Google can be your best friend, or even your worst enemy.

In 2004, an Australian man became the victim of a violent crime, suffering gunshot wounds from an unknown assailant. At first believing this senseless attack was unprovoked, a simple Google search of his own name revealed startling information. Google’s auto-complete feature and image search results tied his own name to names of local mobsters; this information, while untrue, nearly cost him his life.

What’s Your Digital Footprint Looking Like?

So, when was the last time you Googled yourself?

The real life example above, while extreme, demonstrates just how far correct and even incorrect information about us can go. While most of us typically use the internet, social media, and data storage accounts without fear for our lives, that doesn’t mean we are free from danger. It may be surprising what turns up when you Google your own name, and in fact, there is a whole culture built around this very practice.

Source: SocialCatfish

Did you know that nearly half of all millennials Google themselves and over one in ten Gen Z’ers do so on a daily basis? Among them, just one in five find accurate and relevant information, while 33% of results are influences by others with the same name. A good portion, 20%, of searchers find inaccurate or outdated information, 12% are unpleasantly surprised by results, and 8% find potentially damaging information.

 

The Dark Side of the Internet

While embarrassing in some cases, Google search results of our names have a darker side as we are reminded that what we can see from googling our own names is what anyone else can see when they google our names as well, from employers to cyber-criminals.

On average, Americans frequent three websites to manage their data, social media included. Storing information from financial records to health to utilities, we’re doing a lot of clicking around. But this convenience may come at a price when we aren’t careful. Cyber criminals’ expertise lies in not only how well they can scam someone, but how well they can find someone to scam.

Criminals like this know exactly how to gather a bit of information from here and a piece of data from there to build an in depth and revealing profile on a victim. Firewalls and brute force attacks aside, cyber criminals don’t actually have to know how to attack a server; all they need is one account. Seamlessly blending the art of social engineering with dark digital knowhow, cyber criminals are smart, stealthy, and highly adaptable. They call cyber security a zero sum game and for good reason – often times the hackers are just one or two steps behind the latest security measures.

Trusting the Shadows

We extend a certain amount of good faith trust when it comes to the sites we choose to use; trust that includes safeguarding our account information like emails and passwords, financial information like credit cards, and having all the necessary cyber security checks and balances.

In spite of this, half of Americans feel their information is less secure than it was just five years ago; coincidentally, Americans are sharing more and more about themselves online than ever, perhaps making it even more easy for scammers and hackers to take control of our data.

More specifically, among adults online 35% have had their sensitive information, like account numbers, compromised and 29% have had someone hack into their social media or email account. On the deeper end, 15% of adults online have had their own social security numbers compromised, 14% among them have had their identity used to fraudulently open credit cards, and 6% suffered an imposter even try and claim a federal tax refund.

Cover Your Tracks

The Google rabbit hole goes deep, and getting nasty information removed isn’t easy. Keeping your information safe and secure is far easier than gathering it back up again. This infographic details the state of cyber security, gives us a glimpse into the minds of online criminals and scammers, and guides the reader through best practices for data management.

Brian Wallace is a Columnist at Grit Daily. He is an entrepreneur, writer, and podcast host. He is the Founder and President of NowSourcing and has been featured in Forbes, TIME, and The New York Times. Brian previously wrote for Mashable and currently writes for Hacker Noon, CMSWire, Business 2 Community, and more. His Next Action podcast features entrepreneurs trying to get to the next level. Brian also hosts #LinkedInLocal events all over the country, promoting the use of LinkedIn among professionals wanting to grow their careers.