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Wide White: Google, Facebook, and your personal information

Friday, April 15, 2011

Google, Facebook, and your personal information

Whenever I get a phone call from a number I don't recognize, I Google it before answering. I simply enter "000-000-0000." I can always at least find out which geographic location is home to the area code, which often tells me who's calling. Sometimes I even get the name of the organization the call is coming from or, if I'm really lucky, the name of the person calling.

I ran a search on an unknown number that came in today and actually got the name of the caller, who turned out to be a coworker who was calling me from his cell phone. I'd never seen a Facebook post give me the caller's identity before.

The only search result in all of Google that actually told me this guy's identity is a crass Facebook post from a guy who lost his cell phone and just needs his buddies' phone numbers. My coworker had entered his number in the comments and likely never thought anything of it.

I told him about it and he immediately deleted his number from the comments, but of course that doesn't change the fact that Google has his phone number cached and still returns that page as its top result, regardless of the fact that his number is no longer listed there. It also doesn't help the 17 other people whose phone numbers are still listed on that page.

What makes this even stranger - or more unsettling, depending on your perspective - is how long this post had been sitting out there. I blacked out my colleague's name and number in the image above, but you can clearly see the date and time: "May 27, 2007 at 10:12am." This guy left his buddy his phone number almost 4 years ago on Facebook and it's still out there and is the number 1 Google search for his phone number.

Your Facebook privacy settings should protect what's on your own page, but they don't impact what you post on others' pages or group walls. Ultimately, you have to consider anything you post online to be public information forever, regardless of your settings. Google is returning results from social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, using your discussions with friends to populate its search results.

A search of my phone number won't lead you to Facebook, but it will tell you that I used to lead a church small group. The church-related pages, which I didn't know existed, give the meeting location of that small group, which happens to be my home address. It also tells you my wife's name. Another page in the search results tells you that I used to umpire for the city of St. Paul. I don't lead that church group or umpire any longer, but my information is still out there.

I don't worry about my web presence. I figure if someone really wants to find out where I live, they'll figure it out one way or another. But a lot of people are concerned about this. Do you worry about your personal information being online?

And is it weird that I Google phone numbers I don't recognize?

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Blogger Mrs Marcos declared,

I don't think it is weird that you google unknown phone numbers. Once I googled a number I didn't know and found this site "h t t p : / / w h o c a l l e d . u s /" I enter every telemarketer call I receive on their site (because I'm mean like that). I agree, it is scary the information that is out there.

*I put the spaces in the link because I'm not sure how you feel about links in your posts etc.

p.s. my verification word is "ratingsh"...I think that kind of fits in a funny way

4/16/2011 4:13 AM  
Anonymous Ellen declared,

I initially thought it was weird that you google numbers, but then I realized that instead of googling (I don't have internet in my home) I check a directory I have to see where the area code is coming from. Often I just let them leave a message and then I return their call. So really, it's not that weird...I'd be doing it as well if I had the technology at my finger tips all the time.

And no, I don't like the detailed spread of information very much.

4/16/2011 7:26 AM  

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