Many people worry about the NSA, creepy strangers or nosy neighbors accessing online information about them. But the more common seekers of your data might be a prospective employer, new client, cautious business partner or hopeful significant other.

Some information is easy for anyone to find. The more difficult-to-get data is collected by background-check companies, market research firms, white pages and people-finding companies. And once these organizations have your information, it can be obtained by just about anyone--either for free or at a fee. You probably should assume that nothing is sacred, or secret, about anyone anymore. By the way, this problem is heading in only one direction: toward less privacy. Armed with this knowledge, how can we manage the creation of our personal information in order to put forth the best picture of ourselves for the times when it will be open to the view of that new employer, client or significant other?

Social Media: Is This The "Clear Picture" You Want to Send?

A few years ago, an article titled How to Background Check Yourself Online talks about how recruiters and employers back then were relying heavily on social media and other online information to get a better view of job prospects than they could get from more traditional sources. Imagine how much more information prospective employers are able to get today.

Here's a telling excerpt from the article: "According to a hiring manager who asked to remain anonymous, Google and LinkedIn are often used to verify that a candidate's information is consistent between the resume and what he or she is claiming. 'I don't care what people do on their free time,' the hiring manager said, 'but not implementing some very basic privacy controls...and compromising personal information [shows] carelessness.' These days, personal information found online may be more important than resumes and cover letters. 'Resumes are terrible," the hiring manager continued. 'What you find through Internet searches gives a much clearer picture of what a person's career looks like over time.'"

Credit Information: Yep, This Could Also Impact Your Prospects

A blog on Experian's website tells us that no unauthorized person or entity can get your credit information...except, "businesses or government agencies that meet the permissible purpose requirements, ...then meet Experian's security and subscriber requirements." And, except anyone who "commit[s] identity theft and pose[s] as the other person to request a personal report." Not sure how secure our credit data really is, but Experian and other reporting agencies are certainly doing their best to keep us cyber-safe in this area.

Still, there will be times when you authorize others to check your credit. Buying a house, submitting to a deep background check for employment (especially government employment requiring a clearance), and other credit checks authorized by you will determine your eligibility for a loan and what interest rate you will pay, not to mention whether or not you will be hired. This is a critical data set that affects your life now and for years to come. As such, you must do one of two things: either keep your credit clean, or clean it up. "A sad part of my job is seeing the damage done in the lives of good people who have made a financial mistake or two along the way," says Scott Smith, Co-Founder and President of CreditRepair.com. "And the best part of my job is helping them reach the other side of the repair process." Smith and company have worked with over 100,000 customers to clean up their credit reports, removing an average of 11.6 negative items per customer, and increasing credit scores by up to 40 points.

How to Manage Your Own Reputation

If you have negative stuff showing up on pages one or two of a self search on Google, it's time to get proactive (after all, You Are Who Google Says You Are). There are many paid services that purport to do a good job at reputation management, but according to Sarah Jacobsson Purewal's CNET article on this topic, you can manage your online reputation for free. The article has some practical suggestions, one of which is to build your brand by creating content and establishing yourself as an expert, or thought leader. Purewal cautions, however, "Then again, remember this: while you might think that a squeaky-clean, ultra-professional online presence is ideal, it's not. If your professional presence is too sterile, you'll raise flags -- it will be obvious you're cultivating it -- and you may prompt your online stalkers to just dig deeper. You want your branded content to reflect someone who's professional, but who also has a personality."

There is no privacy. Not anymore. The best we can do now is manage more tightly what we allow to get out there by paying bills on time, putting our best digital foot forward on social media and proactively improving our reputation. Do this, and better career opportunities might just be your reward (not to mention lower interest rates).

Published on: May 10, 2017