Tuesday, November 17, 2009 - Almanac Vol. 56, No. 12
Search Engines: Raising the Stakes
The fact that the phrase “to google someone” has become a standard part of our language in recent years is clear evidence that Google remains the dominant force in the fierce competition among the various public search engines, and the introduction this year of Microsoft’s Bing service highlights the ongoing drive by search engine providers to index and access vast amounts of data more rapidly. Unfortunately, it continues to be the case that a significant portion of this data is personal, sensitive or confidential in nature, and has been exposed to search engines through poor website administration and/or lack of understanding of what types of files a search engine will find and index.
Hackers, identity thieves and scam artists know how to use Google, Bing and Yahoo just as well as the rest of us, so we continue to recommend that good self-protection includes occasionally “googling yourself” to find out what information about you (and the groups you belong to) is available to anyone who chooses to look. In addition to your name, you may want to search on your phone numbers and addresses as well. Some experts recommend searching on your Social Security Number, but be careful about this—it will be sent “in the clear” and may be intercepted by network snoops.
You may want to narrow the scope of your search (e.g., when using Google, preface your search with ‘site:upenn.edu’ to search only Penn sites), but if your search yields publicly available data about you—or your organization, especially Penn—that you find troubling, then investigate with the major search engines about removing that data from their caches. For Penn-related information, you can obtain assistance with this by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org.