Online reputation management is big business these days, and is especially important considering the proliferation of social networking sites where a lot of our personal information can get divulged, with or without our knowledge. This can not only invade your personal privacy, but can sometimes result in false information being spread about you by a malicious person, which can destroy your reputation and seriously impact your job search or social life. Your online persona is like your personal brand, and as with any brand, you have to jealously guard your brand reputation. More and more employers and human resource managers are likely to scan the internet for online information about you, and a single negative or compromising page can nix your chances of being offered that job.
There are, in fact, several websites that specialize in taking your publicly available online personal information and making it available to anyone who wants it - for a fee. One such website is Spokeo.com. Even for free, Spokeo will allow you to see some of a person’s information such as age, the value of your home, marital status, your home address, your phone number, and perhaps even a photo of the front of your house. All this can be downright scary. And for $15 (or more, depending on the plan you sign up for) you can see much more, including income, membership in online social networks, hobbies and so on. While Spokeo can be a good tool to find anyone online, like an old classmate or a long-lost friend, it is a little unsettling to think that potential criminals, stalkers or marketers could also locate a person online in this manner.
Other venues where people can find information on you online include blog postings and social networking sites like Facebook. So, if you are inclined to post very personal information online such as political opinions, issues with coworkers, compromising or embarrassing pictures taken at parties, health issues, and other such things that could impact your online reputation, you might want to consider tracking down such information and deleting it as it could hurt your job search, college application or dating life. In fact, some privacy experts also say that this data could be misused to deny health coverage, or perhaps to increase interest rates on loans.
What can you do for your online reputation management?
For anyone concerned about online privacy protection, the proliferation of blogs and social networks is a real cause for concern. So what can you do about it? To start off, google your name and see what comes up about you. You should also check search results on your name using Bing and Yahoo, in case some search results aren’t on the top of the Google listings. And you shouldn’t just check the top results on any search engine, because there could be something negative or embarrassing about you several pages into the search results.
You should also check online accounts that you may have stopped using, for instance on social networking or dating sites. You may have put personal information online on these sites that you would not want to share any longer. Sometimes, even if these sites had online privacy policies that protected your information, their policies may have changed over time, or they may have been bought by other companies that are more lax about online privacy protection.
You should also be careful about what kinds of personal information you put on sites like Facebook. For instance, I would hesitate to put my complete birth date on Facebook. Even if you do put some personal information online, you can use Facebook’s privacy settings to make sure that this information is only visible to people you authorize to see that information. Even this is not foolproof, as hackers are pretty sophisticated these days.
You can also hire professional help from companies like Reputation.com (formerly, Reputation Defender), or Abine. These companies specialize in helping you remove your personal online details. Finally, if the problem is really serious or complicated, you may have to seek legal help to get a website to take down your personal or damaging information online.