Escaping the Google Spotlight

Some people go to great lengths to keep their names off the search engine Google.com. Ann Harrison of Wired News tells Scott Simon how to pursue the goal of becoming "un-Googleable."

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

Can you say with a straight face that you've never Googled yourself? It's also known as the vanity Google. You might be surprised or even distressed by what a Google search can disclose about you. A Google search can reveal not only age, address and employment history but something you might have written on somebody's blog or an old school paper. Some people now routinely Google someone before a first date. Employers increasingly Google job applicants. Now some people take great pains to keep their names off the Internet and they are called the unGoogleables. Ann Harrison wrote about the unGoogleable for Wired News this week. She joins us from KQED in San Francisco.

Thanks very much for being with us, Ms. Harrison.

Ms. ANN HARRISON (Wired News): Thank you.

SIMON: Why do some people not want to be available to Googlers?

Ms. HARRISON: Well, some people are concerned about their personal security, such as women who've been abused by their partners and want to remain safe in a new location. Some activists want to remain anonymous so that the government does not retaliate against them for their political actions. And some members of the military and armed forces feel that it's in their best interest to remain unGoogleable for their own personal safety.

SIMON: How does somebody become unGoogleable?

Ms. HARRISON: The people that I spoke with who are unGoogleable had some common characteristics. They don't use their real name in news groups or chat rooms. They don't blog or create Web pages or post online resumes. Plus, they belong to few organizations, such as civic organizations or alumni organizations. The classic case of this is an employee newsletter where you might show up without knowing it, and suddenly, your name's on Google.

SIMON: What can they do?

Ms. HARRISON: You can ask a third party to remove your name from a Web site. You can also tweak your name a little bit to wipe the slate a little bit clean and escape a past Google listing on yourself.

SIMON: Now I understand you phoned Google and said, `Give me some guidance in how to stay off your search engine.'

Ms. HARRISON: Yes, I did. I asked to speak to their CEO Eric Schmidt. He had a story written about him recently by a news organization called CNET in which they Googled him and published some information about him which he apparently found very distasteful. He thought it was a violation of his privacy. And I asked to speak to Eric Schmidt to see if he had any advice for staying off of Google. And they told me that he was not available to be interviewed. But they said that they really don't have much control over the information that shows up on their search engine, that, of course, most of it is placed there by third parties, they would argue, and they really can't intervene and remove it.

SIMON: Ann Harrison, a reporter for Wired News.

Ms. HARRISON: And I am Googleable.

SIMON: Yeah, I was just trying it, speaking with us from KQED in San Francisco. Thank you.

Ms. HARRISON: Thank you.

SIMON: And it's 22 minutes before the hour.

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