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Finding the Real You

Finding the Real You OnlineMany people get a thrill when they look for their names on the Internet and something actually comes up. That is

Finding the Real You Online

Finding the Real You OnlineByline: Robert MacMillan

Many people get a thrill when they look for their names on the Internet and something actually comes up. That is not always the case when the information or the photograph recalls some past embarrassment or humiliation.

A friend of mine used to be a frequent user of an online dating service. When a fellow reporter was looking for sources on a Web dating story, I set the two up for an interview. Somewhere they experienced a communications breakdown: She didn't want her last name used, but it got into the article anyway.

I never got the straight story on how this happened. What I do know is that every time she entered her name into the Google search engine, the No. 1 entry -- even a year later -- highlighted her enthusiasm for online dating. She didn't mind her friends and relatives seeing that kind of information, but she was more than a little unhappy when she discovered that prospective employers "Googling" her could start with a concise and prominent summary of her dating proclivities.

A new business directory service that debuted this week will try to give people like my friend more power over what the Web has to say about them. ZoomInfo ," developed by the Cambridge, Mass.-based Zoom Information Inc. , searches the Web for public information about people and corporations, then allows them to edit their profiles. "With us, you have the ability to ... present yourself how you want to be presented," Russell Glass , ZoomInfo's director of consumer products, told the Associated Press .

ZoomInfo's 25 million profiles -- consisting of work history, education, current position, business affiliations and other unspecified information -- won't clean up unwanted results for Googlees. "But since search engines display the most relevant results first, a well-constructed ZoomInfo profile will be the first -- or among the first -- choices that appear," Glass told the AP. In its news release , Zoom Information claims Microsoft Corp. , Nike Inc. , Oracle Corp. , Pfizer Inc. , Raytheon Co. and Staples Inc. among its customers.

The wire service quoted several skeptics who worry about the privacy implications of such services: " Preston Gralla , co-author of 'The Complete Idiot's Guide to Internet Privacy and Security,' compared it to unknowingly being trailed through public places by a private detective. 'Just because [the information] is publicly available, it's still difficult for anybody to put together,' Gralla said. 'Just the act of collecting all this information, you could consider it an invasion of privacy.'"

Plenty of people probably will, but more -- especially those with common names -- should get a kick out of finding their 15 microseconds of fame on Page 1 rather than Page 45 of their "ego search." I was happy to see that I beat the hell out of the competition, coming in as the No. 1 result for the search term "Robert MacMillan." Sometimes that's more difficult on other search engines where I'm up against the "Love of Christ" columnist Robert MacMillan , the pulp fiction Robert MacMillan and Robert MacMillan, the ninth president of the Blackface Sheep Breeders' Association from 1927 to 1928.

And hopefully, my friend will find more possible employers turning to these services, which should edge that Washington Post article out of the pole position.

Side note on ZoomInfo: A Seattle Times news roundup notes that ZoomInfo was created with an unknown amount of money from Vulcan Capital , the venture capital company owned by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen . The Times staff also took ZoomInfo out for field tests, but reported negative results: "Here at the Download offices, we tried to help Allen improve his own Web identity by having fun with his resume. We were able to add the job title Star Fleet Mission Director and language fluency in Romulan and Klingon to his profile. Strangely enough, these changes didn't show up when we refreshed the browser."

Hillary Clinton: Caught in the Act

I recently wrote an article about the political world's fascination with Web video. Many campaign professionals want to know how they can channel it to build good buzz for their candidates -- or bad buzz for opponents. But surely there must be a more sophisticated way than this: "As [Republican] U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison was traveling through Central Texas on Tuesday to raise awareness of the oldest trails in the state, a video clip was being circulated via e-mail showing U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton telling a group she's 'delighted that' Hutchison 'is my partner on so many important fronts,'" the Austin American-Statesman reported. A Hutchison spokesman blamed minions of Gov. Rick Perry (R), who they said wants the senator to forsake any notion of challenging his reelection.

The reporter quoted Republican consultant Royal Masset as saying the video is "kind of goofy." "What are you supposed to do -- not hang around Democrats at all? Unfortunately, we live in an age when anyone can e-mail anything," Masset told the paper. Maybe it would work in the 22nd District .

That story pairs nicely with a report from the BBC , which says e-mail is underused in British politics. "The survey, commissioned by Telewest Business , found that only 1 percent of people have contacted their [member of Parliament] via e-mail," the Beeb reported. "Nearly half of the 3,000 people interviewed had home Net access and 38 percent said they would e-mail their MP if they knew their address. But 50 percent did not even know who their local MP was."

Here's more from the news service: "In a separate study, conducted at Strathclyde University , it was found that access to the Internet has failed to make people less cynical about the government and is not encouraging people to get involved in the political process." See? Even after almost 229 years of separation, we still take after our friends across the pond.

Vonage Invited to Texas Two-Step

In an emergency, most Americans immediately think to dial 911. They might have to think differently if they're using Internet telephone service. The state of Texas yesterday sued Vonage , claiming that the Net phone company failed to disclose that it does not include access to traditional emergency services. State Attorney General Greg Abbott (R) filed the lawsuit after Houston resident Joyce John tried and failed to reach 911 when two men attacked and shot her parents last month, the Houston Chronicle reported.

"When ... John's mother yelled to her to call 911, her effort was met with a voice recording that told her no emergency access was available on that line and she must use another phone," the paper reported. "Greater Harris County 911 Emergency Network Executive Director John Melcher ... said the problem is that Vonage and some other Internet-based telephone providers don't interconnect with the 911 network. Their customers do not pay the 50-cents-per-phone-number fee that traditional phone and cell phone customers are charged to support the 911 system."

A Vonage representative told the paper that the company displays its 911 policies on its Web site, and that it wants to work with Texas to address the state's concerns. The spokeswoman told the Los Angeles Times that the company requires customers to set up 911 service separately, but does not charge extra to do it. And in case you were wondering, both parents survived, the Times reported.

Reuters reported that Internet phone service is experiencing problems with identity theft too: "The emerging scams underline the lower level of security protecting Voice Over Internet Protocol, or VoIP, the Internet-calling standard that has upended the telecommunications industry over the past several years. Traditional phone networks operate over dedicated equipment that is difficult for outsiders to penetrate. Because VoIP calls travel over the Internet, they cost much less but are vulnerable to the same security problems that plague e-mail and the Web."

Beaten by Singapore

The United States has fallen from first to fifth place in making the best use of information and communications technology, according to a new report from the World Economic Forum . The new leader, according to the AP : Singapore , where your options as a young boy are the computer or the cane (search for "Michael Fay"). Now there's a way to whip up performance ... "Augusto Lopez-Claros, co-editor of the report, praised Singapore for its ability 'to make, in a relatively short period of time, enormous progress in putting [the technology] at the service of improved living standards.'"

Send links and comments to robertDOTmacmillanATwashingtonpost.com .