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More Americans Googling others, selves, poll says

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Associated Press / December 17, 2007

NEW YORK - More Americans are Googling themselves - and many are checking out their friends, co-workers, and romantic interests, too.

In a report yesterday, the Pew Internet and American Life Project said 47 percent of US adult Internet users have looked for information about themselves through Google or another search engine. That is more than twice the 22 percent of users who did in 2002, but Pew senior research specialist Mary Madden was surprised the growth wasn't higher.

"Yes, it's doubled, but it's still the case that there's a big chunk of Internet users who have never done this simple act of plugging in their name with search engines," she said. "Certainly awareness has increased, but I don't know it's necessarily kept pace with the amount of content we post about ourselves or what others post about us."

About 60 percent of Internet users surveyed said they aren't worried about the extent of information about themselves online, despite increasing concern over how that data can be used.

Americans under 50 and those with more education and income were more likely to self-Google - in some cases because their jobs demand a certain online persona.

Pew found that 53 percent of adult Internet users in the study admit to looking up information about someone else, celebrities excluded. Often, it's to find someone they've lost touch with. But looking up information about friends, relatives, colleagues, and neighbors also was common.

Although men and women equally searched for online information about themselves, women were slightly more likely to look up information about someone they are dating.

In many cases, the search is innocuous, done to find someone's contact information. But a third of those who have conducted searches on others have looked for public records, such as bankruptcies and divorce proceedings. A similar number have searched for someone else's photo.

Few Net users say they Google themselves regularly - about three-quarters of self-searchers said they have done so only once or twice. And most who have done so consider what they find accurate. Only 4 percent of Internet users said embarrassing or inaccurate information online resulted in a bad experience.

Pew also found that teens were more likely than adults to restrict who can see their profiles at an online hangout like Facebook or News Corp.'s MySpace, contrary to conventional wisdom.

"Teens are more comfortable with the applications in some ways, [but] I also think they have their parents and teachers telling them to be very careful about what they post and who they share it with," Madden said.

The phone survey, of 1,623 Internet users, was done between Nov. 30 and Dec. 30 last year and has a sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

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