Google has been a most wonderful search engine since its inception. Most of us do not think twice about using it to find information on the Internet. But, have you thought about how it has affected your privacy? Type in your name to Google and see what it finds about you. After entering “Vicki Sauter,” I found over six million items. I doubt they are all about me, but many of them are and that is what I would expect since I have published extensively, have a large internet presence and am involved with a number of not-for-profit organizations. (The number gets smaller very quickly if you limit it further — If you search instead on “Vicki L. Sauter” you get “only” about 90,000 items, and if you search for “Vicki L. Sauter” + Internet, you get about 6,000 items.) My point is not to brag about how many times it found a reference to me, but rather to make you think about how much information can be gathered about you simply by typing your name into Google. Your professional and personal accomplishments, and even interests may be available for everyone to see.

If the person searching is clever, he might be able to find out even more information about you. Did you know that someone can put your phone number into Google and get a reverse lookup?  Many sites will be found, but most of them will point back to your name, address and city/state information.   If your phone number falls within a range used by a company, that information might be located as well.

There are other services available as well.  If you put a phone number into the white pages, not only will it list your address, but it will provide a map to your home. In addition, it will provide a range estimate for your age and a list of other people who also live at that address (whether or not their information is included in a directory listing).

Did you know that if you use Google Maps and type in your address that it is likely to bring up a photo of your home? In fact, it is likely that a user could not only see your home, but navigate up and down the block to look at how your home fits in with others in the neighborhood.

There are many more ways someone can find information about you via the internet. As an example, let me share an experience I had about several years ago. For reasons that are not important to this story, the people from my elementary school and high school did not keep in touch over the last forty years. Neither did they, their parents or siblings live in the old neighborhood. One day out of the blue, I received an email from a name that I did not recognize that had the name of my elementary school as a subject line. I opened it and realized it was from an old friend who had changed her name when she married. We exchanged some emails and decided to start looking for others in the class. Within a few years, we had located about two-thirds of the people in the class. People had moved, some as far away as England and Greece, changed their names, and some even had died. Yet, with a certain tenacity, we found them. What is nice is that some group of us get together annually for a reunion, and most of us keep in touch via email or Facebook. We clearly could not have had that level of success without the Internet.

While that is a positive story, I want to remind you that people who have less positive motives can also use these tools. That is why it is so important to be careful about what information you share and whose email you answer.