Is Privacy History?

Category: Privacy

What information about you is publicly available on the Web? In the past, only government agencies and businesses with a 'need to know' were able to access personal information. Today, Internet search engines allow almost anyone to find information about friends, co-workers, job applicants, etc. What information that YOU thought was private is available online?

online privacy

Online Privacy

The more people post on the Internet, the easier it is to find someone. It didn't used to be that way. Years ago, when the Internet first began, if you were to try to look someone up, at most you might have found their name and phone number in the White Pages. Today, if you type in someone's name in a search engine, you might find hundreds of links. This is especially true if that person uses the Internet regularly.

Online phone directories enable anyone, anywhere, to find your phone number and street address. More and more government information, such as property ownership, voter registration and court filings and even sex offender databases are being made available online. Many newspapers print the full text of stories and classifieds online. School websites publish student information and sometimes photos. Professional and club newsletters may unwittingly reveal things about you that you'd rather the whole world didn't know.

Why Would You Care?

How could someone find you on the Internet, and what might they learn? There are several reasons why you might care about people being able to find out more about you on the web. Businesses are increasingly going to the Internet to research potential employees. If they are able to find things that are disconcerting, like your drinking or party habits, they might reject you for the position. Perhaps you simply don't want to be found by someone, like old boyfriends or former schoolmates. Or maybe there's a side of you that you don't want certain others to know about...

Do you use MySpace or Facebook, or other social networking sites? If you post pictures of yourself in embarrassing situations or blog about rowdy parties, your employer, landlord, and your family could pretty easily find you and what you're up to. It's a good idea to check what you have posted in public places, and tweak your privacy settings to restrict what others can see. Not only social sites, but blogs, message boards and chat rooms can often be searched too. If you chat, blog or visit message boards, be mindful of where you post and what you type. Your audience may be larger than you think. Do you know what the world is finding out about you?

Google Stalking

Google Stalking is a phrase meaning that someone is trying to find you or find out more about you via the Internet. If you know the name of a person, and that person has posted information anywhere on the Internet, more than likely you can find blogs, photos, or even forum posts made by that person. Doing searches on Google can lead to hundreds of links, depending on how much activity a person does online.

So if you want to find out what information is freely available about you on the web, start with Google. Do a basic search, starting with your name. You might also want to check using your name and the city where you live. Also try variations of your name, such as nicknames and common misspellings. Oh, and don't forget Google's specialized searches for images, videos, news, and other media. After you search, look above and below the search box for these additional links.

Google Special Searches

Another point to remember is that Google not only catches current pages, but past pages too. They have a feature where it will show you cached page. So even if you think some content about you might be gone, it might not have disappeared completely. Another site that captures snapshots of websites over time is the Wayback Machine.

And since all search engines have different ways of cataloging the web, repeat the process with Yahoo, MSN Live, and DogPile. There are also more than a dozen People Search tools that you can use to search for yourself or others online. If you're also concerned about the privacy of data on your own computer, see also Clearing Browser History.

So take a few minutes, browse the web and see what you can find out about yourself. You might find some interesting web pages. You might want to see if everything listed is what you want people to know about you, and maybe remove things that you don't want people to see. Check each site where you post to see if your privacy settings are correct, and look for links to remove your personal info if desired.

Do you have comments about personal privacy in the online world? Post your thoughts below...

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Most recent comments on "Is Privacy History?"

Posted by:

Richard Clark
13 May 2008

Interesting that you should use 'John Smith' in your sample Google search picture. So how about it? Find John Smith? No, not that John Smith, the other John Smith... no the other,

other John Smith. -- Richard "I'm no John Smith" Clark but there still more of me than there are of you!

Posted by:

13 May 2008

Its a bit dated (Jan 2000) but a good article on online privacy can be see at

I wrote Privacy in Genealogy or "The Fox is Already in the Hen House" to allay genealogists fears about putting the birth date of a "living person" on the internet in their genealogy information.

Posted by:

14 May 2008

If you aren't doing anything illegal/immoral or otherwise shameful, then you don't have anything to worry about...

EDITOR'S NOTE: Possibly.

Posted by:

David H
29 May 2008

My fiancee decided to look me up via google and found out everything about me, including what I have been doing on MY computer and where I've been on MY computer from her computer at her home, how is this possible??

EDITOR'S NOTE: Perhaps she knows the password to your Google account. If so, she can see your Google Web History. See

Posted by:

21 Apr 2010

What about the Magic Lantern keylogging software that is being used by the FBI? It can be downloaded as an email attachment. I haven't done anything wrong (that I know of) but it still gives me the shivers.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Stories about Magic Lantern and the FBI popped up in 2001. There is no evidence that the program was ever deployed.

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Copyright © 2005 - Bob Rankin - All Rights Reserved