I, Google

by Saleem Khan, CBC News Online

If you ego surf Google and get no results, do you exist? Or worse, what if you're mistaken for someone else with an undesirable online profile? Those are the questions the Wall Street Journal's Kevin J. Delaney explored this week in a feature that highlighted the problems posed by the increasingly digital age in which we live.

Before Abigail Garvey got married in 2000, anyone could easily Google her. Then she swapped her maiden name for her husband's last name, Wilson, and dropped out of sight.

In Web-search results for her new name, links to Ms. Wilson's epidemiology research papers became lost among all manner of other Abigail Wilsons, ranging from 1980s newspaper wedding announcements for various Abigail Wilsons to genealogy records listing Abigail Wilsons born in the 1600s and 1700s. When Ms. Wilson applied for a new job, interviewers questioned the publications she listed on her résumé because they weren't finding the publications in online searches, Ms. Wilson says.

The problem isn't unique to women who change their names after marriage; anyone who has a name that's shared by others can run into problems when they get Googled by potential employers, classmates, colleagues or potential romantic partners. In other words, everyone.

Fear of the myriad possibilities has led some people to take actions as drastic as employing the services of search engine optimization consultants, and even choosing names for children only after Googling their options.

Her husband rejected her original choice for their son, "Kohler," on the grounds that it would subject him to playground ridicule. The couple eventually chose "Benjamin."

"I gave up trying to find a one-of-a-kind name and decided that as long as he did not share the name with a serial killer, I would settle," Ms. Wilson explains.

It may seem somewhat trivial, an internet-age amusement – until you consider the implications when your identity can be shaped online by others, with potentially negative outcomes.

It's strangely ironic that in an age when people struggle to maintain their privacy, their greatest tool to establish the authenticity of their identity may be to use a medium eroding that privacy to establish an authoritative reputation online.