Have you ever Googled your own name? You might be surprised to see what information the internet holds about you. It's fun to relive career highlights and low-points from years ago, or find embarrassing shots of yourself posing for a team photo with the Sunday League football side you used to play for. The practice even has a cute name, "vanity searching".
But there's a flip side: if you can use the web to dig into your own history, then so can other people. And it's not just meddling friends or potential dates who may be tapping your name into search engines - employers are starting to use the trick, too. Suddenly, it doesn't seem so funny that a friend's MySpace page shows a photograph of you wearing a fluffy red wig and huge shades, flat-out drunk at the office Christmas party. And if you're trying to win a promotion at a law firm, you might come to regret every outré newsgroup post you made at university.
That's why online services are hoping to take care of the problem for you. ReputationDefender, a US-based company, has launched a service to monitor online information about anyone who signs up for their service. If it finds anything embarrassing, it will ask web hosts to take down the information - though it remains to be seen how many of them will comply. The site, which will also check to find out what your children are saying about themselves online, regularly searches the web and focuses on social networking, blogging, and photo-sharing sites.
But your reputation isn't the only thing that you need to protect online. From cyberstalkers to identity thieves, all kinds of people can find out all about you, and potentially wreak havoc with the results.
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