Internet etiquette
April 9, 2016 5:57 AM   Subscribe

Is it sociaIlly acceptable to google someone I knew, say 10 years ago, to find out what happened to them (e.g. where they live, what their career is?) I am not planning to contact them, I just get curious about where people ended up. If I search for someone on Linkedin, will they find out information about me at all, seeing as I don't have a Linkedin profile?
posted by EatMyHat to Computers & Internet (24 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Yes, it's socially acceptable. No, they won't know you looked at their profile.
posted by amro at 6:11 AM on April 9, 2016 [10 favorites]

"Socially acceptable" means other people aren't weirded out by your public behavior. If only you and Google know then nobody else will ever know. Kinda like what you might occasionally do alone in the bathroom when slightly drunk and its a full moon - as long as it feels good go with the flow. Nobody will ever know.
posted by JJ86 at 6:12 AM on April 9, 2016 [11 favorites]

As far as I'm concerned, you can google anyone you like, but if by some chance you run into them again, you have to pretend that you never googled them and that you don't know any of the information you learned through your searches.
posted by colfax at 6:12 AM on April 9, 2016 [68 favorites]

I'll tell you a funny story: there is a long standing rumour that a mate of mine has a minor English noble title, which is plausible as he's a bit posh and the only thing anyone knows is he doesn't get on with his family that well. I was talking about it with someone else and we realised we had his full name, knew where he grew up, we could easily google it. But we decided against it and to let the rumour stand or clear up in the normal fashion.

That's a different set of circumstances though. Whether it's socially acceptable or not, googling people is just something people do now. It's common to meet someone and google them straight away. I think it's important to remember though that the story google tells can be very different from reality. Even if you discover someone's been arrested or become super successful it might not mean very much. I'm very pleased that when you google my name it's mostly a very middle of the road computer programmer from California, plus on the first page a few Marxist essays I've written. I wonder if his friends/employers ever ask him about that.
posted by Cassettevetes at 6:18 AM on April 9, 2016 [3 favorites]

I'm guessing a lot of people do this, but probably don't talk about it. It's natural to be curious about what happened to people, it's new that the Internet has made it so easy to follow up on the thought. So, socially acceptable-ish, but I wouldn't brag about it...
posted by jzb at 6:20 AM on April 9, 2016

If you don't have a LinkedIn profile you aren't going to learn anything useful on LInkedIn. You have to logged in to see more than than the bare basics from their profile.
posted by COD at 6:20 AM on April 9, 2016 [5 favorites]

LinkedIn won't give you a lot of information about a person unless you are logged in. And then it will tell the person that you looked at them.

If you create a fake LinkedIn profile, that could solve both problems, but that is definitely going over a line that some people might draw on the curious---creepy spectrum.
posted by sparklemotion at 6:22 AM on April 9, 2016 [7 favorites]

It's fine, as long as you don't cross that creepy line sparklemotion references. But I'll add another vote for not believing everything you find online unless you can really connect the dots, and even then maybe not as the facts may be not accurate even if the it's the right person. I knew someone who had the same first and last name as someone else in his city who had committed a violent crime - and this was a name that at first glance seemed at least somewhat uncommon, not a Smith or Jones.
posted by 2 cats in the yard at 6:24 AM on April 9, 2016

Oh gosh, everyone googles everyone else all the time. It's a part of modern life. You're fine.
posted by something something at 7:02 AM on April 9, 2016 [21 favorites]

I think it is totally socially acceptable, but you should be prepared to find stuff that may feel weird or upsetting. I've googled a couple of childhood friends and found obituaries. (I'm sure that this happens more and more as you get older, but these were people who died in their 20s and 30s.) I googled my horrible junior-high-school bully, and it turns out that he's in prison, which made me momentarily gleeful and then feel like a shitty person for being happy about anyone else's suffering.

(Definitely be careful about googlegangers. When I was in grad school, there was a very dedicated anti-choice activist in my city who shared my common first name and relatively uncommon last name. Apparently a bunch of my students googled me, came up with a lot of stuff about someone who protested in front of abortion clinics, and assumed it was me. I was really confused about a couple of things that they said to me until one of them finally screwed up the courage to ask me about it and I was like "Nooooooo. That's definitely someone else who is not me!")
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 7:08 AM on April 9, 2016 [4 favorites]

I've googled a couple of old friends because I miss them and wonder what happened to them. I didn't go all obsessive or intrusive and had no interest in pestering them or trying to, like, read their personal blog from 2002 or anything, but I don't think it's especially weird or wrong to look up information that people themselves have posted on the internet. Someone might not know that their old blog was still around, or might wish they could delete comments on something from when they were 19, but no one is deeply shamed (I hope) by their LinkedIn profile or their "meet the members of our lab" page, or their "I just published another chapbook!" page.

