my manager tracks us all with Google Alerts

A reader writes:

My team manager has set up Google Alerts for every one on her team, so that she receives notifications whenever our names appear in the news. She uses the alerts to then post messages on our team’s internal group chat, things like “Break a leg to Jorge, whose improv team has a show coming up in Milwaukee!” or “Congrats to Linda for being selected as a finalist in this local baking competition.”

There’s a complicating factor in that our team’s work is somewhat in the public eye in our industry, meaning there’s a high likelihood one of us is in the news at any given time for something we’ve worked on, driven by our company’s PR. So to some degree, it makes sense she’d want to keep track of your team’s professional, PR related accomplishments — we have whole channels and boards internally, dedicated to highlighting those kinds of items. That said, our PR team does a roundup of our news items, so she could keep track of those without needing to set up her own alerts. Or she could ask us to share them with her!

The announcement posts she’s doing about our personal lives are relatively benign, and I’m pretty sure she asks the individual if she can share, before posting. I suspect she’s thinking of this as a way of building rapport, and helping us bring our “whole selves” to work. But something about using Google to track our personal accomplishments feels…squicky to me. Artificial? Like its being used as a shortcut to building a warm relationship with us. I know she could just Google any of us at any time but what if I was in the news because I was in a terrible accident? What if I got a divorce, or a relative died, or what if I was, say, arrested for protesting in alignment with my political views? I’m not sure I want her to be notified of incidents that might not be things I’d choose to share.

I guess my question is: is this weird? Or is it something we should all just accept in today’s digital world? And if I wanted to ask her to remove the alert for my name, do you have suggestions for scripting I could use?

Yeah, it’s weird. Not necessarily that she has the alerts set up — that part could make sense given the type of work you do. (And she might prefer to be able to see your work-related coverage immediately rather than waiting for your PR team’s round-up, which might not be comprehensive or as fast.) But if she’s using those alerts to report on people’s non-work stuff without their permission, it does feel pretty invasive.

However, you said you think she does get each person’s permission to share the items. If that’s the case, then I think it’s more that it just feels weird rather than it being actionable in any concrete way. It feels weird because it’s odd to know that your manager gets an alert every time your name appears on the internet! That’s a level of keeping tabs that would cross most people’s boundaries, even though in this case there’s a work justification for it. And obviously, info about you on the internet is there for the taking for anyone who bothers to search for it … but that’s different than knowing that everything the internet records about you is delivered into your boss’s inbox within a day or so of it appearing.

It would feel less weird if she were ignoring the non-work items she sees. But she’s not; she’s publicizing them. And so that contributes to a feeling of being monitored, which is uncomfortable!

I don’t share your sense of it being a shortcut to building warm relationships (although there may more about how she operates that make you feel that way). But it does feel like a lot of monitoring.

As for whether you could ask her to stop, it depends on why she gets the alerts in the first place. If she gets them to track work coverage … no. But if you’re not sure that’s the reason, you could say, “Did you set up the Google Alerts on everyone to track coverage of our projects in case the PR round-up misses something?” My guess is that she’ll say yes. But if she says no, and she just likes knowing what you all are up to both inside and outside of work, it would be reasonable to say, “I know it’s all out there anyway, but I’d rather not have my non-work stuff tracked like that. Would you mind not doing one for me and just letting me tell you about any non-work accomplishments that I want to share?”

{ 175 comments… read them below }

  1. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

    The whole immediacy of the thing is what makes it feel icky to me.

    Like OP is at the same level of urgency as a tornado warning or an Amber alert.

    1. Filthy Vulgar Mercenary*

      BREAKING: OP’s daughter’s model car racing wins second prize. News at 11.

    2. Healthcare Manager*

      A Google alert would be set up to her work email, so only during work hours.

      Sounds like what you’re describing is a pop up on their phone screen, aka 24/7.

      I’m not seeing those as the same at all.

      1. fhqwhgads*

        In my experience it’s extremely common for managers to have work email set to sync to their phones. Not everyone, but a significant amount. In which case the emails would be a pop up on the phone screen – unless they mute work emails in off hours…which I doubt. Since the point of having work email on your phone is usually to, ya know, get it on your phone.

        1. Healthcare Manager*

          I have work emails on my phone with notifications turned off.

          But of course how each manager does this will depend on their own personal boundaries at work.

