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‘[Your name] topless:’ How Google searches can embarrass you Add to ...

Janice Roberts Nickelback fan club.

Janice Roberts arrested public urination.

Janice Roberts Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest.

Janice Roberts topless.

If you, Janice Roberts, apply for a job and your potential boss runs your name through Google, would you be happy if any of those results showed up in the auto-complete box? (Well, maybe the hot dog one would be okay…)

The latest thing to dread on Google is “guilt through algorithmic association,” explains danah boyd, a media and culture assistant professor at New York University.

Remember “Google bombing?” When mischief makers would plant words into websites featuring a certain subject in order to skew search results? At one point during George W. Bush’s presidency, a search for the word “miserable failure” called up his official White House biography as the first result.

But guilt through algorithmic association requires far less effort and could be completely accidental. It’s the idea that you can be associated with something based simply on what people are searching for online.

Some people might use knowledge of how the algorithm works to maliciously plant rumours, and in other cases, someone else’s bad or embarrassing behaviour online might tarnish your reputation, all because you share the same name.

In a way, this can be far more insidious than Google bombing.

“All that’s visible is the product of the algorithm, without any context of how or why the search engine conveyed that information,” Ms. boyd says in her blog post.

One commenter, with the surname Finger, says she’s had to do early damage control when she’s gone in for job interviews since a search of her name prompts association with adult content. Another commenter points out that the autocomplete feature can also be troublesome for businesses, since running the name of one through the search engine sometimes returns the name plus “scam” as a suggestion.

It’s no doubt even worse for some celebrities than tabloids, as rumours of their sexual orientation and paramours propagate through autocomplete.

But it’s not all bad. It could be a nice ego boost when a search of your name prompts the autocomplete “Janice Roberts single” from potential admirers, no?

Tell us some of the associations Google autocomplete makes with your name. Are there any search results you wish you could scrub off the Internet?

Follow on Twitter: @DakGlobe


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