Inaccurate information could be deadly.
5 min read
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When we consider risks to our online presence, there’s no such thing as low stakes.
Untoward information floating around online could cost you your dream job at minimum or compromise your personal safety in the worst case scenario. But how do you know if any of this damaging information is out there? A good place to start is with a Google search of your name.
When was the last time you Googled your own name? While a simple Google inquiry doesn’t even come close to a certified background check, you’d be surprised at what could be out there on those first few pages. Self-search on Google isn’t as indulgent or vapid as it may sound, and many of us do it not just to satisfy our curiosity, but rather damage control or prevention.
More than half of millennials have Googled themselves before and more than one in 10 Gen Zers do so on a daily basis. Here’s a generational breakdown of who Googles themselves:
- 48 percent — Gen Z
- 57 percent — Millennials
- 45 percent — Gen X
- 37 percent — Baby Boomers
Among those who have searched their own names on Google, many are faced with information pertaining to others who share their name, with only one in five finding accurate content. Let’s bear in mind that whatever we see about ourselves in Google search results is also what everyone else can see when they Google our names as well, from potential employers to sinister criminals.
In one bizarre incident, Google search results ended almost fatally. In 2004, following a gunshot injury inflicted by an unknown assailant, one Australian man came across startling — and inaccurate — information on Google that linked his name with local mobsters. Google auto complete filled in the blanks correlating his name with these local mobsters, as well image searches backing up this false information. This misinformation almost cost him his very life.
There are real-world consequences to what’s out there about you online, even if you had nothing to do with it. It may surprise you to learn:
- 33 percent of Google search results are influenced by other individuals of the same name
- 20 percent of people find outdated or flat out inaccurate information
- 12 percent are “unpleasantly surprised” by what they find, though it may not be necessarily incorrect
- 8 percent unfortunately find embarrassing or reputation damaging information
All told, 50 percent of Americans believe that their information is less secure than it was just five years ago — and we have no one but ourselves to blame for that. Our addiction to social media and our obsession with talking about ourselves online could be our very own demise. Facebook accounts aside, Americans are known to use other online accounts to help store and manage their personal data.
On average, adults use three different sites regularly, from social media to finances to medical information. It’s easy to feel safe when we “diversify” our identifying information among multiple platforms guarded by multiple passwords, but this sense of security only goes as far as our wishful thinking. Here’s proof:
- 35 percent of adult internet users have had sensitive personal information compromised
- 29 percent have had an unknown person login to their email or social media account
- 15 percent have had their social security numbers compromised, and 14 percent have had it used to open fraudulent credit cards or loans
- 6 percent have even had an imposter pose as themselves to claim a tax refund
Cyber criminals are smart; smart enough to circumvent the law as well as your security measures. They know just where to look to gather bits and pieces of our identifying information online. Proudly displaying your high school or maiden name on your Facebook profile — all easily discovered through a simple Google search — makes those security questions on another site basically useless.
Pairing their information gathering with a touch of social engineering, cyber criminals can finely tune a personalized scam just for us. Email phishing is a popular and tricky scam that preys on our insecurities and fears, appealing to us with a sense of urgency that leaves us with little option but to immediately react. Red flags include inquiries for personal information sent via email, unclear or mismatched email address and domain names and requests for urgent action to resolve “problems.”
Removing content from Google searches can be a complicated process, but it could mean the difference between life and death, at least in cases of Australian mobsters. From phishing to catfishing, anything we say online can, and likely will, be used against us.
Do you know what Google is showing about you? This infographic details the state of online security, where it’s our responsibility to keep it under wraps, and how to manage when it gets into the wrong hands.