          Regardless Google alerts sent to emails are not at the same as push alerts.

  2. She of Many Hats*

    Another reason to make sure one’s social media is tightly locked down. Even with the work aspect, it feels more than a little big brother-ish. How can I be sure that my personal life is not affecting my manager’s perception of me and causing me negative impacts or that my co-worker’s personal life is getting them benefits from our manager?

    1. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

      Would a google alert flag anything from social media? My impression is that it would only send an alert for something that showed up in the news or something of similar scope.

      1. ArchivesPony*

        Not necessarily. A facebook post, tiktok video, etc. would not inherently get flagged as a google alert.

      2. Cedrus Libani*

        Yeah, it’s not tracking your social media, just news or other public sites (e.g. if you ran a race and had your finish time posted on the race site). Source: my mom has had Google alerts on my name since that became a thing, yes she’s a lot (bless her heart), and no I don’t have one for myself, I just let her forward them to me because it brings her joy.

        1. PR lady*

          You can absolutely get social media on Google Alerts, I get them all the time. I see Twitter & TikTok most often, surely due to privacy controls on other channels.

      3. J!*

        There’s a whole genre of “news” articles that’s mostly wrapups of other people’s tweets, and that would show up if they’re embedded in an article. (Try googling your Twitter username plus -twitter(dot)com, it’s surprising what I’ve been included in without even knowing.)

  3. Not Telling*

    This whole location tracking craze drive me crazy.

    An immediate family member is a way too obsessed with watching us on Life360 and it’s just bonkers. Like you know when I’m at work or at the gym, no need to track me!

    1. Thistle Pie*

      This isn’t location tracking – google alerts are used to alert you to new things being published online with certain keywords. For example, I work in the public eye and I have one set up for myself and my place of work so I can know if I’m waking up to a PR nightmare. I loathe walking into work without having read the newspaper that morning, and having someone make a comment about an article I didn’t know existed, which quoted me.

    2. Daisy-dog*

      Yep, I deal with the same thing. I have been so tempted to disconnect it from my phone. I get notifications about it draining my battery and just close it sometimes.

      1. Workerbee*

        What would happen if you did disconnect it, or at least paused location sharing from your end?

      2. LawBee*

        Just—turn it off? They can only location track you if you let them.

        It reminds me of my friend who is always so irritated when people fuss at her for “leaving them on read” when all she has to do is disable that option.

    3. Baroness Schraeder*

      Start visiting more interesting places and don’t tell them why. Shortly after my husband and I signed up for Life360 he was thoroughly perplexed when I went to spend an hour at the local Catholic church (we’re definitely not Catholic). I was just donating plasma, but he doesn’t need to know that. I also appear to hang out randomly in motorcycle repair shops (the nice café next door doesn’t show up on the map) and occasionally go for a wander with my friend through the cemetery across the road from her house. Anybody whose life is boring enough to want to track my location is welcome to draw their own conclusions!

  4. Healthcare Manager*

    I think what OP is really balking at is the realisation of how much is easily identifiable and tracked online and the rise of social media.

    Seems like maybe the manager has only just brought this to OPs attention enough for them to start processing it.

    I don’t find the manager doing this to be weird at all, especially as they’re asking for permission before sharing. Just sounds like an IT savvy manager to me.

    1. Ahhhhnon*

      I agree, especially with the added detail that they are in a field where they do appear in the news. It makes sense for her to have these alerts set up, especially if they need to keep up a “good image” for PR reasons.

      It would be weird if she didn’t ask permission. From LW’s examples, manager is only sharing positives, not things like who is getting divorced or has deaths in the family. If manager was going up to people and acting on that news without being told firsthand by a team member, I’d definitely say she’s overstepping.

      1. Celeste*

        Yeah, given that their field puts them in the news a lot, this didn’t really seem weird to me.

      2. Healthcare Manager*

        Absolutely. The context of it being related to their work and all the other details in the letter make it understandable.

      3. AA Baby Boomer*

        But would they still be aware of the negative things. They may share the good; but the bad or unpleasant that they learn can stick in the back of their mind.

        1. a clockwork lemon*

          Managers have to deal with all sorts of negative things in/around their employees every day, and very few of them are things that would ever make it to the local news. I’m struggling to think of a negative or unpleasant thing that would both stick in my boss’s head as noteworthy or actionable and wouldn’t also get back to them through more conventional workplace channels.

