One of the first questions I ask of teens “Have you ever Googled yourself?” – And yes – they all have. And they should, in fact we all should. Some people call it “Ego Surfing”, but it isn’t about ego as much as a reminder of our responsibility to know what information is out there about us. But I particularly bring this up with teens to show how easy it is to find out information about them they may not realize is available. We all lose sight of the fact that once we put something online or it is a matter of public record, it is there for others to access, use and share.
Let me share the story of what took place at a local high school this week. I show a particular website that aggregates information from public records. Using myself, I share with them the amount of information that is deadly accurate and the equally scary inaccuracies. I’ve used this slide for several months now, but a unique thing happened that morning. As I was telling the story, one teen in the back of the room pulled out his iPhone and looked up his own name. It freaked him out sufficiently that he wanted to share it with the class. And it sparked a discussion about where the information could actually come from. I happened to be speaking at the school the entire day, so when I got to that same slide later in the day – one teen raised his hand and said ”you don’t need to go into that – we were all checking it out at lunch”.
You see, that is how our kids handle information – virally and electronically. What freaked out a few kids in the morning led to them telling everyone they saw and a flurry of activity at lunch. It is the good news/bad news about teens today. A new video on YouTube gets passed around quicker than last night’s homework. An inappropriate picture of a classmate in the wrong hands becomes fodder for ridicule with the first text of the morning. But, the thought that any stranger could check out things like the value of their home complete with number of bedrooms and bathrooms, whether they were republican or democrat and their home phone number and pictures…was something they wanted to tell everyone immediately. And they did.
I don’t want to get carried away with the impact of the number of hits generated by those kids that day, but interestingly, the next day, this website changed what information it shared for free and what information was now only available for the $2.95 per month access fee. Coincidence – probably…but interesting. However, the true lesson here is we need to be aware of the information about us that lives online. And we need to take our cues from our kids – check it out and then spread the word so you can protect your family. Here are just a few of the sites that contain information garnered from public records. It’s time for some Ego Surfing!