I think it would be probably untraceable but pretty inappropriate to seek out the kind of information that you couldn't pick up in casual conversation. "Clelia has published her poetry and has written extensively about her career in arts administration" is one thing; "Clelia wrote deeply personal LiveJournal entries about her abortion in 2003" is another.
posted by Frowner at 7:19 AM on April 9, 2016 [2 favorites]

Totally fine, but don't make the same awkward mistake I made a few years ago when looking up a great person I lost contact with a few years back.

After Googling my lost friend's (very uncommon) name I almost immediately came across a profile of their's on a site that doesn't display info to non-members. After a few days of having my imagination run rampant, I chose to make an account on the said site and visited their profile again to read their profile in its entirety. Once I finished up, I signed off the site feeling mostly contented while at the same time experiencing pangs of guilt.

Fast forward to about a year later and I create a 'real' profile on that same site and not long after using it I realize that, shit, a history of the last people to visit your profile shows up on your profile. And then I come to the scary realization that when I made that first profile on the site, with the sole intention of using it to be able to read my 'lost' friend's profile, I made the super big fuckup of signing up using a highly uncommon username that she knew I used.

To this day I cross my fingers hoping she never noticed my username but if she did I hope she can understand, at least partially, why I wanted to look her up.
posted by GlassHeart at 8:11 AM on April 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'm a huge giant fan of googling people. I'm really good at it and a lot of my friends are, too. Back when I was not a very nice person, it wasn't uncommon for my friends and I to launch a research project on (for example) the fiancee of their ex. You can find wedding registries (and laugh at their taste in flatware), real estate records (and find some way to dig at the square footage of their home), tax records (their car), court records (any crimes or upcoming court dates), etc.

Like I said, I wasn't a super-kind person then. BUT I will often use these skills for good, not evil. And feel no shame about it.
posted by witchen at 8:24 AM on April 9, 2016 [3 favorites]

I'm guessing you're over 30 by the simply fact that you asked this question (and also by the fact that you have people you knew 10 years ago to Google). My 20-something classmates are all perfectly happy to admit that they regularly google the hell out of everyone they meet or have met or might want to meet. They might not say "Oh, hey, I googled you and found out this about you" to someone's face, but they're totally fine with admitting the general activity. So, even though there's still a minor edge of socially unacceptable to it, that's rapidly changing.

To this I'd add that the thing you are proposing to do -- look up an old friend to find out where they are, rather than looking up a new friend to find out who they were -- has pretty much always been socially acceptable on the internet. Classmates and had this very thing as their core business model and people paid actual money to subscribe to those sites, and while they were considered annoying for their kind of spammy practices, using their service wasn't considered socially awkward.

If you look up an old friend and find contact information for them, it's not even unacceptable to reach out to them and make contact -- unless the reason you're no longer in touch is negative (ex-relationship, blown up friendship with bridges burned, etc).
posted by jacquilynne at 8:24 AM on April 9, 2016 [7 favorites]

I wondered what became of my first girlfriend. I Googled and found she was a physician at the Cleveland Clinic. I wouldn't hesitate to tell anyone else, or for her to know that I found her info on a public-facing website.

I got an email once asking "Are you my cousin?" I was. I applaud my cousin's initiative in reaching out to me.

I think discretion really depends on what you find.
posted by SemiSalt at 8:25 AM on April 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

Yeah linked in sends me e mails every time someone looks at my very sparse profile.

"Do you know so and so? Get connected!"
posted by Max Power at 8:26 AM on April 9, 2016

There is a setting in LinkedIn that allows you to be anonymous when looking at profiles.

Or so I've heard.
posted by randomkeystrike at 8:38 AM on April 9, 2016 [2 favorites]

The only rule about googling someone is that, should you ever run into them again, you don't let on that you googled them and know some random and bizarrely specific facts about their life. If you don't trust yourself to be able to do that, and there is any chance you might run into them at some point, maybe don't google. If you've got a decent poker face though, google away.