          The only thing I can think of is maybe being adjacent to someone else’s death, but realistically speaking if I’m being named in someone’s obituary, I’m close enough to them that I’d need to request bereavement leave.

          1. jes*

            I thought the letter writer mentioned an example: protesting about a controversial cause. Yes, if you give your name to a local news reporter at a protest, you are taking a reasonable chance that people you know will see you, so one easy answer is to not give your name if you wouldn’t like your boss seeing it. But there are plenty of other examples I can easily think of, like if you were at fault in a car accident or other traffic violation, where maybe you didn’t choose to make the news and would prefer to keep it out of your work life. If your boss scrupulously reads the paper cover to cover every day, then they’ll find out. But having a permanent Google alert for your name seems different than just reading the whole newspaper. I think it would be more reasonable for the boss to have an alert for your name + keywords related to the field you work in.

    2. Emily*

      I agree with this. You have no idea who has a google alert for you. If there’s stuff online about you, anyone who knows you could be keeping tabs and you won’t know. That’s disconcerting in general — but this is actually a reasonable use for it.

    3. Meep*

      There is a Tiktoker I follow who doxx people who ask to be doxx as proof if you are online you are searchable. Even if they are “locked down”, it only takes one bread crumb to find your name, location, and age.

      1. Hrodvitnir*

        Ooo. I will Google it, but what is this channel? I’ve always been curious (as someone who does the bare minimum in trying to be anonymous online. )

    4. T.N.H.*

      Agreed. Anyone can set up a Google alert for anyone. If that makes you uncomfortable, the only thing you can do is try to stay off Google (which is actually very possible). It’s not weird for your manager to find information about you that’s readily available and in some of your examples specifically meant to be found.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        It may not be possible for everyone. The examples OP gave are not things like locking down your social media. And it sounds like this might be an industry where people have semi-public personas.

      2. Spencer Hastings*

        If that makes you uncomfortable, the only thing you can do is try to stay off Google (which is actually very possible).

        Is it really, though? If the manager is getting an alert that Jane won a baking competition, then the way to prevent that would have been…not to enter the baking competition.

        1. T.N.H.*

          I think that is the way. If you put yourself out there, you no longer control the narrative. I’m not saying that’s necessarily how it should be, but there is truly no way to get people to stop Googling you.

          1. Splendid Colors*

            Technically correct, the best kind of correct. /s

            I don’t think OP was asking Alison for some secret hack to remove themselves from Google search results. I think OP is more interested in some way to negotiate with their boss to just stop doing it.

            I don’t think people should have to make themselves invisible to the internet to make a living unless they’re in espionage or something where it would blow their cover. (And if you apply for those kinds of jobs, presumably you’ve thought of the downsides of going undercover.)

            OP says down thread they’re on a research team whose research is covered in the media sometimes, so that’s clearly not the case.

            1. MsSolo (UK)*

              If you have a very generic name, or share it with a celebrity, google alerts are going to be unmanageable (especially since, in my experience, they tend to work like google search and include near-misses). I set one up for my author pseudonym to keep an eye out for reviews, but a model with a similar name (one additional letter) became famous a year or so later and it meant the odds of getting a relevant alert plummeted. Now, you may be able to filter more strictly these days, but if the manager is getting alerts for local baking competitions, she’s presumably not using the business name as part of the search.

              Of course, changing your name is an extreme response to manger’s behaviour, but it might be worth a conversation with manager about limiting the scope of the alerts due to a hypothetical Cardashian joining the team and filling her inbox with hundreds of Kardashian articles a day?

      3. rebelwithmouseyhair*

        You not using Google does not mean that nobody will publish anything about you on a website that Google scans for Alert material.

    5. RagingADHD*


      Both of the examples given – performing in a show, taking part in a competition – are activities that are publicized *on purpose.*

      How is it odd that the manager is aware of, or mentions, things the employees are doing for purposeful, public consumption?

      The internet has screwed up a lot of people’s perception of public and private, in very strange ways.

      If you don’t want your performing work to be public knowledge, you have some kind of cognitive dissonance about what performing is. And you better get that sorted out, because it’s going to cause you problems in developing your performance skills. If you don’t want to show off your baking skills in public, don’t enter public competitions.

