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Decatur resident Ryan Hawkins surfs the Net to research work projects. Recently he completed a vanity search and determined it was, for the most part, a waste of time.
DAILY Photo by Dan Henry
Decatur resident Ryan Hawkins surfs the Net to research work projects. Recently he completed a vanity search and determined it was, for the most part, a waste of time.

Oh, how vain!
You might be surprised what you find about yourself on the Web

By Jay Wilson
DAILY Staff Writer 340-2449

The "vanity search" or "ego surfing" is the computer-based version of staring at your face in a mirror.

According to Web sites, news programs and various other sources, computer users are logging onto the Internet to search for their own names. Bloggers, chat rooms and private Web sites are either shouting accolades for these searches or condemning ego surfing altogether.

"To perform a vanity search is to enter your name (first, first and last, or full, depending on how common a name it is) in a search engine to find out how many places you show up on the Web," explains This site features user opinions on just about any topic. The vanity search is popular, and lately it has created somewhat of a stir in mainstream media.

National Public Radio's "Weekend Edition" recently aired a story about the vanity Google. The national radio program reported Oct. 8 that some people work hard to keep their names off

The program suggested Internet users with malicious intent could gather or display detailed information from search engines like Google, MSN and Yahoo. Some public figures have been mortified to learn their Social Security numbers, personal phone numbers and other information have been displayed on the Web, the report said.

Because search engines compile and present massive amounts of information in one setting, an Internet-savvy "bad guy" might use search sites to compile information and steal an identity.

But Decatur resident Ryan Hawkins says that's not so.

"I don't think (a vanity search) is an identity theft hazard," Hawkins, 28, said. "No more so than any Google search."

Hawkins, an estimator and project manager for GBI in Decatur, said he had to work hard to get anything out of his vanity search. He uses the Internet a great deal in his work and has become knowledgeable of the Web's assets and detriments. He said he had to enclose his name in quotation marks and, in some instances, put his state of residence.

"I think it's just a bunch of people who think a lot of themselves," he said.

Hawkins said a site links to your computer anytime you log onto it. You automatically give up certain contact information. He said there are far easier ways to gather someone's personal information. Following him through cyberspace on his vanity search is, he said, a big waste of time.

"There are plenty of sites out there where anyone could pay $200 to $1,000 a month and get every piece of information about anyone," Hawkins said.

He said even simple sites allow users to pay for specific details about someone. One such site is Log on to this site using Google, and the top of its homepage reads, " welcomes Google users."

For $39.95 this site promises to provide a "comprehensive background report" for any person you enter. In "less than one minute" the site will return the person's age, address, phone number, aliases, maiden names, possible relatives, neighbors and criminal records.

John Battelle, editor of "Wired" magazine, recently published a book on the history of Google. He said Google links search results to relevant advertisements. Battelle has said that the search engine industry serves to "separate people from their money."

The majority of people using vanity searches are those like Microsoft software developer Bob Congdon. If anyone knows the perils and assets of a Web program, Congdon would. He's helped to develop several major software utilities.

Congdon brags about his vanity position on the Web.

"Google now lists me first among all of the universe," he says.

Despite some that decry vanity compilations, an Internet search for ego surfing resulting in identity theft does not exist. However, each time your name goes out into cyberspace you are basically telling advertisers, "Here I am. Come and get me."

Remember that the Internet is like a neighborhood pool. Swim at your own risk, there is no lifeguard on duty. Internet bloggers, computer gurus and others have written on the vanity search for the entire Web to see.

They do not worry about identity theft. They worry about why anyone would enjoy such a time-wasting activity.'s Webmaster writes, "(Vanity searches) are useful for determining things like how popular you are, how much of a geek you are, and who your stalkers are — past and present."

The Web blog reports ego surfing is something to do when you can't go to sleep and nothing else on the Web appeals to you at all.

Surf's up, dude.

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