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How to Find out if your Personal Information is available on the Internet

The six o’clock news has a troublesome way of trying to worry us about what tasty tidbits are posted about us on on the Web. How much you need to worry is up to you – and depends greatly on what you do or post online, how much you want to protect your online privacy and identity, and how much your online reputation and is worth to you.

Clearly, it is worthwhile to know what is online about you so that you can change it, spin it, remove it, or ignore it. Without knowing what is online about you, it is possible that a potential or current client (or employer) could find out something about you before you even know it’s there. Wired.com recently reported about a startup called ReputationDefender that for a modest fee will monitor what is posted about you online and based on your preferences attempt to remove disparaging remarks.

My intent is to walk you through a methodology to quickly setup Google Alerts as a FREE personal online monitoring service with daily updates. (Google Alerts, a service of Google, is not the same as Google Alert, a fee-based competitor not affiliated with Google.) Using these steps, you should be able to setup a robust automated notification of certain types of new information online related to you.

You can use Google Alerts without setting up an account. However, it’s worth setting up a Google account because that makes it much easier to logon later and edit your alerts. To setup your account or logon using an existing Google account, select “Sign in to manage your alerts” from the Google Alerts home page.

If you designate each Google Alert “type” as “comprehensive” (the default setting), your results will consolidate search results from Google Search, Google Blog Search, Google News, and Google Groups. Also, select “once a day” (the default) as the frequency because “as-it-happens” will result in a lot of individual emails (as opposed to “one per day”) and “once a week” is not often enough.

Let’s say that this is your personal information:

Katherine “Kathy” Mary Rozontin
999 Hobartson Court
Reading, PA 99999
(999) 555-1212
[email protected]

In addition, you work information is as follows:

FastNewChip Semiconductors
(999) 555-9999
[email protected]

Here are the alerts you should set up (using the quotation marks as indicated):

“Katherine Mary Rozontin”
“Katherine M. Rozontin”
“Katherine Rozontin”
“Kathy Rozontin”
“999 Hobartson Court” Reading
“999 Hobartson Ct” Reading
[email protected]
[email protected]

This pattern of searches depends on how common your name is or whether you share the same name as a celebrity. If you do, you should add your place of residence or company name into the searches that would be too common. For example, if your name were very common, replace the first, initial, last search with one or more of the following:

“Katherine M. Rozontin” Reading
“Katherine M. Rozontin” Pennsylvania
“Katherine M. Rozontin” PA
“Katherine M. Rozontin” “FastNewChip Semiconductors”

When you setup these alerts, you may want to have them sent to a specific folder (using an email rule – sometimes called an email filter) to collect them until you have time to review them. Or, you could have them sent to your new Google Gmail address that will be established as part of your Google account (suggested earlier).

For more information about constructing effective search terms, read The Essentials of Google Search.

Your first few days of results can be overwhelming. Things should calm down – fewer results – after Google works through the initial searches.

What you can or should do with the results will be the topic of tomorrow’s blog.

My methodology may not be perfect and depending on your needs will need some customization. Hopefully, it will enable you to quickly setup your own monitoring service.

About User Lin