in time to come.

If you are not convinced about the severity of what I’m trying to say, go and search for your name on Spock.com
Spock is a new generation people search engine, which mainly use the feeds from Linked In, to generate dynamic profiles for individual people, and it gather information from MySpace, My Yahoo!, Wikipedia, company websites and personal blogs too. I searched for my name on Spock, and the first two results were my Linked In profile, and the eCommerce website of the company I work for. Mind you, my company website does mention my name in any of it’s content. But, Spock managed to draw the relationship.
Further into the side of the search results, Spock.com show related tags to me. The tags included, the university I graduated fro, my previous place of work, and my areas of specialization and interests etc. Most of these information were fed through my Linked In profile. Now what is the contract I have with Linked In? When you submit your personal information to Linked In, there’s no guarantee that the information will only be published on Linked In domain. And, Spock draw connections between your Linked In profile and your MySpace profile. What if you wanted to maintain a clear cut line, between your professional life (Linked In) and your personal life (My Space)? For such people, Spock would definitely be a nightmare. And how unfortunate you would be if you share your name with some one else, and the other guy is completely the opposite of your personality? Here’s what I get on Spock, when I searched for my first name and middle name. So what would be the situation for a very common name like “John Smith” or “Asif Mohammad”?

ZoomInfo.com is another similar people search engine, but it’s not generating comprehensive individual profiles like Spock does.

What can we do about this? Most definitely, we won’t be able to fight against this. So, prevention is better than cure. If we look at the optimistic side of these developments, this is a great motivator for people to give up the anonymity on internet, and contribute only the “commendable content” to the World Wide Web.

Why give up anonymity? Because, in the pace these people search engines are developing it’s not far away from the day that they can draw connections between your anonymous Stumbleupon profile, and your genuine Linked In profile.

Why compel to add only good content? Because, when you contribute to the internet, with your real identity, you can’t add socially unacceptable content (pornography) or offensive comments to other people. It’s like that; when you are speaking in a board meeting! You can’t take your clothes off, in a board meeting and, you can’t tell your boss “Look Mr.Boss, you are talking f***** bullshit!” while in aboard meeting.

So what can we really do? The best thing that we could do about this is to take control of our own online persona, without letting Spock.com or Linked In to do that for us. Start by setting up your own personal space on the World Wide Web. Let that personal web space, be the “Curricula Vitae” for yourself. Is there any better website for you to know about Nokia mobile phones, that the Nokia official site? So, why don’t you apply the same for yourself? Every individual is a brand, and every brand should have an official homepage in this internet era.

For the time being, my Linked In profile pops up on top, for a Google search for my name. So far I was ok with that. But, my discovery about the relationship Linked In is having with Spock, compelled me to think twice about this. May be in the future, I might decide to restrict the privacy settings of my Linked In profile, so that other search engines cannot pull information about me, through Linked In . And my ultimate goal is to make this blog as the “central place of operation” for me, on the World Wide Web. (So far I haven’t used my full name on this blog. And I’ve done it purposely. I wanted this site to build up with some read worthy content, before it get optimized in Search Engines, for my full Name as a keyword)

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