Public Privacy and The Advent of Social Search

    August 3, 2007
    WebProNews Staff

Remember the old adage: It’s better to be silent and thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt. Means a lot coming from me, a writer, I know, but on the Internet, for people with less public jobs than my own, it might be a good thing to remember.

That’s not to say that there are a lot of loud-mouthed idiots out there (there are, just look at any website’s comment section), just to remind people that everything they say on the Internet can and will be used against them in the court of public opinion.

In the past few years it’s been Google that was the main concern as employers and clients and husbands and wives and mothers and potential dates started googling to get the goods on people, tracking their digital footprints.

Sometimes, it’s out of your control what people say about you online. I’ve been called just about every name in the book, and accused of participating in more than one vast conspiracy.

But for the most part, what appears about you online is under your control, and there are new search engines coming out that will remind us all of that, and many of us aren’t going to like it that there are aggregators out there that will collect for all to see everything we’ve said about ourselves.

Sometimes, "That’s not what I meant" just doesn’t work or isn’t loud enough to drown out the damage.’s Anita Hamilton thinks it’s "creepy" how much can be found out, and notes new upstarts that are looking to cash in on a new branch of the search industry: social search.

An estimated 30% of all Web searches are aimed at finding people, according to industry statistics, and upstarts like PeekYou, Pipl, Spock, and Wink are vying for a piece of this potentially huge market. These free sites work by scouring the Web for any virtual footprints you might have on MySpace, Facebook, Friendster, Yahoo!, Flickr and elsewhere, and then creating a fresh profile that organizes all that information on one page. Even recently expanded its phone listings to include business addresses and other contact information culled from all sorts of mail-order marketing lists and business directories.

Yee-ahh. That’s not good. Not if you don’t necessarily want to broadcast yourself to everybody on the net. Fortunately for me, my name is incredibly common and most of the upstarts Anita mentioned just plain suck – Wink looks like it might be decent though, found my LinkedIn profile, which is something I don’t mind if people check out. That’s why it’s there to begin with.

But it’s bad news for people that (however twisted this might sound) expect a certain degree of privacy on the public Internet. The thing to remember then is this: Don’t put anything on the Web you don’t want other people to know.