Do you give good Google? It's the preoccupation du jour as Google hits become the new Q ratings for the creative class. Search engines provide endless opportunities for ego surfing, Google bombing (influencing traffic so it spikes a particular site), and Google juicing (enhancing one's "brand" in the era of micro-celebrity). Follow someone too closely and you could be accused of being a Google stalker. Follow yourself too closely: Google narcissist.
But Googling people is also becoming a way for bosses and headhunters to do continuous and stealthy background checks on employees, no disclosure required. Google is an end run around discrimination laws, inasmuch as employers can find out all manner of information -- some of it for a nominal fee -- that is legally off limits in interviews: your age, your marital status, the value of your house (along with an aerial photograph of it), the average net worth of your neighbors, fraternity pranks, stuff you wrote in college, liens, bankruptcies, political affiliations, and the names and ages of your children.
Because anyone, anywhere, at any time can say anything about you on the Web, reputations are scarily open-source. And because entire companies dedicate themselves to recording every inch of information on the Web, it's becoming difficult to unplug from the Google matrix, let alone make anything on the Internet go away. "This takes people's own agency out of how they want to present themselves," says Alice Marwick, a technology consultant and PhD candidate in New York University's Culture & Communications Dept. The Internet started out with avatars and anonymity. Now online and offline are bleeding together. "It's consolidating personal information into the aggregate," says Marwick, even though "our social practices haven't figured out how to keep up with the technology."