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Almost half of U.S. Internet users 'Google' themselves

We're leaving bigger online footprints and want to see where they're going, study finds

By Linda Rosencrance
December 17, 2007 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - As users post more information about themselves on social networking sites and elsewhere, they are also conducting more online searches about themselves, according to a new study. Almost half of all U.S. Internet users (47%) have searched for information about themselves online, up from 22% in 2002, according to a report released yesterday by the Pew Internet & American Life Project.

This self-searching is a natural outgrowth of the transition into the Web 2.0 era of participatory media, said Mary Madden, a senior research specialist and one of the authors of the study, "Digital Footprints: Online Identity Management and Search in the Age of Transparency."

"Now that more of us are posting things online and in a wider range of places, we're leaving a bigger set of footprints behind us, so it's natural that we would become more curious about what they look like and who might see them," Madden said. "Now there's more out there to find and more tools to find it."

However, users don't monitor their online identities with great regularity, she said. In fact, only 3% of users do that on a regular basis, while 22% search on their names "every once in a while," and 74% have checked up on their online identities only once or twice, according to the report.

Most Internet users aren't even sure what personal information is available online. About 33% say their e-mail addresses, home addresses, phone numbers or the names of their employers are available via the Internet, according to the report's findings.

The results are based on data from telephone interviews with 2,373 U.S. adults 18 and older. The survey was conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International from Nov. 30 to Dec. 30, 2006.

Users who are younger than 50 are more likely to search for information about themselves than users 50 and older, according to the report. Men and women search for information about themselves in equal numbers, Madden said.

However, people who are more educated and make more money than other users are considerably more likely to use a search engine to monitor their online identities, according to the report.

"The more educated people have jobs where they are more likely to post some biographical information on their employers' Web sites, or are required to market themselves online in some way," Madden said. Therefore, they are more likely to track their online identities, she added.

According to the report, 60% of adult online users say they aren't concerned about what information is available about them on the Web, and 61% say they don't find it necessary to limit the amount of personal data available.

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