Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, still a 20-something himself, said in January of this year, "The age of privacy is over." Though Zuckerberg may be overstating matters, elsewhere in the IBJ you can read about how to find out information about people on the Internet.
What about information about you on the Internet? Do you know what's out there? Is everything about you that's available to anyone with a computer and an Internet connection accurate? Is it consistent with how you want to present yourself?
Maybe you posted something indiscreet when you were young and foolish--or maybe even when you were older and wiser you had a momentary lapse in cyber-judgment. Or maybe you've been perfectly professional and discreet in your online behavior, but someone else has posted something about you that you're not happy about.
Can you ever erase your traces on the Internet? Would you be prepared to advise a client who asked you that question?
If you can find it, others can, too
The short answer, says Detective Mike Bazzell of the Alton Police Department, is that you usually can't delete information that's already on the Internet. (For more from Bazzell, see this month's cover story.) But, he says, making the effort doesn't hurt and in some cases may help. And even if you can't delete information, awareness of its existence can help you to manage the information and others' reactions to it.
Bazzell says, "I advise professionals to constantly check their own names to see what's out there about them. If there's something out there that you don't like, you should take steps to try to remove it."
Bazzell, who presents on this very topic, recommends using the same techniques for finding what's out there about you as he suggests for finding out information about others. "Anything that you can find out about yourself, someone else can find out if they're looking for it." A particularly noteworthy tool is Google Alerts (http://www.google.com/alerts), where you can set up a daily e-mail to notify you whenever your name, law firm, business, or anything else of interest to you is mentioned on the Internet.
Most personal information that's on the Internet, Bazzell says, is there "because the person put it out there and didn't realize that the whole world could see it." Did you post some photos of yourself at a party with your buddies when you were still in school?
Delete them, by all means, Bazzell says, but know that licensing agreements for the various social networking sites...