Forty-seven percent of Internet users have searched for their own name online, but few monitor their online presence with great regularity. Fifty-three percent of Internet users have searched online for information about personal and business contacts. The study "Digital Footprints: Online identity management and search in the age of transparency" also found that 60 percent of Internet users say they are not worried about how much information is available about them online.
These findings represent a significant change from when the Pew Internet Project first reported on this activity in 2002, at which time 22 percent of Internet users had searched online for their own name.
More powerful search engines have made it easier to find a match for a personal name search and the "participatory Web" has made it more interesting. The explosion of blogs, YouTube, Flickr, and online profiles have increased the size of people's digital footprints, but few adult Internet users have made digital identity management a routine part of their online lives. Indeed, just looking at those who use social networking sites, a higher percentage of teens than adults are restricting access to their profiles.
Most Internet users are unconcerned about the extent of the data available about them online:
- 60 percent of Internet users say they are not worried about how much information is available about them online.
- 38 percent of Internet users say they have taken steps to limit the amount of online information that is available about them.
But it could be that they are simply unaware:
- Roughly one third of Internet users say the following pieces of information are available online: their email address, home address, home phone number or their employer.
- One quarter of Internet users say a photo, names of groups they belong to, or things they have written that have their name on it appear online.
- Few Internet users say their political affiliation, cell phone number, or video appear online.
In interviews with the Pew Internet Project, privacy advocates and professional researchers argued that many of these data points are indeed available about most people, either on the open Web or in select online databases.
When asked about eight different groups of people one might search for online—ranging from family and friends to romantic interests and business colleagues—53 percent of adult Internet users said they had looked for information connected to at least one of these groups.
These searches for others are often focused on basic contact information, but can be wide-ranging:
- 72 percent of people searchers have sought contact information online.
- 37 percent of people searchers look to the Web for information about someone’s professional accomplishments or interests.
- 33 percent of people searchers have sought out someone’s profile on a social and professional networking site.
- 31 percent have searched for someone’s photo.
- 31 percent have searched for someone else’s public records, such as real estate transactions, divorce proceedings, bankruptcies, or other legal actions.
- 28 percent have searched for someone’s personal background information.
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