Do you ever wonder how much information about you is available online? Have you ever come across something you’d rather others didn’t see? We hear more and more about managing your digital footprint, and managing your reputation, but what does this mean and how can you do it?
Your digital footprint is generally understood to mean the trail of information left around the internet in the form of social networking posts, emails, images, forum posts etc.
Today’s children will be the first generation to have their entire life documented online and, whilst the photos taken whilst having fun with friends now may seem fun and evocative, and that joke on your Wall may have been hilarious at the time, in a few years’ time they may become a source of embarrassment or worse. You may also be tagged in other peoples’ images, or mentioned in forum and blog posts. Employers and universities are increasingly checking applicants’ digital footprints to evaluate their integrity.
Google have cottoned on to this need to manage one’s online reputation and have released a tool called ‘Me on the Web‘ – if you have a Google account, go to your Dashboard, you will find it between Account and Profile.
Everyone should regularly search for themselves on Google – use quotation marks around your name to search for it as a phrase eg “Sam Jones”, and remember to search on Google Images too.
However with a Google profile you can manage information eg contact details, etc that people see, and link to other sites about you or created by you like Picasa photos and social networking profiles eg LinkedIn.
You can also be notified when your personal info appears on the web using Me on the Web to set up automatic notification alerts when info relating to you is posted.
Finally, you can have unwanted content and the associated search results removed from Google listings. First you must work out whether you or somebody else controls the content. If it’s part of information you have published, eg Picasa albums, you can adjust the settings to increase privacy; but if unwanted content is posted on a site you don’t control, you can follow Google’s advice on removing personal information from the web and removing a page from Google’s search results.
Bear in mind this is not always easy or quick – you have to contact the site’s owners first and ask for data to be removed, and some owners may be unwilling to comply. But at least there is now a tool for finding such information and this puts control back into the user’s hands again.
Always remember though – think before you click – it’s much easier not to post than to try to clean up afterwards.