It is often said that everyone has a twin somewhere in the world; what many people may not know is that the twin is likely to be located online.
Because this is not given the attention it deserves, it is often overlooked and misunderstood. Protecting and managing your digital self is often confused with taking steps to prevent identity theft.
Although taking measures to protect yourself against identity theft is important, protecting your digital self casts a broader net. This may be an oversimplification, but identity theft prevention, from an online perspective, focuses on securing passwords, account numbers and sensitive financial information. Managing your digital self should include these tasks, but it goes a step further and requires that you frequently stay abreast of the information publicly available about you.
I use the phrase “manage your digital self” because that’s all you can do – manage the information. The source of the online information about you may not necessarily be you. It can range from publicly available government records and documents to opinions written about you from friend and foe alike. Following are some tactics to successfully manage your digital self.
The Internet never closes, so neither does the opportunity for information to be uploaded about you. Something to keep in mind is that unless you catch some of it almost in the instant it appears online and have it removed, you can expect that information to long outlive you. The rate at which information is copied, backed up and stored in multiple locations online would amaze most people.
The next thing to keep in mind is that even if you don’t use the Internet frequently, it doesn’t mean there isn’t a significant amount of information about you online.
One of the first steps you want to take is to see what is out there about you. An easy way to do this is to do what’s called a vanity search. This means that you essentially Google yourself. I would suggest that you use slight variations of your name and quotation marks on both ends of your name. This will ensure that only the exact name between the quotations appears. You can also set up Google news alerts to e-mail you whenever something containing your name appears.
You also will want to hit the social networking circuit. This means MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, Ning and other Web sites of that ilk. If you find information that is incorrect, you do have a recourse. Most times it involves contacting the owners of the Web site and asking them to remove it.
The problem is that by this time it is likely to have been populated in other places online. An easy solution is to use the same social networking Web sites and other Web resources to cast yourself in the light that you would like to be viewed.
Quincey Hobbs is a team member at the University of Arizona’s Center for Computing and Information Technology and an instructor at Pima Community College. Send questions to quinceyresponds @yahoo.com.