Keeping an Eye on Your Online Identity

I was using Google’s image search this weekend. I had known about it for some time, but an IT security consultant brought it up to my attention on how you can use it to stalk people. No, I was not interested in stalking someone, but wanted to look into it…for security purposes!

Visiting, I decided to upload the image I use for many of my online avatars. Once that’s completed Google returns all the search page results where you can find that image. Because I use it in social media sites like Twitter and Google+ I found it on other accounts at those sites, but only if I commented, shared or retweeted, a post. Ok. No big deal, right?

Well, I looked further and found that my image is also on some 411 sites. Sites you need to sign up and pay for to use. My guess is that those websites are crawling the interwebs for people’s info and simply indexing it into their database to serve it up for those willing to pay their fees. Again, not a big deal since they’re probably banking on providing my image with the “is this the Sean Kelley you’re looking for?”

Then I came across the site that made me nervous. My smiling face was found on At first I thought it was being pulled into that specific spot because I was logged on to my social media sites and it was very close to a Google AdSense banner. Linkedin will do that when you visit certain company sites, it will use your image from your profile with a pitch like “Imagine yourself working for ‘company name'”. Facebook as also used such a tactic. Ezines looks like a site where authors can submit all kinds of different articles for publication on the web. According to their terms and conditions it states that authors are not paid but may have their work used on the web. The image was under a person’s profile ‘Sean Madison’ who had written 7 articles on juicing and other similar ‘healthy conscious’ subject areas. For the life of me, I can’t understand why they would want to use MY profile image. I reported the author by clicking a ‘Report Fraud’ link, probably a safeguard of the site to prevent authors from plagiarizing content.  I also used their ‘Contact Us’ form and simply stated that this user was using my personal image on his profile and that I wanted it removed immediately. It wasn’t long before someone from the site contacted me, via email, to inform me that the image had been removed. I checked the site, and confirmed that image had, indeed, been removed. Big kudos to for taking quick action. Lets face it, they could have disputed my claim, asked for a formal cease & desist letter from an attorney, or thought that I was the actual imposter! But they did not.

Now what? Do I stop using an actual image of myself on the web? The whole purpose of doing so was to ensure consistent branding, recognition and a personal touch. Someone sees me on LinkedIn and then ‘sees’ the same avatar on Twitter they’ll instantly realize, “ok, that’s the same Sean Kelley.” Now, I’m wondering if it’s such a good idea. That’s why many people use goofy images/symbols/avatars on their profiles.

It’s not hard to use other people’s image on the web. Many people think that Google images is their own personal repository for taking images as their own – often using them in Powerpoint presentations, invites, flyers, etc. I have to say that I’ve done that, but it’s typically using logos in relation to those companies or individuals in an effort to promote them, not to imitate them or use their name/brand as my own. I guess you could say, I use them in good faith and their own best interest in mind. I also don’t use creative images and use them as my own. I can’t imagine what an artist feels like when they see their works in a published book and they did not provide permission for the authors/publishers of said book to use it.

If you use your personal image online, I’d tell you to check to ensure you know if someone else is using it. Hopefully you don’t run into an imposter, and if you do, that you can contact the site admins to have it removed.

4 thoughts on “Keeping an Eye on Your Online Identity”

  1. The exact reason I use a “goofy avatar” 😉 I do have one image of the real me out there but most of the time it’s the “Go Play Espionage” graphic that I created myself. Unique to me without actually being me 🙂

  2. Thanks Greg.

    Good to hear, Erin.

    Yeah, I’ve heard others say the same thing, Dave. At least your avatar is consistent. I can quickly recognize D McAlister!

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