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July 17, 2022

What You Should Know Before Searching Your Name Online: 9 Privacy Tips

Posted by Rhiannon

Searching your name online is for the very famous, or the very vain, right? Wrong. What most people don’t know is that it’s a good idea to search for your name online every once in a while. Other people almost certainly do. The internet has become a powerful tool to find out private details about even the most private person–often to the shock of that person. Employers look up prospective employees, folks google their upcoming Tinder date, and friends show other friends your social media pages because they swear you look just like Paul Rudd and everyone has to see this!

By searching your own name occasionally, you can stay on top of any privacy breaches you didn’t even realize were out there, harmless as they may seem. But before searching away, there are a few things to keep in mind to get the most out of your research. Here’s what you should know before searching your name online:

  • The basics of googling yourself
  • Why should you look?
  • How can you fix what you find?
  • Tips for improving your search

The Basics of Googling Yourself

Sure, most people know how to use Google. Even granddad has gotten the hang of yelling at your Google Assistant for the weather forecast. But do you know how to Google thoroughly? The platform has become so refined that, often, it returns the exact result you want immediately. No need to scroll. Unfortunately, when it comes to searching your name online, you need to look through more than the first two or three results. The top answers are just a sampling of the information that may be out there about you and might not tell the whole story. These are the steps you should take to do a basic, but thorough search for your name:

  1. Start by googling your name. This is the first step most people take. Go through each of the search results that come up with your name mentioned in them. They’ll probably include links to your social media accounts, possibly a company page if you’re included in a public directory, and any articles you may have been mentioned or quoted in that went digital.
  2. Check all the search tabs. Google’s search engine is filtered by result type. The types offered include “All,” “Images,” “News,” “Videos,” and more. When you search for your name, go through each tab individually. Just perusing through the “All” tab might not uncover everything that’s been buried online.
  3. Google your phone number and email too. Your name isn’t the only thing that may end up online without you knowing about it.
  4. Finally, google your social handles as well, especially if they’re different from your real name, so you can check that they’re not being used in ways you didn’t expect. For both step three and four, go through the same process of checking all search engine tabs as well.
  5. Bonus tip: use a VPN app while googling yourself. Google’s search results are biased in favour of search results it knows you want to see. A VPN can help you get an impartial set of results, which other people may be more likely to see if they google you.

Why Should You Google Yourself?

When most people are told they should google themselves, they scoff. How silly, right? However, googling yourself may be more important than many people realize. Here are three reasons you should consider it:

Your Results Can Harm Your Reputation

Your name is John Smith. So is your neighbour’s. Your neighbour is arrested and charged with public nudity and your local newspaper publishes an article about it. Unfortunately, the article doesn’t clarify which John Smith was charged with public nudity. You receive a phone call from a workplace you recently interviewed at and didn’t get the job because they saw the article and believe you were the one charged. This example might be a little bit extreme but the search results associated with your name can easily damage your reputation. Dumb photographs from ten years ago of you drinking underage can resurface at terrible times. Social media posts where you use foul language never totally go away. If you know about the online content that can potentially damage your reputation, you can get ahead of it.

Your Privacy and Security May be at Stake

Billions of people around the world have social media accounts and you’re probably one of them. Do you remember who can see your accounts? Do they have to be friends with you, or can friends of friends see them, or even strangers? Plenty of people have googled themselves before and been shocked by the amount of information they can learn from accounts they thought private. In addition, googling your name can also turn up information about any privacy breaches you may have been a part of. For example, lists are often created of email addresses known to have had password breaches. If your email address is on one of these lists, you have some security to beef up.

You May Harm Your Family and Friend’s Privacy

If you often share pictures of friends and family, or write posts about them, you may be contributing to a breach of their privacy without realizing it. If posts by you keep displaying information about your friends, you need to know how to correct the issue.

How Can You Fix What You Find?

