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The personal details people have found available online — and wish they hadn’t

Almost a quarter of all respondents have regrets over posting things online in the past, with 25 – 34-year-olds being the most regretful.

Social media. — © AFP/File Denis Charlet
Social media. — © AFP/File Denis Charlet

A recent study from Uswitch Broadband asked people to conduct an online search of themselves. Looking at the elements of a ‘digital footprint’ – websites, personal details – there were different reactions from people as to how they felt about the information they found. The data has been shared with Digital Journal.

The review found that over one-third of adults were surprised by information they found out about themselves after conducting a search of their own name online. As to how welcome this disclosure was, 40 percent of those aged 18 – 34 indicated that they wished content about themselves found online was not available.

Furthermore, three out of ten people discovered online information that they believed could negatively impact their future job prospects. This extended to photographs, home addresses, and date of birth being among the personal details found available online through search engines.

Have you “Googled” yourself?

While the majority of people can attest to having searched for information on someone else online, how many of us know what’s out there about ourselves? From the survey, those most intrigued by what information can be found online about themselves are those aged 25-34 with 63 percent having performed a search. Whereas only a third of those aged 55 and over have done so.

Social media sites and personal information found

The top three sites that displayed personal information were Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn. Almost 30 percent of people had their Facebook profile appear when inputting their name into a search engine such as Google. This was by far the most common social media site, with Instagram appearing for 12 percent and LinkedIn for 11 percent of people.

More alarmingly 5 percent found their home address to be in the public domain, with 4 percent finding their date of birth when inputting their name into an online search.

Unhappy with information found available online

Over one-third of those asked to perform a search of their name found information that surprised them, with almost a quarter wishing that certain information they found wasn’t available online. For those between the ages of 18 – 34, this figure was much higher with almost 40% wishing that certain online content wasn’t publicly available. 

Long-term implications and employment prospects

As the Internet has evolved, many people are beginning to understand how permanent our online actions are, and that everything we do adds to their “digital footprint”.

One important impact to consider is on future employment and education prospects. Industries, where a person may only want to show their formal self, may in fact do some “Googling” of a person’s name.

Regrets and cleaning up your online presence

Almost a quarter of all respondents have regrets over posting things online in the past, with 25 – 34-year-olds being the most regretful age group. However, only 7 percent of people have made attempts to clear-up their online presence.

Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok were the three most popular social media accounts to make more private in an attempt to clean up an online presence.

Learning from past mistakes

Despite these generational findings, Gen Z and millennials are much more likely to consider the long-term impact before posting online. Over eight out of ten Gen Z and Millennials consider the long-term impact before sharing something online, compared to only 58 percent of Baby Boomers.

This could be evidence that the younger generations are now learning from past mistakes having been exposed to online culture from a much earlier age.

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Written By

Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, business, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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