Relevant Garfunkel and Oates
posted by 256 at 9:02 AM on April 9, 2016

I Google people all the time. Please use your powers for good, not evil. I was able to reconnect with a former housemate because he is a research scientist and his public contact information is readily available - we now correspond regularly. Similarly, a lot of old friends and classmates found me on Facebook.

I don't like to use LinkedIn for anything other than bare minimum career updates because LinkedIn publishes everything you do. For example, I used to work with a really scarily bad-tempered guy. When I Googled him several years later, I found he had been in trouble with the police. By accident, I looked at his LinkedIn page, and felt mortified that LinkedIn will now tell him I have looked at his page.

There is a setting in LinkedIn that allows you to be anonymous when looking at profiles.
Or so I've heard.

I found it in Profile tab > Who's viewed your profile > scroll down to "These people viewed your profile in private mode" (does everyone have that?) > click "Learn More". You'll get a popup called "Browsing profiles in private mode". In the paragraph called "What is private mode?", click "Privacy Settings". The third option is private mode, but they caution you "Note: Selecting this option will disable Profile Stats. Whenever you switch to private mode, your viewer history gets erased." Maybe there is an easier way to find this setting, but I can't find it because LinkedIn's interface is so difficult to navigate.
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 9:24 AM on April 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

It's not like your looking in their medicine cabinet.
posted by Pembquist at 9:25 AM on April 9, 2016

LinkedIn does indeed have a privacy mode. It's under "Privacy". It's easier to get to than posted above (sorry, on mobile so no link). You can also try viewing the cached page of someone's LinkedIn profile if it comes up when you google them, I believe you can see more that way. LinkedIn is weird and people have different settings on their profile; in order to convince people that they should upgrade to Premium, sometimes logged in users see LESS than logged out users.

It's 31 and everyone I know Googles people and it's not considered rude. Just do what you would want done to you: it's nice old acquaintances could look you up and see what you're up to, but you wouldn't want them deep diving and bringing up anything embarrassing they find.
posted by the thorn bushes have roses at 10:11 AM on April 9, 2016

I'm guessing a lot of people do this, but probably don't talk about it.

I wouldn't believe anyone who claimed they never have and never would.
posted by she's not there at 11:02 AM on April 9, 2016 [2 favorites]

Oh heck, the teens and 20s that I work with google and search facebook for new employees before they even start!

I graduated high school in '95, a year before I was introduced to the internet. (More than 20 years of internet... wow, that just hit me hard.) And I'm a VERY curious person that comes from a small town. I've googled old friends, old crushes, the kid we swore was going to end up a politician, the guy who supposedly had three PhD's...

Heck, we had everybody on our class reunion Facebook page trying to track down the few "missing" people we'd lost contact with... more recent graduates have NO idea how easy they're going to have it!)

But, like I said, I'm curious. In those just-before-internet days, I used a college library's collection of phone books for the state I live in to track down a mailing address for my (now ex) husband's bio-dad. His bio-mom had told my guy that it was ok to contact him, but my husband never found the guts, and I thought that the guy might want to know his first grandchild had been born... and he did. :) Very positive experience.

So yes, of course I've contacted other long-lost people, thanks to the internet, in friendly, non-pushy ways, and to date, I've yet to have anyone respond in a negative manner. It all depends, I think, on attitude, and the sort of person you - and they - are. Along with your intent in contacting them.
posted by stormyteal at 12:38 PM on April 9, 2016

I google people from my past all the time and occasionally I discover that someone has been googling me. It's public information -- it's not at all like going through someone's pockets. My one rule is I don't google people I wouldn't want to say hello to if I ran into them on the street some day, as learning new information about them tends to feed whatever anger or other negative emotions I have regarding them. I also use discretion when it comes to revealing what I've found to the subject of my googling or to anyone else. Privacy in the sense that we knew it forty years ago is dead, and that comes with new etiquette and new ethics. The consensus society has arrived at so far is that it's fine to google people, but not okay to make people uncomfortable by commenting on everything one learns, in much the same way as one might easily glimpse a neighbour's undies on the laundry line in their back yard from one's own yard, but should not take the liberty of commenting on it.
posted by orange swan at 12:39 PM on April 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

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