      If you want your private life to be private, then that’s easily done. Do it in your house, don’t put pictures or video on the internet, and don’t put out a press release or an event listing.

  5. Jenga*

    I’m not sure about this one…is the team’s work frequently in the news or the team members?

    If it’s the team’s work, then that’s the product and it seems pretty weird.

    If it’s the team members, like radio/TV personalities or other celebrities to some extent, then they are part of the company’s product. If they are arrested or outspoken about controversial topics, that could make the company look bad.

    1. Flying squirrel*

      I agree. If this is, say, a research team doing work that is occasionally covered in the news because they work in AI or something trendy, I don’t see why the name of the company/lab/team wouldn’t be a sufficient search. At least, I would want the searches to include keywords such as various names for the organization and the profession as well as names, so that a marathon result isn’t sufficient.

      If it’s the latter and it’s a field where the stakes are high enough that a negative media mention is critical, then what’s the PR team doing if not tracking this stuff?

      Unless the OP is running for office and the “manager” is actually their campaign manager, of course.

      1. Don't Google Yourself*

        OP here – our work is very similar to what you describe: a research team doing work occasionally covered in the news. Not a field where we, ourselves, are individually recognizable or “celebrities”.

    2. Ally McBeal*

      That’s not the point, though – OP’s manager is reporting on her employees’ PERSONAL lives, like an upcoming comedy-troupe performance. It’s one thing to have google alerts set up for your employees, just in case… it’s entirely different to disseminate information coming from those alerts that are totally irrelevant to the workplace.

      I am in many ways an open book, but intensely private in certain other areas, and I don’t think I would like it AT ALL if my manager started telling my coworkers about my personal life. I hope OP’s manager is indeed asking for permission before sharing stories.

      1. WellRed*

        Yeah, I’m reading it as personal stuff that has nothing to do with work. I don’t think it’s horribly invasive but it’s a tad over the top for her to then share with the team.

      2. Uranus Wars*

        But the manager is asking permission first, so the OP can do just as Alison suggested and say a blanket “please don’t share”. I think there is a PR roundup but if someone is the face of an organization or a thought leader I can see how it’s relevant at work and (as far as I know) Google Alerts can’t be set to only alert on professional work/websites. Maybe AI will be able to sort that out one day.

        1. MsSolo (UK)*

          Yes, but as someone else commented above, the manager still has that knowledge. “LW was interviewed at the scene of a traumatic accident” might not be shared with the team, but manager might start looking at their work through that lens, pass them over for an opportunity as an intended kindness, assume a professional conflict is due to lingering trauma instead of legitimate concerns etc

          1. Allonge*

            In this case though the reaction would make boss a bad manager, not the Google Alert. And that reaction could follow information from any other random source.

        2. teapot analyst*

          I don’t know about anyone else, but if my manager asks permission to share something, the power differential already makes it hard to say no.

          1. rebelwithmouseyhair*

            Yeah. Similarly, I didn’t want to be in the company video where everyone talked about how much they loved working there, because I didn’t love working there. I didn’t feel like I could refuse.

            Luckily I remembered a training session where I was told basically not to pick my nose when teaching a class, or being filmed or both. And given that the boss was filming everything himself, on the cheap, I was able to get away with scratching my nose and rubbing my chin weirdly while being filmed. The poor guy who had to edit all that obviously decided none of the footage with me in it was at all usable.

    3. Nadiatan*

      Also it’s one of those things that requires polite fiction of not knowing. I absolutely have zillow-d my CEOs house to see what it looked like. I then didn’t go and say “hey! Love the chairs you’ve put around your pool!” Because that would be weird. I guess, assume people always have access to your info that’s out there and that most of the time it’s just a curiosity, but don’t actually talk to them about it because it’s jarring. I run races in the ‘Athena’ category because I am a large woman. Honestly, everyone can see me and see I’m not small, but I know when I’ve googled myself, the race results come up a lot and having coworkers know I run in the heavy weight run category makes me feel weird. But so many other things would make me feel weird too about this.

      1. rebelwithmouseyhair*

        Let me just say that any big woman who takes part in running competitions totally rocks!

