Marge Simpson Googling Herself "All this time I thought ‘googling’ yourself meant the other thing."
A PEW/Internet Survey out this week found that 47% of internet users have done ego searches, up from 22% five years ago. That nearly half of internet users are searching for themselves seems excessive, but only 3% say they check regularly. Most (74% of those who have done such searches) have only checked once or twice. As our use of the internet decreases our privacy, the study also found that most internet users don’t find this to be a concern. 61% of adults don’t feel they need to limit the amount of information found out about them online. Only 38% have taken steps to do so.
It makes sense that most people don’t search for themselves regularly, as they probably don’t make internet news often enough for the results to change much. However, as more companies, landlords, and dates use search in addition to or in lieu of background checks, it may be smart for everyone to everyone to “google” themselves periodically to make sure those pictures of that one party never made it online. Reputation management companies have so far focused on businesses and people who are newsmakers, but maybe they should start offering regularly monitoring services up to everyone, like credit reporting services do: www.freereputationmonitoringreport.com.
Is More Information Available Than People Realize? Internet users don’t worry about what’s online about them in part because they don’t realize what might be out there. A quarter to a third think personal information like address and phone number might be online, and only 25% think pictures and written information is available. However, approximately 225 million adults are in the United States (and around 150 million of those are internet users) and whitepages.com, for instance, has contact information for 180 million of them (approximately 80% of the U.S. population). So, more people have more information available about them online than they may realize.
The study found four types of internet users:
- 17% of online adults actively contribute content online, but don’t worry about limiting what’s associated with them.
- 21% of online adults worry about what’s available online and actively take steps to limit it.
- 18% of online adults are concerned about their online visibility, but don’t limit what’s found.
- 43% of online adults don’t think much about online privacy and don’t worry about it, limit it, or spend much time creating content about themselves online.
Nothing to Be Worried About? Maybe people are right not to be concerned. 61% aren’t worried, which tracks well with the 62% who find what they expect when they do an ego search. Only 4% have had bad experiences related to information found about them online. 87% percent say that what they find is accurate, up from 74% five years ago.
Interestingly though, 85% of those surveyed said that it’s “very important” to control who accesses their personal information. This seemingly conflicting set of feelings likely means that online properties such as search engines and social networking sites are wise to offer users a high level of control over their information, as it provides peace of mind, but these properties shouldn’t be too concerned that most users will fully take advantage of these controls.
Social networking sites and search engines are increasingly offering control to users. Wink.com, a people search engine, recently added a social networking component that enables users to control the information gathered about them. Whitepages.com recently announced a similar initiative that will enable people to add, correct, hide, and delete information about themselves starting next year.
The study did find one group who cares very much about what is known about them online. 10% of those they surveyed have jobs that require them to market themselves online. 68% of those with an “online persona” search for themselves.
Searching For Others More people have searched for others than for themselves. 53% of online adults have searched for family, friends, colleagues, or prospective dates, although only 7% do this regularly. 36% have looked for people from their past and 9% have searched for information on people they are dating. The most popular type of people search is for contact information (72%). This trend bodes well for the variety of new people search engines that have sprung up recently. Only 42% say that they get the results they are looking for at least most of the time, which means that these people search engines may be able to fill a gap left by traditional search engines.
Teen Vs. Adult Perspectives Only 20% of online adults have social networking profiles, compared to 55% of online teens, but teens are more likely to place restrictions around who can see their profiles. Is this because teens have more to hide or because adults don’t yet realize they should be hiding more?
Interestingly, 76% of teens feel that it would be at least somewhat difficult for someone to figure out who they are from their social networking profile. 54% of online users 18-29 feel that it would be difficult to searchers to locate or contact them based on online information generally.
Another interesting tidbit is that 8% of internet users ages 50-64 have social networking profiles, compared to 15% of internet users ages 20-49 and 50% of those 18-29.
Online Life and Professional Life Intersect Only 28% of online working adults feel that it’s “very important” not to be monitored online at work, down from 65% in 1994. And 20% of working Americans now have employers with policies around how employees present themselves online (such as by blogging).
As we become more visible online and more jobs require an online presence, the lines between personal and professional life continue to blur. Will that make internet users more concerned about how they are represented online? This survey seems to indicate just the opposite. As we get more comfortable with interacting and contributing online, we grow less worried about privacy and visibility. At least until those pics you thought you burned long ago somehow make it to Flickr.