Okay, so. You’ve googled yourself and didn’t like what you found. Can you do anything about it? The answer is complicated and depends on your particular situation. However, these are some common methods for mitigating the results:

  • Change your privacy settings. If your social media accounts turn out to be less private than you thought, you can fix that simply by logging into those accounts and changing the associated privacy settings. 
  • Request that the content be removed. If you don’t control the content that has been shared about you online, you may be able to request that the owner remove or modify it. For example, if a friend has an unflattering photo of you on their Facebook account, you can ask them to remove it or at least make it private. Even Google has a tool for requesting the removal of web content from their platform, but you have to provide a very good reason for that removal. For example, the platform recently made it easier for people under 18 to request the removal of images from the search platform in order to make the web safer for minors.
  • Flood the bad stuff with good. If you can’t make it more private, and you can’t get rid of it, try to bury it. Although you may be thorough when searching your name online, others might just skim the top results, so if you can make sure those results are harmless, you can help mitigate potential fallout from the other results.

Tips for Improving Your Search

We’ve given you the steps for a basic but thorough search of your name online. However, you can still further improve that search with these tips:

  • Remember: it isn’t vain to search for yourself
  • Search your name once a month
  • Go through the first five pages
  • Use different descriptors
  • Don’t click negative content more than once
  • Use a private search engine
  • Set up alerts for your name
  • Actually click the links
  • Search with more than Google

Remember: It Isn’t Vain to Search For Yourself

There’s a negative stereotype that searching your name online is a sign of vanity and self-obsession. However, that’s far from the case. In fact, searching for yourself is incredibly wise and prudent. In the age of technology, it can be very easy for information about us to end up in places we don’t want it. Yet, in many cases, we aren’t even aware that the information has been shared in the first place. By getting over the stigma that searching for your name is vain, you’ll be able to stay ahead of privacy breaches and keep yourself protected.

Search Your Name Once a Month

After getting used to the idea of searching for your name, do a search once a month. A thorough perusal of the web should take around 30 minutes or less, if you don’t have an extensive online presence. If your presence is large (which may be common for those famous in some way, or working for a company that requires them to be in the media often), consider searching once a week, or even once a day to stay on top of things. If the task gets out of hand, hiring someone to monitor your online presence is also a possibility.

Go Through the First Five Pages

While the majority of results will show up on the first page, some may extend to further pages, especially for those who have a large online presence. To do a thorough search, go through the first five pages or so to catch anything amiss.

Use Different Descriptors

If your name is a common one, you want to make sure to search for yourself and not a stranger. To help narrow down the search results, use a few descriptors such as your city, place of work, or anything else that will be more unique to your life. Often, those with unusual names can skip this step.

Don’t Click Negative Content More Than Once

If you stick mostly to yourself and don’t take part in many online activities, there may not be a need to worry about negative content. But the more time spent actively online, the more bad press there may be (so to speak). This could be in the form of comments on social media, articles written about you or your place of work, and more. Don’t click anything you don’t like to see more than once. The more often it’s clicked, the more likely it is to rise in search rankings which is less likely to be wanted.

Use a Private Search Engine

When using a search engine that has your user profile attached to it (for example, Google), the results might be biased. While this can be helpful to find the most results, it might not be the results other people see if they google you (such as potential employers). Using a private search engine, or even private/incognito mode, will help show the results everyone else sees.

Set Up Alerts For Your Name

After you do an initial search, it’s a good idea to set up alerts for it. The alerts will help to keep an eye on your online presence by sending a notification every time you pop up in search engine results. You should still do a monthly search, but alerts can make the task easier.

Actually Click the Links

When you search anything online, most search engines show you a link and a short excerpt from the result. In some cases, that’s enough to get a sense of the content but not always. Make sure you click the links with mentions of you to get the full picture of what they’re hiding.

Search With More Than Google

While Google is the most popular search engine, it isn’t the only one. Use Bing, use Yahoo. The more search engines you use, the more thoroughly you’ll know the state of your online presence.

Searching for your name online is a great way to protect your privacy and your reputation. Further secure your search by using HotBot VPN. Take what you should know before searching your name online and run with it. It doesn’t take long and it’s always worth the effort.

Posted by Rhiannon

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