Thursday, August 14, 2003

Let Google do the walking

Checking the Cap'n Ken Mailbag this evening, I saw a note from a random East Atlantan who happens to live a couple of houses down from the Dutch Pimp house I referenced in one of the house-hunt blogs. Seems he recently moved to the street and was researching at Google. Search for +Stokeswood +"East Atlanta" and my house blog is in the small set of results.

I'm always happy to pick up a new reader, of course. He liked the blog, added some of his own observations of 'hood house hunting and closed with this: "I assume you're the Ken [last name removed] at Bus Chronicle."

I don't think I know this guy, but it's possible. But he didn't say "I assume you're the Ken [last name removed] who used to work at the Bus Chronicle". I left there six years ago. So I'm thinking he Googled the Cap'n.

Of course, my mid-1990s contributions to American business journalism such as "Huge retail center coming to Cumming" and "Bugle Boy likes fit of Henry County site" (disclaimer: I did NOT write these headlines) are important pieces of reportage which are rightfully archived online for the world to discover.

In trying to figure out if I knew this new fan, I went to retrace what would be his likely Googlepath from the Dutch Pimp house to Cap'n Ken's former persona as a suburban business writer.

The email address for Cap'n Ken included (until this morning), my last name, which is supposed to be a closely-guarded secret around these parts. Thus, I figure my new fan might have searched for +"Ken [last name removed]" +Atlanta, which would serve to limit the results to folks with my name who live in our fair city.

When I performed this search, what was the first result I got? Just my name, home address and phone number. Nothing too personal or anything like that.

Since when has Google become a one-stop shop for throwing out that kind of personal info? Of course, going to an online phone directory return the same information, but there's something different about going to the world's largest search engine and having personal info come up when that wasn't necessarily what you were looking for.

As an example, here's the result you get when you search for +"Hosea Williams" +Atlanta (I figure Hosey won't mind revealing his address, seeing as he's dead now). Keep in mind that I didn't go to a Google phone-directory page or anything, just keyed in a name and a city on Google's homepage.

Then I did a little test on Cap'n Ken's readers and other folks:

The wife? Yep, address and phone number, but at her home in the days before she got hitched to the Cap'n

Charles D? Yep, address and phone number

Tony in Grant Park? Yep, but phone number only

Jason K? Nope, but your now-PETA-unfriendly dad is

Wood Hill Will? Not that I could find (the brother has a real common name, one of the listings could be him at an old address or somesuch)

Tom L, esq? Yep, address and phone number

Edward R? Yep, address and phone number

Ward B, Paul C, Dave P, the ex-wife, the 90-year old guy who lives next door to me, the VP of my department, the dude we're buying the house from, they're all in there. Hell, I bet I could get Coffeeshop Dude's address and phone number if I knew his name.

Because Google is such a common research tool, something really tweaks me about the idea that someone searching, say, for the name of newspaper writer he's unhappy with to see what else he's written would end up having the first result be that writer's address and home phone number.

If you look hard enough, you can find a link in Google that allows you to remove your listing from their results (you'll need to see how your name and address appear and provide an email address - in itself concerning, so I used an extra one I have). Your results will still appear in Anywho and whatnot, but it won't be the first result people see if they happen to search for your name and the city you live in on the world's biggest search engine.


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