You've probably noticed it if you've typed your name in Google lately. There, at the top of the screen, complete with a hyperlink, come the words, "Are you [insert your own name]? Create your own profile on Google." And then below that, the rationale for using Google's latest feature: "Help people find the right information when they search for you."
It's yet the latest feature from Google, a company that I like and admire, lest I come across in a moment, as if I don't.
At first, I ignored Google's entreaty to click on the link, but since I'm frequently typing my name into Google -- less out of narcissism and more because I want to find a particular article I've written to show an editor whom I hope to work with -- I'm frequently seeing that link.
So eventually, curiosity getting the better of me, I eventually clicked on the link and started to dutifully fill out the blank spaces, like "Where I grew up," "Where I live now" and "Places I've lived" and then just as suddenly, I stopped. It seems crazy to suddenly have a case of Internet stage fright when I'm frequently doling out personal nuggets of my life in articles, blog postings and status updates on Facebook and Twitter, about what sandwich I've eaten lately, or how I slipped on some bleachers in front of a small crowd at the local YMCA, but that is, indeed, exactly what I suddenly felt.This sense of stage fright that whomever might look me up would see this profile of mine first, but even more, I had this sudden, ominous feeling that I was making an identity thief's job way too easy.
After all, when you log onto your online bank account, what are you asked? Questions, which have answers that strangers shouldn't know, since many of these questions are about where you grew up and places you've visited.
I don't care so much that by putting up my own personal Google profile, advertisers will be able to distinguish me from other Geoff Williamses on the Internet, that they'll know that I'm not the Deputy Chief Constable Geoff Williams in Sussex, England or Geoff Williams, the magician in Coon Rapids, Minnesota.
I mean, maybe that's for the best that advertisers know I'm Geoff Williams, the writer, and not Dr. Geoff Williams, the plastic surgeon who runs Boise, Idaho's International Children's Surgical Foundation. (Admirable guy; from what I've read, he spends most of his time operating on kids with cleft lips, burns and other facial deformities -- for free -- in poor nations across the globe.)
So market the printer's ink to me, and send the handcuff ads, the rabbit and trick playing cards, and promote whatever a plastic surgeon needs to Dr. Geoff Williams. I figure as long as an advertiser can't make me buy their product, I don't mind if they know my every move and can thus customize their ads for me -- and that, I'm sure, is what Google is thinking with these profiles. Why else in this profile would they ask me what my interests are?
And don't get me wrong. The Google profile looks fun -- they have questions like, "What's my superpower?" and it's easy to see how this could help one professionally. You can write a short biography of yourself and basically make sure that this profile is the first thing someone sees when they Google you -- say, a prospective employer, or someone you're dating. It's your way, on the Internet, to create that first impression.
I'm sure that sooner or later, if this gets popular and everybody's doing it, I'll give in and write up my own Google profile, just as I eventually drank the Twitter water and fell for Facebook. But for now, I guess I'm just going to ponder privacy issues.
We've all given up so much of our privacy on the Internet, I can't help but envision where I think Google is taking us. The Washington Post recently did a story about the next wave of toys -- toys that can be manipulated using mind control. I'm imagining Google will keep asking us questions and collecting data about us until the search engine can search our thoughts and wirelessly send them to its growing list of advertisers.
And, you know, even that's okay with me. As long as it keeps my thoughts away from the identity thieves.
Geoff Williams is a regular contributor to WalletPop and the author of C.C. Pyle's Amazing Foot Race: The True Story of the 1928 Coast-to-Coast Run Across America (Rodale).
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