Google Suggest & Your Reputation

I have to tell this story. Nigel Swaby and I were going to interview Pounder’s Grill in Salt Lake City Utah about their social media success last week. I’m fascinated by the expansion of restaurants in Utah and the common thread of the ones I know of, is that they use social media. Mo Bettah Stakes, Smashburger, Pounder’s and other restaurants are thriving in a tough economy and opening new locations in Utah while so many are closing. I wanted to explore the correlation between their growth and how they engage their audience through social media.

But it didn’t happen. Why? This gets interesting. One of the owner’s of Pounder’s Googled Nigel’s name. Or perhaps it was Google Suggested his name. In 2006 Nigel wrote about and befriended and controversial figure Casey Serin during the real estate boom. That was enough to cancel the interview. Note that Nigel didn’t actually do anything wrong.

If you start typing my name into Google you’ll see that it says “Janet Thaeler Smashburger” which means that people have searched for that phrase. Yes even though I have been writing about online PR and internet marketing for over 5 years, Smashburger is what people have linked with my name (in searches). Thankfully it’s tame, not something not true but making me look bad, or someone with my name that is a convict. Janet Thaeler isn’t easy to spell or remember but it is unique.

Thankfully there is only 1 video I know of that could haunt me – I wouldn’t want it to show up when I’m running for pubic office. But when I was in college no one I knew was snapping photos and posting them online.  It wasn’t as easy as it is now. My phone didn’t have a camera. I didn’t even have a cell phone. But my son’s generation – that is a fact of life. Cell phones will get cheaper and more powerful and most things will be mobile. We must assume that anything we do could be posted and shared with the world – and yes – show up in search results when someone searches on our name. FOREVER.

I just heard Marty Cooper, inventor of the cell phone say this on 60 Minutes,: “Sorry, privacy is a thing of the past…” That means that your mistakes, associations, guilty or not are there for anyone to see. It also means that we’ll know that no one is perfect and it will be harder to escape your past.

You are what Google, Facebook and Twitter say you are (or whatever tools will be in vogue). What we really need to be private is our financial information – but the rest of it is up for grabs. Even if you don’t sign up to be online – there is no opt-out. I like how Chris Brogan puts it that you can delete your Facebook profile – just like you can opt-out of the cash society. Nigel reminded me that the phone book (while the reach is much more limited) is opt-out too. You are there with your name, your address and phone. You have to pay to have it removed.

Privacy is outdated. Anything you do can be used against you online. That’s why trust is such a big deal – because the internet is still the wild west where anything goes. We want to know who we can trust and who we cannot trust. Sometimes that decision will be made based on such tenuous things as the words that are associated with your name in Google Suggest. While I like the concept of transparency we cannot bury Google Suggest results – nor do we have any control over what they show. That’s more disconcerting. That point was driven home this week.

  1. Derick Schaefer May 24, 2010
  2. Silver Bullet May 25, 2010

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