Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Googling classes

Poet Jackie Kay is reading her autobiography "Red Dust Road" on Radio 4 at the moment. I only caught the latter half of yesterday's broadcast but she described how she traced her Nigerian father. She'd never met him but she knew his name and that he was an academic. She didn't know how to go about finding him. Then a friend made the suggestion I imagine most of the people reading this blog would have made. Why not Google him? Within seconds she found him. Academics are a breeze on Google.

The world is now so firmly divided into people who Google everything and those who rarely think of it that it's almost become an alternative definition of intelligence. I was sitting on the tube the other night facing somebody wearing a security pass for an educational institution. It had their name and picture on it. They'd made no effort to conceal it. They got off at my station. With nothing else to do while waiting for the bus I looked on the web on my iPhone, entered just their title and first name plus the name of the institution into Google and within a couple of seconds I had their CV. I do things like that because I'm a nosy hack but it would be just as easy for somebody who wished to steal their identity. The person who would probably be most disturbed by this prospect would probably be the person who didn't make the basic effort to conceal the pass in the first place. If they were in the Googling classes they would make sure they hid it.


  1. I've Googled somebody's name and company off a glimpsed security pass before. (I'm also a hack, not a weirdo, I hope.)

  2. It's one of the great problems of online relationships. In the time it takes to respond to an e-mail or a posting, someone can quickly Google, and hey presto, they have "read" that book, or "been" to that place, etc. Only in a face-to-face conversation now can you be sure that someone actually has the experience and knowledge to which they are referring.

  3. What a good job Google came out on top and we don't have to speak of "Yahooing" or "Altavistaing" people.

  4. Sitting in Costa the other day - I dropped my wallet on the floor and picking it up I noticed a sticker under the table.

    It had a name on it - the kind of sticker you'd get if you attended a business event.

    I googled it and like you amused myself reading their linkedin page for a few minutes, and seeing who they were friends with on facebook.

    People are nosey - you don't need the excuse of being a hack.

  5. I perhaps shouldn't mention the time that a certain person had been offered a job at a certain company. They'd proclaimed their web skills, so the prospective employer Googled them.

    Unfortunately the first stories that came up were news items detailing a rather unsavoury incident that had led to a custodial sentence and the person going on a certain list. A comparison of birthdates and location revealed it to be the same person.

    The job offer was swiftly rescinded.

  6. Rog, I reckon Google succeeded precisely BECAUSE the word can be used as a verb... wouldn't be surprised if Freecycle's recent rebranding as Freegle is similarly motivated.

  7. The Freecycle / Freegle thing isn't about verbs - but the UK mods of Freecycle had a big falling out with the American people who started it.

    Hence they started their own version of the idea with a new name.

    Some info here:

  8. Surely it's a question of what personal details you allow to appear on the web. An academic would be happy to have professional achievements there, just as an actor would have a list of film and TV credits, etc. But you'd be less likely to list your home address or your bank details (or your mother's maiden name), which would be of far more use to an identity thief.

  9. I know what you mean, Tim, but there's something about publishing the details of who you are about your person that seems slightly ill-advised. Once you see who somebody is all you have to do is follow them home and you could connect all the dots. See, now I do sound like a stalker.

  10. I assume you've Googled "David Hepworth", role-playing, say, a would-be stalker who'd decided to wreak fell revenge for your review of The Fall. It takes only a couple of seconds to get your DOB (a be-earlied many happy returns, by the way - assuming the date cited is correct). With that knowledge, the stalker could go to a popular directory-listings website to filter through all the Hepworths to find one the right age in the right part of the country (the stalker would know that from the several mentions of your route to work that are on the Web). Your electoral-roll entry would then be just a click away, presumably revealing your home address. You've also mentioned the number, sexes, ages and locations of your nearest and dearest in dribs and drabs on blogs over the years.

    So, in about half an hour or less, an only moderately determined hitman (or, even more disturbing, a moderately determined Fall fan) could put together a mini-dossier containing concrete facts, figures and details about you that not only go a lot further than a pocket professional bio, but would probably also put most of your neighbours to shame if a News of the World reporter turned up on their doorsteps. ("Nice chap, always kept himself to himself....")

    The more I mull over stuff like this, the more relieved I am to have done almost all my internetting under a silly name.

  11. This afternoon my wife rang me and I couldn't answer the phone in time because my hands were covered in chicken. It annoyed me, I said to my sister-in-law as she went outside for a cigarette, that the iPhone doesn't ring for longer before going to voicemail. So I Googled "make iPhone ring longer". I followed the first link and obeyed the hideously complicated instructions to the letter. By the time my wife's sister had come back from her cigarette, the problem was solved.

    Now, I quite like that.

  12. I found one of my late father's schoolfriends by googling my father's name – no mean feat when his name was Royston Rogers. I found a poem this chap had written about him, and now I know things about my father's teenage years even my mother didn't. I quite like that too.