  6. Kes*

    I feel like I can see both sides on this one. On the one hand it sounds like there is a legitimate reason for boss to have these alerts, and she wants to support and encourage the team, and would be open to not sharing the information she learns with the rest of the team if someone didn’t want her to. On the other hand, nobody wants to feel like their boss is watching their every move.
    I think the best OP can really do here though is just ask their boss not to share personal news items about them. And even then I might leave it until comes up or at least try and find a more casual way to ask this

  7. negligent apparitions*

    My pastor does this – she’ll make an announcement at church about something she learned about a parishioner on Facebook. What is disconcerting about it is how she presents it as though the parishioner has told her personally. I’ve pretty much stopped posting to social media unless it is something I want people to know and it’s the fastest way to get the word out (like when my parent passed away after a long illness).

    1. Melissa*

      Ooh, that would bother me too! Especially because in my experience in churches, there’s sort of an unspoken agreement that things are not sharable unless someone gave you permission. So, like, if I mentioned in conversation that a relative died, the person I’m speaking to is likely to say, “Is it okay for me to mention it at prayer time on Sunday?” I definitely would be uncomfortable if someone (especially the pastor) was sharing things without that step.

    2. ferrina*

      It’s called false intimacy- when someone acts like they are closer to you than they actually are (not as a misinterpretation where they genuinely think you are close, but often as a tactic). It’s super disconcerting and sends up a bright red flag.

      1. Charlotte Lucas*

        Yes! This is why it feels icky to me. People who know me well know me as warm but reserved. I don’t have a close relationship with my current manager, & I would find it very disconcerting if he did this.

    3. Jaunty Banana Hat I*

      Ohhh, that feels creepy. I would find another church or stop going if my pastor did that, tbh.

      1. evens*

        You could just set your profile to private and not be “friends” with your pastor.

        1. negligent apparitions*

          This is great advice! I didn’t allow my pastor to follow me on Instagram – the challenge with Facebook is that we are a very small town and I use my Facebook as a way to share community events that everyone needs to know. I am not actual friends with many of my “friends” on Facebook!

    4. Ally McBeal*

      YIKES. I can see that easily veering into that very stereotypical “let us now pray for Jane Smith, who is going through a difficult time with her husband” gossiping-disguised-as-prayer BS that I dealt with a lot as a kid.

    5. Nadiatan*

      Can you remove your pastor from your fb friend, or at least block her from posts?

    6. BoksBooks*

      Did your pastor…. NOT read the bible?? Why would you tolerate this? There are other churches!

  8. Brain the Brian*

    Honestly, this manager needs to find better uses for her time. There are at least seven people in the U.S. with my name, and sifting through alerts of for all of the instances of that times all of the people on her team? Whew, that’s a lot.

    1. NobodyHasTimeForThis*

      This. There are at least 3 people in my county with my name. I have been sitting in the Dr’s office and realized that it was a different person’s chart on the screen because they are in the same hospital network. (terrifying if I ever need blood since they seem to keep missing the birthdate check on pulling up the chart)

    2. ScruffyInternHerder*

      Honestly I’m hopeful someone sets up an alert w/ my name without the location, because it would be absolutely hysterical as far as I’m concerned.

      My name-elganger (because we look NOTHING alike) is in a different country and has a very, very, VERY different profession than I do. To the point where I typically bring it up when reference checks are being done that “hey, I’m NOT in such-and-such country, and well, I’m also not a visual arts performer either…so please verify birthdates if THOSE come up with my name”

      1. Lorac*

        Hah, “name-elganger”, I like that.

        Mine is so common everyone keeps mixing us up. I’ve gotten one’s medical appointment confirmations emailed to me. Another one has a bit of a criminal history and I’ve been hounded by debt collectors who then went on to harass my parents! And of course they won’t believe you if you tell them they have the wrong person.

        1. Splendid Colors*

          I had a hard time with my credit report for a while because someone with the same last name (not rare) and similar first name (mine is often misspelled that way) living at a different unit in the SAME apartment complex got herself evicted for nonpayment of rent.

          Not even a letter from the management stating that we were separate tenants and my mother and I were in good standing would convict the credit agency to pull that from my report.

      2. WingNWing*

        Oops, me too. An exact name-elanger, first, middle, last, quirky spelling and all. 15 years younger, 100 lbs heavier, very obviously different race, and a convicted rapist. I’m currently waiting for a background check that’s “taking longer than anticipated.” Ugh.

      3. Eliza*

        My ex husband has the same name as a crazy dictator from another country. His personal info though ultimately gets buried more than anything because of all the news about this other person.

