Why you should occasionally Google yourself!

 

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For many, Google (which as of this post controls 71.1% of the global search engine market share) is the gateway to everything that the Web hosts. People google a website’s name more often than entering it manually (or clicking on a bookmark).

And Google’s influence is way beyond than just acting as a way-point between people and their favorite sites on the web. Google has enough power to influence user’s thoughts and behaviours, it has enough power to change the state of the race of an election by simply altering the search ranking of the candidates.

But thankfully, Google is NOT evil. In fact that’s their motto. Almost all of Google’s search results are organic, meaning only the Google’s PageRank algorithm decides the positioning of a search result on the results page.

Google and You.

So, with that said, why should you care?

In today’s online world, concealing yourself is becoming an exception than the rule. By default people assume everyone is supposed to have a Facebook account, must constantly send out Tweets from their Twitter and must constantly upload a stream of pictures on their Instagram.

People (crackers included) can find a shit-ton about you just by knowing your first and last name.

Mobile devices only worsen the problem. Nearly every photo taken on your mobile device is Geo-tagged (unless if the user has disabled it), meaning it’s EXIF file contains tags about the Geo-physical location of, when the photograph was taken.

So, the Internet is a goldmine for hackers who can then use the very same information to impersonate you by stealing your identity. And if you think companies you trust are working round the clock to keep your account safe, then think again.

But, wait, I don’t want to scare you!

Yes, the point of this post is to NOT scare you. Of course, there is some probability of you being hacked sometime in your lifetime, but that doesn’t mean you need to be paranoid about it all the time.

Taking some simple steps to gain control over your information online is a good start. That’s why you should start by Googling yourself!

Why you should Google yourself?

Google, as previously mentioned is the first destination for any hacker to gain some basic data/meta-data about you.

If for example, you maintain public profiles on a whole bunch of websites, then all of them would show up in the search results.

A hacker can then manually mine and process your information from each individual profile (such as your username, profile picture, your family connections) and fuse them together to prepare a blueprint for an Identity Theft attack!

It’s called Social Engineering.

And, it’s scary.

General tips for Googling yourself!

Now that you’ve decided to Google yourself, here are some simple tips (conjured up from my own experiences) to help you.

  • Firstly, launch your browser in incognito mode (Firefox/Edge users can use “in-private” mode) – You want to do this because chances are, you’re already signed in many of your private accounts and Google account especially. This would invariably lead to Google displaying you personalized result right on top the very page (and fool you into thinking you’re the first result in your name’s search, Omg omg I’m faaamous!, No you’re not.). So, incognito mode is recommended.
  • Start by Googling your first name and last name – Chances are, there are tons of people already named after you, so your chances of finding your profile from that haystack of profiles is minimal, unless if you have a horribly rare name.
  • Search for your usernames on different profile – If you’re creative and love continuity, chances are you have same username across multiple profile on the web. Although it makes you easier to find on the web, like for example, Googling Abhiminator throws up my profiles exclusively, because I own the username across multiple profiles, it’s a hacker’s goldmine. With this, people can also find profiles in sites you don’t want people to access *cough* reddit *cough*. If you think your search throws up results you do not wish other people to see, you have three options. 1) Make the profile private so that search engine crawlers cannot access it. 2) Change your username to something completely unrelated to delink it from your name. 3) Nuke your profile (last resort of course.).
  • Finally, reverse search your profile image –  This is the final step in Googling yourself (and in some cases optional). Sometimes, your profile picture can end up in places you wish it didn’t end up in. And to make matters worse, they aren’t even linked to your original account. This happens mostly during catfishing, where people on dating sites put other’s profile picture to fool other users, and in some cases, they can use yours. You can reverse image search by dragging and dropping your suspected profile picture into Google’s image search bar. If you do end up finding your picture in an unrelated profile, you can shoot an email to that particular website for DMCA/privacy removal.

That’s about it.

Bottomline is, there are threats that exist in this information age that were unimaginable 20-30 years ago. With each passing day, the Internet is becoming even more ingrained in our everyday life and threats lurk just around the corner. But by taking specific precautions and using some common sense, one can avoid being digitally shredded.

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Abhishek.

 

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