Published on Sunday, September 8th, 2013 in Internet Culture, Technology

We’ve all been there… you’re looking for something online and can’t find it. Then you ask for help over Facebook to a friend you’re chatting with and they find exactly what you want in two seconds.

Your first thought is that your friend is just better than you ‘at the Google‘ and then you concede that there’s nothing more to it and get on with your day. Well, I’m here to say that there most certainly is more to searching the internet than meets the eye.

The Filter Bubble: What the Internet is Hiding From You

If you’ve seen this TED talk by Eli Pariser, Author of The Filter Bubble: What the Internet is Hiding From You then you’ll know that Facebook and Google customise their feeds and search results, hiding results from their end users and ultimately stripping them of their control.

Now, this isn’t really as huge an issue as it was two years ago – heck, I use a few services like Lumi.do that purposely only shows me news based on my browser history and created a company based around using history to know what you want when you’re shopping. But news and search results are something very different, especially in the eyes of a client, potential boss or just random stranger who finds you (you never know who you’re going to meet).

A simple test

Everyone should Google themselves, that goes without question. But the way in which you search for yourself will provide varying results and you don’t want to be caught out, so here’s four simple steps to find out what others are seeing about you on the net.

  • Step 1. Google your name
  • Step 2. Google your full name including honorifics
  • Step 3. Google your full name and location

*From these three searches you should see some similar results, with little variation.

Have you just found a few pages that exist about you that you previously didn’t know about? I know I do every time I try that exercise.

You’ve been caught out

So, not only did you find a new article, comment or page about yourself, you’ve also found something online you wished wasn’t there. Like maybe, your telephone number or an embarrassing photo of you topless at that backyard-beer-hose-party?

dontpanic

First determine whether you or someone else controls the content. For example, if the photo you want to hide is part of your Picasa account, you can simply change your photo visibility settings or if its on your Facebook timeline just delete it or change the visibility settings. If, however, the unwanted content resides on a site or page you don’t control, you can follow Google’s tips on removing personal information from the web and removing a page from Google’s search results.

Get notified when your personal data appears on the web

You might want to get notified if new information about you – like your name or email address, gets published online. The Me on the Web feature of your Google Dashboard can help you keep an eye on what’s out there about you.

SimpleWash

Another program out there to clean away unwanted content you may not remembers exists is a program for Facebook and Twitter called SimpleWash which identifies curses and unflattering content.

Facebook Timeline Cleaner

You may just want to completely erase all data from your Facebook timeline and start fresh (or escape!) and if that’s the case there’s two programs that will do that for you with a simple installation. The first is Facebook Timeline Cleaner and the second is Absterge. Both require you to install GreaseMonkey.

Revise your permissions

How many applications have access to your Facebook information? Use this bit of software to see (and remove them of coursE).

When all else fails

If you’ve tried all of the above and you can’t remove the offending content from the web (say, if you’re Miley Cyrus) then it’s time to push that content down. Create more newsworthy content about yourself, sign up for more social profiles, give to charity, do an interview and push whatever you want off page one and onto page four (where no one will ever see it). Good luck!

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Filter bubbles and your search results

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