      4. Full Banana Ensemble*

        Ha! Yeah, I have a pretty uncommon last name – like, if you live on the east coast of the US and have this last name, there’s a good chance we’re related – but there’s at least one other person with my same full name. I’ve always called her my evil twin, but “name-elganger” is a lot nicer. :)

        She lives in the same state where I grew up, and we’re close in age, so it’s easy to get us confused with just a quick glance at Google results. And she’s a professional photographer who’s clearly working the SEO on her website, so most of the first page of results are all her. So far, she hasn’t done anything that would get me in trouble, and it gives me some degree of anonymity, because if anything embarrassing comes up, I can always just say, “Oh that? No, that’s my evil twin.”

    3. MsSolo (UK)*

      Also, if you don’t generate a lot of hits, Alerts will sometimes send you alerts about people or places that it thinks you might have meant (my initials and surname occasionally trigger alerts for a US location, and as I said about my author pseudonym is one letter different to a model who’s become increasingly famous, so I get alerts about her, too)

  9. Bridget*

    When working at a major non profit in my early 20s, I found out our local PR manager had Google alerts on us when she congratulated me (privately) about my engagement. I didn’t know how she knew until she told me my in-laws put an announcement in the paper.

    Frankly I was more annoyed that my in-laws had done that (who still does that, seriously?? Major eyeroll moment) but it was definitely a little weird that she had us all tracked that way. It made sense in a way for the PR person to be the one doing it, but still a bit weird to me.

    1. Melissa*

      Yes that would be weird! I think if PR is going to have alerts set up, they should politely ignore anything they see online that isn’t work related.

      1. DarthVelma*

        Agreed about ignoring the non-work stuff.

        The obvious blurring of boundaries and creepy stalkerishness is the worst part. But I also feel like that the news about that kind of personal accomplishment should come from me, not my boss. For instance, I’m currently in training for my first 5k. If I want my co-workers to know about that, I’ll tell them. If I do well in the actual race, I’ll tell them. If my boss scoured my social media or saw the results reported in my hometown paper and wanted to announce it to everyone, even if they asked me first, that would be pretty off-putting to me.

        1. A reasonable Jane*

          Reminds me of a co-worker I had not long ago who would make herself the center of everything. Someone got another job and she announced it before he was able to. Same with another employee’s pregnancy. Co-worker reveled in attention-seeking and nothing was off limits.

      2. Guacamole Bob*

        Yeah, this is where I come down. It seems pretty reasonable in some lines of work for someone to have this kind of Google Alert set up. But it’s weird to keep calling attention to it by sharing news that isn’t work related with others, even with permission – I feel like just the conversation with my boss about whether I was okay with sharing the news about the baking competition or whatever it was would feel awkward and like an overstep.

        Most of us politely ignore things about other people all the time – conversations we know weren’t meant to overhear, things that happen in the next bathroom stall, the personal thing left on the printer, or the personal text we happened to see pop up on a colleague’s phone. If these people aren’t public officials at a level where their entire lives are basically lived in public but just work in roles that have some professional visibility, I feel like the personal news coming from Google Alerts falls firmly into the politely ignore category.

        1. Don't Google Yourself*

          OP – that’s it. We’re not public officials or public personas, and our lives are not lived in the public. The things being shared have nothing at all to do with our work, and are not things that would ever be rounded up by our company’s PR team, or shared by them. They’re totally irrelevant to our business. So it feels like stuff to politely ignore, and I think my concern is actually less about the sharing (I can say no!) and more about the conversation you describe: the one where my manager says “I see you just self-published a volume of poetry! Can I share with the team?” and I think “oh god I really didn’t want your attention to be drawn to the fact that I self-publish poetry, and whether you share it with the team or not…now you know and I wish you didn’t!”

          1. Guacamole Bob*

            I’m 100% on your side, OP. Because now you’re doing a mental calculation about whether your boss will think you’re being weird if you don’t want to share, whether she or other colleagues will go read the poetry, whether the chance that one of them comes to your reading and hears you read that one line that’s really not work-appropriate from that poem about your college relationship and how awkward would that be, but you know your boss really values this kind of personal sharing so you don’t want to say no… very easy for at least some people to spiral on this kind of thing.

