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Web surfers get serious about Googling themselves

May 26, 2010 |  9:00 am

Googling yourself -- or “ego surfing” -- is no longer just an exercise in digital narcissism.

It’s a necessary effort to shape -- and protect -- your online brand.

And online reputation monitoring is on the rise, with 57% of adult Internet users using search engines to find online information about themselves, up from 47% in 2006, according to a report from Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project which examined online identity management in the age of social media.

Some of the increased activity is in response to social networking sites such as Facebook making more personal information public. Young adults actively manage what they share online: 71% of social networking users ages 18 to 29 have changed the privacy settings on their profile, Pew found. In fact, with the number of adults on social networks more than double the amount in 2006, 65% of these profile owners have changed the privacy settings to restrict what they share with others online.

The report was based on a telephone survey of 2,253 adults ages 18 and older conducted in August and September. Pew found that Internet users fell into two categories: those who carefully sculpt their online image and those who let it all hang out.

Those ages 18 to 29 are more likely than older adults to limit the amount of personal information available about them online, with 44% of young adult Internet users doing so compared with 33% of Internet users ages 30 to 49, 25% of those 50 to 64 and 20% of those 65 and older.

In fact, the report torpedoes the popular perception that young users are less vigilant than adults in managing their online reputations. According to Pew, 71% of social networking users ages 18 to 29 have changed the privacy settings on their profile to limit what they share with others online compared with 55% of social networking users ages 50 to 64. Nearly half of younger social networking users delete unwanted comments on their profile, compared with 29% of users ages 30 to 49 and 26% of users ages 50 to 64. They also are more likely to remove their name from photos: 41% of social networking users ages 18 to 29 have untagged photos compared with 24% of users ages 30 to 49 and 18% of those ages 50 to 64.

“Search engines and social media sites now play a central role in building one’s identity online,” Mary Madden, senior research specialist at the Internet & American Life Project and lead author of the report, said in a statement. “Many users are learning and refining their approach as they go, changing privacy settings on profiles, customizing who can see certain updates and deleting unwanted information about them that appears online.” And we aren’t just interested in ourselves: 38% of Internet users have searched online for information about their friends, up from 26% in 2006.

 -- Jessica Guynn

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