The transparent nature of the Internet: Vanity Searches

Finding yourself also used to refer to a time in your life when you might go on a very long walk, or go away to the mountains for a weekend retreat. I once heard a comedian make a joke that you could go to the mall to “find yourself” on that little map which says “you are here.” However, in the 21st century, there are many more adventurous ways of finding yourself .
Lately, I have had a lot of experiences which have reminded me of the transparent nature of the Internet, and how finding information has become amazingly easy.
A friend of mine was very surprised when he found a picture of himself, in the third grade, by doing a vanity search on Google.
What’s a vanity search? Simply go to Google and type in your name.
Now if you really want to get creative, go to Google and in your vanity searching, type in your name, your city and state, and/or something else personal to you. Examples of things you can type in:
Your name + Your employer
Your name + A Pet’s name
Your name + Names of schools (high school, college, middle school, elementary)
Your name + name of someone you know well
Your name + city where you used to live
Your name + any organization you have ever belonged to
Just your phone number
Just your address
Just your email address


Get creative. See what your vanity search reveals about you.
Today, a woman was talking with me about how she might build a business on the Internet. I don’t do coaching for how to start your own business online, though I have a good friend who does. (I’ll post a link here later for anyone who’s interested…)
When I suggested that she start building a business around something that she found interesting or really was passionate about, she asked how to do that without spending money. I suggested that as a first step, she could simply start a blog or a squidoo site, and start talking about the issue that she wanted to build a business around.
“But wouldn’t people know it was me?”
The question puzzled me, so I asked her a little further about it.
“Well, I just wouldn’t want to be so out there.”
I kind of cut the conversation short at that point, because this was a bigger can of worms than I wanted to open in the few minutes I was going to be there with her.
But given more time, here’s what I probably should have said:
“I’m sorry, but you’re already out there.”
Do a quick vanity search on yourself and see what comes up. You might just be surprised who has said what about you, or what documents your name appears on.
About a month ago, I did a vanity search on behalf of someone I knowwho works for the state of Wyoming. We did a vanity search on Google for the search term: “her name” + “state of Wyoming”. The search turned up a PDF memo which was supposed to be a confidential communication between herself and a superior. It was the #2 result on Google.
Do a vanity search on yourself.
The guy in the video below (YouTube) “found” himself when the girl he was supposed to ask to marry him contacted him. It’s not the greatest piece of documentary work or anything remotely resembling a documentary, but it is framed in a funny way, and hopefully watching it may make you a little more aware that your information is already irretrievably, irrevocably “out there”.

One of the comments to this video on YouTube was: “[This] happened to me when i was gone for a month and I almost got arrested.”
So, if I haven’t driven the point home yet, just for your own knowledge, go do a vanity search on yourself.
Remember, this is all information that thieves already know how to access. There is no 100% effective way for you to contain all of it, but you should know what’s out there, and what’s going on with your information, your pictures, and your communication with others.

 

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2 Responses to “The transparent nature of the Internet: Vanity Searches”

  1. thinsurface Says:

    Okay, I tried the vanity search. I have done a few minor searches in the past, and found that ZabaSearch.com has the most free information about myself, and quite an incredible amount. On your vanity search experiment, I have come up with the following on a Google search for the top 20 results:
    Your name + Your employer
    nothing
    Your name + A Pet’s name
    nothing
    Your name + Names of schools (high school, college, middle school, elementary)
    nothing under any of my schools
    Your name + name of someone you know well
    nothing (not even my mother!)
    Your name + city where you used to live
    nothing
    Your name + any organization you have ever belonged to
    nothing
    Just your phone number
    Found a previous business website, but no name on it for contact information, so not directly connected to myself in public.
    Just your address
    nothing (this address is unfindable even by the post office, so we use a P.O. Box)
    Just your email address
    nothing – Google asked me if I meant something else, which I didn’t.
    I am actually surprised, because I have found information on my family before on the web, but not very many. I guess it just doesn’t work for all people, but then being a bit of an untrusting type, I guess I’ve covered my tracks fairly well, but I’m sure there is a ton of information out there that I just didn’t find this time!

  2. thinsurface Says:

    Well, the Google thing still isn’t producing many results for me, but the ZabaSearch is just plain freaky. I actually ran a “paid” report using PeopleFinders and that one was pretty thorough as well, but the free one is just so much – and correct!