a warning: manage your online profile

I’ve had a story brewing for some time about one’s online identity. Apparently, Yahoo’s already beaten me to the punch – and I thought I was going to be quite original.

It’s not going to stop me from saying my piece though; my story’s a little bit more personal.

For quite some time – I would say at least the past two to three years – people have been searching for my whole name – first and last together – and finding this website (or its previous incarnations). Ever since that first started happening, I’ve been aware of the importance of keeping my name detached from anything intensely personal online. This is all the more important because my last name is so unique, especially in North America. I know of one other person who has a similar name – she lives in the UK and her first name is Christine; we share the same last name.

In any case, lately I’ve been trying to “manage”, as best I can, the Google profile attached to this name of mine. Every now and then, I type in the whole thing – both with and without quotes – and look at the results.

There’s nothing too hairy out there. I have been rather careful (and hey, it’s not like there would be anything hairy, unless it came from other – malicious – people, since I’m perfect ;)). But there are a few things I wish wouldn’t come up, as they are slightly embarassing when I think too hard about them.

These include petitions I’ve signed (one to bring back the unfortunately cancelled show Wonderfalls; one saying Happy Birthday! to The Lord of the Rings writer JRR Tolkien), posts to e-mail lists asking technical questions, and various other forum posts I made long before I ever realised I shouldn’t be including my last name in pretty much any profile I make online.

What bothers me the most is the email lists. When I make a post to one, I assume it’s going to be private; it’ll be sent to everyone’s email addresses, probably deleted, and left at that. I never once expected the posts (and all its replies, or lack thereof), to be posted all over the internet. Someone even responded in their blog to the fact that I used their website in one of my questions!

The most disturbing result to come up of late is not even of my own creation. It’s an evaluation as part of a class I took in university that, for some reason, has been posted on the professor’s website and, two years later, still resides there. It’s completely irrelevant now and yet there it remains, showing that my performance was average (a completely unfair evaluation, in my opinion). But I digress.

And the worst part of it is, emailing the managers of those lists to have my name removed – or at least changed to just “Christina” – results in a response of fear-induced “no”, claiming that to do so would weaken the site’s credibility. The requested act was likened to “re-writing history”.

All right, fine. I understand the need for integrity of records. But seriously here – we’re talking about a technical question for a temporary-computer-based language that will most likely be irrelevant in the coming years. How important can it be to retain the integrity of my last name, in particular, being attached to the question?

Yes, yes, it’s the principle of the matter, not the specifics. But honestly… I think they’re taking themselves a little too seriously.

In any case, it’s not that bad. It’s not like I’ve confessed to murdering people or sleeping with prostitutes or something like that (I never have!). It’s just irritating to me that I have no control over this evolving, online, public profile of mine – and further irritating that I sometimes carelessly enter my last name without considering the possible ramifications of doing so, because it’s just an automatic reaction to the “enter last name” field on forms, only to find it surfacing all over Google soon after.

You can be sure, in future, if any online service asks for my last name – I won’t be providing it. It’s required? Fine, I’ll enter Smith. It’s just not worth it to battle with owners of websites about “integrity of records” just to keep the Google search clean, simple, effective and pointing to only this website when someone enters my name.

My final thought is this: I wonder who these people are that keep looking me up?






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