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February 21, 2007

Comments

Mark Sabec

Speaking of self-Googling, I did it the other day and was shocked at what came up in the search results. Every single blog post--this one included, most likely--I've made on this blog, as well as a blog for another class I'm taking this quarter, show up! I was floored. People can read my academic work, examine my critical thinking and writing skills, and it gives other students the ability to quickly gauge--or at least get an idea--of what I'm doing and how well I'm doing it.

I understand where you're coming from, because it is very scary to realize that certain things you say online will wind up in a Google search. It makes me weary of what I post online--can I post how I truly feel about a certain subject, or am I going to have to censor what I say to avoid snooping eyes from forming judgments about me? I have a job next year at Google--will they be searching me on the internet and, if so, what happens if I say something negative about the company before I begin working there?

Call me crazy, but I miss the old days, where what you said in class was shared with only those present, where assignments were read only by the student and professor. Maybe I put too much personal stock in my academic research, but I'd be lying if I said it doesn't bother me that this post will wind up on someone's Google search in a few minutes.

Cindy Liou

I agree with Shani that it is frightening how much information can be found about you on the Internet. A potential employer told me recently that many employers are now conducting simple Google searches on potential employees before interviews or deciding to hire someone. Many incriminating pictures or information can be posted online without someone's consent or knowledge. A picture of you drunk on a weekend, while not illegal and occuring outside of a professional context, can definitely color (most often negatively) the employer's perception of you. Worse, information that is unrelated to professional conduct but important to an individual's identity can harm your chances of employment if the individual hiring you so happens to disagree with your social or academic viewpoints. For example, if you support same-sex marriage or oppose abortion and are involved in such activities, a simple Google search linking your name to such activities or ideas can hurt you. While it is your right (and frequently we are encouraged to participate in such activities are part of our civic life), this involuntary linkage from your private life to your professional life can be considered unfair. While employers have every right to obtain information about your background in their hiring decisions, neither should one have to curtail every aspect of their personal life.

The potential employer also told me that many people are hiring others these days to create a website or profile so that when potential employers Google them, it is the first thing that shows. The website will have the individual's resume and attempts to control the information and image that your project to the public. So, filtering is an option, and there are small ways one can control the personal information that appears on the Internet. Ask your friends when they post pictures not to include your full name or include your initials instead, and choose usernames or email addresses when you are posting things that you are nervous about others seeing that don't include your full name.

Shani's post is important in that everyone should try to do a Google search on themselves and make sure there is nothing online that you would be ashamed to show others or obstruct certain employment opportunities (or even your love life!).

Sophia Tu

I agree with Mark that it is very unsettling to know that everything you post under your name can be analyzed and critiqued. I'll admit that knowing that whatever I write will be linked to my name has been a strong writer's block at times. There is a time for standing behind your words, but there also needs to be space to brainstorm and debate without such pressure while taking advantage of the connectivity that the internet affords. Internet aliases and anonymous posting serve a very useful purpose online by allowing people to experiment.

I've googled myself several times fairly recently, and only came up with a few true hits each time. I just did it again, and it looks like Google has been tweaking their Pagerank algorithm. Two things that I am surprised about: First, the digital petitions that I've signed came up high on the list. It makes sense that this record is public and comes up under your name, akin to how elected representatives' voting records are public information. Signing your name to a petition is something that shouldn't be done lightly, and this drives home the gravity of it.

The second thing, which was more discomfiting, is that the work I did for an HTML/CSS class (including comments on message boards, etc) back when I was barely in high school, is available for public perusal. Obviously, at that point I didn’t stop to consider future privacy implications - the internet was not nearly as searchable then as it is now, with a much smaller audience, and there was no discourse on privacy online. Future generations will grow up knowing that anything they put online might be linked back to them in the future, but for us in the transition period it's more than a little unsettling.

As Cindy points out, you can create your own website to control your image on the web. Usually, people do it by buying the domain "fullname.com". As the internet grows and more people come online, they're going to start to find that their preferred domain name is taken. This raises two issues - they will have to take a domain name that they prefer less, and when people google their name someone else's profile will be the top hit. The issue of separating out identities of people with identical names is going to become very important in a few years, and people who might be profiling you through a google search will hopefully learn how to do this well. In the meantime, I am dismayed that there is apparently at least one other Sophia Tu who is active online, a teenager in Singapore with Friendster and MySpace profiles.

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