Everyone has heard the sayings “ You are what you eat” or “You are who you think you are.” Now, have you ever heard “You are who Google says you are”? I would imagine most of you have not, but it’s worth examining as technology grows faster and farther-reaching.

The more connected our world gets, access to private information becomes easier and easier. The corporations in charge of storing our data are trusted to keep it secure through heavy encryption and other information security technologies. While these companies tend to do a great job, all security and information control starts with you.


A Brief History of Personal Data

In the past, public personal information was available from two main sources, telephone books, and public record. You would look up a name in the book, or go down to the courthouse, pay a small fee and they give you a print-out of all the information available in the public record.

Those records included law proceedings, marriages, divorces, deaths, and voting rolls. This information was primarily utilized by private investigators, repossessors, bounty hunters and creepy stalkers. However, unless you were applying for a government job, employers would rarely, if ever do this.

The world forever changed on September 15, 1997, with the registering of the domain Google.com. This web crawling service has turned into one of the largest technology companies the planet has ever seen. One report in 2016 says Google has over 130 trillion pages indexed and It currently processes over 40,000 search queries every second on average, which translates to over 3.5 billion searches per day and 1.2 trillion searches per year worldwide! That’s a lot of people looking for a lot of things. One of them just might have been you.

What Kind of Data is Out There

Since Google has been indexing the internet since 1998, those trillions of indexed pages contain the public record of you and your usage of the internet… yes, even your Hot or Not account you forgot you had. With everything going digital, all of that information is available at the click of a mouse.

Compared to old days, public information has now expanded to include current and former addresses, past and present email accounts, phone numbers, former names, and relatives. That is a serious amount of personal information that can be gathered in a short amount of time.  

Not only is all that data archived, but there is also information from your interactions with a ton of apps, sites, and services. People often create accounts and abandon them instead of deleting them. If you were born after 1985, it’s possible you have spent your whole adolescent and adult life on the internet. All that information is probably still out there is some form. Some of it is lost (thanks Myspace), but a lot of it is still out there and forgotten.

Do Employers Search For Me

It’s estimated that about seventy percent of all employers conduct an internet search of applicants before they make a final hiring decision. At that rate, you have better odds of being searched for on Google than you do coming out ahead at any casino. I think it’s pretty safe to say controlling your internet presence is a must in this modern world.

You’re might be saying to yourself “Hey, I’m awesome! I’ve got nothing to hide.” You may even think of yourself as a Mother Terresa or Gandhi incarnate. But depending on the image you present via an internet search, your potential employer may view you better off in another job and then send your application to the bottom.

It isn’t that you are a bad person and have to hide your shame. The idea behind all of this is to not open yourself up to any discrimination. Currently, there is no way to prove a potential employer viewed you via google and committed any acts of digital discrimination. That doesn’t mean that it isn’t frequent.

The process of searching Google for public information may be easy, but the odds are when employers start searching; they will often start at the top of the list… Your social media accounts. Here is where you can best shape your presence on the internet.


Taking Control

So how does one take control? It all starts by well… Googling your self. Type your name in and see what comes up. If you have a common name, it’s best to put your middle initial in there as well. Also enter your current and old emails, screen names and handles into google. Most people will be surprised how much public information is out there.

Take note of all the things that populate and go back through those accounts to make sure they represent what you want them to. Every account has a section for privacy and sharing settings. Controlling these settings as well as the content of all non-private information is the key to having a good online presence to the public while still maintaining an online social life.

For instance, one of the best ways to get a handle on a 20-year-old Facebook account is to utilize the “Set all previous post to friends” feature. This feature changes all past post and picture privacy settings to friends only.  You can then go back and curate what needs to be public if anything.

Also, review how many linked accounts you have. With Facebook and Google’s “Log in with your account” feature, connections to other apps and sites are created in an instant. The number of accounts that get connected can grow rapidly. Is your Twitter linked to your Facebook? Facebook linked your Instagram? Instagram linked to your Tinder? It’s a pretty slippery slope.

And if you are really into privacy, It doesn’t stop there. Your Amazon wishlists and account should be private. Any gaming accounts, like Steam Playstation or Xbox, should be checked… Because nobody wants their potential employer questioning their accumulated hours playing Minecraft.  

Once you have your privacy under control, you can then choose who to communicate with on which social media platform. Unless you are a photographer, you are very unlikely to land a job via Instagram or 500pix. If you are a writer, the character limit on Twitter won’t do anything for you. Having a presence on multiple social media platforms is not the issue, it’s choosing the correct ones to interact on professionally.

Excluding professional job hunting websites, maintaining an updated profile on LinkedIn is probably your best choice for an online business presence.  LinkedIn is one of the most, if not the best professional social media platform available. Always keep in mind that it’s still a social media platform at its base. You may wind up with a job offer in your inbox, or you might occasionally end up with a flirty solicitation for drinks.


Be Your Own Custodian

If you are currently in the market for a new job, put the time aside to address all your public data. The choice of how private you want to be and for how long is up to you. You can be as tight or as lax about your public data as you want, but everyone should know how much of their data is out there.

So go ahead and open a private or incognito tab. Search as if you were trying to find dirt on yourself. You can even pretend you are a private investigator to make a game out of it. Once you get an idea of what’s out there, you can then decide how much correction you might need to dispense. Remember, the only way to be sure of your online presence is to know what is out there and control it.

Article updated from the original on January 5th, 2019