Whether it's a potential employer, current employer, budding romantic partner, long-time significant other, or someone else in your life, there's a good chance they have or will run a Google search for your name. Do you know everything that they'll find?
The answer could make a difference between a job and the unemployment line, or ‘happily ever after’ and nights alone. That's why you need to run your own search first.
Search Google for more than mentions
Start with a basic search for your name in quotes, like "Kim Komando,” for instance. If you have a more common name, you might need to go through a number of pages to find yourself.
If you aren't finding anything, you can use your name plus modifiers like the city or state you live in, the names of schools you attended, the name of the company you work for, or some other distinguishing characteristic. Run a number of searches and see what turns up.
Afterward, switch over to Google's Image Search at images.google.com and locate any pictures of you. It's much easier to scan hundreds of images quickly than hundreds of links. You might be surprised at the images you find.
If you're worried that specific images have escaped your control, you can run a reverse image search. This is one of the slickest things you can do using Google Search.
On the Google Image Search page, click the camera icon in the search bar. Then paste in a link to the image, or upload an image, and Google will search the Internet for it. Your image can turn up even if it doesn't have your name or other identifying information.
Next, run a search for your past and current email addresses and phone numbers. You might have used these on a site where you didn't include your name. Online forums often use email addresses and usernames instead of real names to identify people.
Finally, run a search for your social media account usernames. Most people pick one or two and stick with those. For example, if you search for the username "kimkomando," you'll turn up my Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram accounts. It might reveal social accounts that you forgot about or are less private than you think.
Even if you don't find much now, someone might post something about you in the future.
That's why you need to set up a free Google Alert for yourself. This service sends you an email when your name, or other information you choose, pops up online. It’s a great, easy way to monitor your own digital reputation.
Remove information you don't want public
In the course of your search, you might stumble upon information you don't want online. It could be something you put up years ago, something someone else posted about you, or a large collection of your personal information on a people search site like Intelius or Spokeo.
If the information is from a site you control, such as Facebook, then you can simply go to your account and change the privacy settings — or just delete the post.
When it comes to other sites, you'll need to contact them about removing the information. If the information is copyrighted, such as a picture of you, you can reference the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. It says that "[u]pon receiving proper notification of claimed infringement, the provider must expeditiously take down or block access to the material." See Section 512(c) of the DMCA for more details. If that doesn't work for whatever reason, then you consult a lawyer.
In situations where someone else has posted information about you, say on an Internet forum, contact the forum owners directly and ask them to take it down.
When it comes to people search sites that collect your public information and sell it to other people, you need to contact each site and complete a removal request. Alternatively, you can take a shortcut like LifeLock's free Privacy Monitor or Abine's DeleteMe. (Full disclosure: LifeLock is a sponsor on my national radio show.)
Since we're talking about Google Search, I wanted to take a second to remind you that by default, Google is recording every search you enter. It also records your location (if you use Google Maps), video-watching history and searches from YouTube, and plenty more. Anyone who gets into your Google account has a full record of everything you've done, plus access to your Gmail and other Google services.
If you haven't visited your Google account and privacy settings in a while, it's time.
In fact, Google just did a big overhaul to create the new My Account page that lays out your settings in a much easier-to-use fashion with more understandable explanations. Visit the Google My Account section today to beef up your Google security and choose what information Google records from your life.
On the Kim Komando Show, the nation's largest weekend radio talk show, Kim takes calls and dispenses advice on today's digital lifestyle, from smartphones and tablets to online privacy and data hacks. For her daily tips, free newsletters and more, visit her website at Komando.com. Kim also posts breaking tech news 24/7 at News.Komando.com.