Have you googled yourself lately?

More Americans are googling themselves—and many are checking out their friends, co-workers and romantic interests, too.

In a report in December, the Pew Internet and American Life Project said 47% of United States adult internet users had looked for information about themselves through Google or another search engine.

That is more than twice the 22% of users who did so in 2002, but Pew senior research specialist Mary Madden was surprised the growth was not higher.

“Yes it’s doubled, but it’s still the case that there’s a big chunk of internet users who have never done this simple act of plugging their name with search engines,” she said. “Certainly awareness has increased, but I don’t know it’s necessarily kept pace with the amount of content we post about ourselves or what others post about us.”

About 60% of internet users said they were not worried about the extent of information about themselves online, despite increasing concern over how that data could be used.

Americans under 50 and those with more education and income were more likely to self-google—in some cases because their jobs demanded a certain online persona.

Meanwhile, Pew found that 53% of adult internet users admitted to looking up information about someone else, celebrities excluded. Often, it was to find someone they’ve lost touch with.
But looking up information about friends, relatives, colleagues and neighbours also was common.

Although men and women equally searched for online information about themselves, women were slightly more likely to look up information about someone they were dating.

In many cases, the search was innocuous, done to find someone’s contact information. But one-third of those who had conducted searches on others had looked for public records, such as bankruptcies and divorce proceedings. A similar number had searched for someone else’s photo.

Few internet users said they googled themselves regularly—about three-quarters of self-searchers said they had done so only once or twice. And most who had done so considered what they found accurate. Only 4% of internet users said embarrassing or inaccurate information online resulted in a bad experience.

Pew also found that teens were more likely than adults to restrict who can see their profiles at an online hangout such as Facebook or MySpace, contrary to conventional wisdom.

“Teens are more comfortable with the applications in some ways, [but] I also think they have their parents and teachers telling them to be very careful about what they post and who they share it with,” Madden said.

The telephone survey of 1 623 internet users had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus three percentage points.—Sapa-AP

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