As users post more information about themselves on social networking sites and elsewhere, they are also conducting more online searches about themselves, according to a new study.
Almost half of all US internet users (47 per cent) have searched for information about themselves online, up from 22 per cent in 2002, according to a report released yesterday by the Pew Internet & American Life Project.
This self-searching is a natural outgrowth of the transition into the Web 2.0 era of participatory media, said Mary Madden, a senior research specialist and one of the authors of the study, "Digital Footprints: Online Identity Management and Search in the Age of Transparency."
"Now that more of us are posting things online and in a wider range of places, we're leaving a bigger set of footprints behind us, so it's natural that we would become more curious about what they look like and who might see them," Madden said. "Now there's more out there to find and more tools to find it."
However, users don't monitor their online identities with great regularity, she said. In fact, only 3 per cent of users do that on a regular basis, while 22 per cent search on their names "every once in a while," and 74 per cent have checked up on their online identities only once or twice, according to the report.
Most Internet users aren't even sure what personal information is available online. About 33 per cent say their email addresses, home addresses, phone numbers or the names of their employers are available via the internet, according to the report's findings.
The results are based on data from telephone interviews with 2,373 US adults 18 and older. The survey was conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International from 30 November to 30 December, 2006.
Users who are younger than 50 are more likely to search for information about themselves than users 50 and older, according to the report. Men and women search for information about themselves in equal numbers, Madden said.
However, people who are more educated and make more money than other users are considerably more likely to use a search engine to monitor their online identities, according to the report.
"The more educated people have jobs where they are more likely to post some biographical information on their employers' sites, or are required to market themselves online in some way," Madden said. Therefore, they are more likely to track their online identities, she added.
According to the report, 60 per cent of adult online users say they aren't concerned about what information is available about them on the web, and 61 per cent say they don't find it necessary to limit the amount of personal data available.
According to Madden, users can be divided into four groups based on how concerned they are about the amount of personal information that's available about them online and whether they do anything to limit that data:
- The Confident Creatives: This group accounts for 17 per cent of adult online users. They are mostly young adults who aren't worried about how available their data is, but they still try to limit personal information.
- The Concerned and Careful: Twenty-one percent of adult users worry about the personal information available about them online and take steps to limit this data.
- The Worried by the Wayside: This group, which comprises 18 per cent of internet users, are anxious about the information that is available about them online but don't do anything to limit that information.
- The Unfazed and Inactive: Forty-three percent of online adults don't worry about the availability of their personal information online and don't take steps to limit that information.