            That said, I’m not sure there’s much you can do about it, because making it A Thing with your boss sounds like it might not go well. Maybe you could offer an alternative? “Boss, I find it awkward to have you raising people’s out-of-work activities based on Google Alerts, since I know some people can feel kind of private about that stuff at work. Could you just ignore the non-work stuff, and maybe we can create a channel on Slack for people to share their personal good news instead?”

            1. Guacamole Bob*

              And if you’re a remote team, I think that actually makes it worse. If you live far from all your colleagues, someone from work could theoretically find out you were the lead in the community theater production of Equus or that your Backstreet Boys cover band won your town’s annual Battle of the Bands, but the chances would be much lower. Without a Google Alert set up, anyone who did learn that probably came across the information in a way that meant they shared an interest and weren’t as likely to use it for gossip.

              A manager using Google Alerts should really turn a blind eye to this kind of thing if it’s not work related.

              1. Splendid Colors*

                I agree.

                Also, we are (presumably) only seeing the stuff people have agreed is shareable. So this creates an impression “everyone else goes along, I guess I’ll look weird if I say NO.” You don’t know who has already asked the boss to stop sharing stuff about them if it isn’t related to their professional career. (“Xochitl was awarded Mentor of the Year by SACNAS for her work with students at Cal State Wherever” vs. “Xochitl won the tamale cookoff at the local Lowrider Day”)

  10. Rainbow*

    Someone in PR recommended I start getting alerts for my name years ago, and honestly I highly recommend it. I got one just yesterday that a friend was talking about work I did with him in an interview, and it was lovely to see as it was a small thing I wouldn’t have known about otherwise.

    I definitely do not use them for other people though. That feels weird, though maybe ok on this case, but then sharing it makes me feel extra monitored. I have no problem with the info being out there as I use it myself. There are just some things I’m ok with people at work *knowing*, but still don’t necessarily want to be specifically highlighted in the workplace.

  11. JR*

    I’m a bit in awe that all of you have such unique names that google alerts yield a manageable amount of information. What would your manager do if there were someone on the team named John Smith? Or someone who has the same name as a famous person? My friend’s dad has the same name as an NBA player who plays in the same city where my friend’s dad lives. I can’t imagine a google alert for him would be very useful.

    1. (Former) HR Expat*

      This was my thought, too. I share the same first and last name as an author, a film director, and a prominent academic. And my name is not that common.

    2. Aggretsuko*

      Possibly the lady has a Google alert for “John Smith Locationville” or “John Smith MyCompany” or something like that?

    3. CityMouse*

      I didn’t think my son’s name was that common and there’s another little boy at his Pediatrician with the exact same first and last name. We came in for flu shots at the same time and had to give birthdays to make sure it was the right patient.

      1. Grits McGee*

        Yep- I have kind of common first name + pretty uncommon last name (think Anastasia Beaverhausen), and there was another Anastasia Beaverhausen the same age and with a birthday the same month as me, with the same orthodontist in a city of modest size. I think we must have looked similar too, because the orthodontist would tell me all the time that I would be prettier than my sister once my teeth were straight. (I had a brother, who was also a patient of the orthodontist, often in the same room as me.)

        1. WorkingRachel*

          Ewww, orthodontist, why? Not super creepy, just yet another unnecessary emphasis on girls’ appearance.

      2. ZugTheMegasaurus*

        My family name is pretty unusual; there are a couple examples that certain people recognize, but most people are unfamiliar with it. I’ve only ever met people with the same last name once, and it was EXTREMELY weird.

        My mom took my dad’s name when they got married. Let’s say my dad was Greg Wobsnobbler, my mom was Ella Wobsnobbler, and I’m Zug Wobsnobbler. My dad had never met an unrelated Wobsnobbler in his life (neither had I) until I was about 16. My parents befriended a couple at a party. Their names were also Greg and Ella Wobsnobbler, and they also had a daughter named Zug. It was eerie.

      3. Kyrielle*

        I am only in search results if you search my current city. If you search the state, there are many of me and I’m not even in the top page. And yes – my oldest has a name-elganger at his pediatrician, and my youngest has a nickname-elganger a grade behind him at his school. (Think my son is named Robert and goes by Bob, the other child is actually named Bob. Although it’s not quite *that* common a name, it still is common enough, clearly!)

    4. The Prettiest Curse*

      I have an unusual name, and today one of our team sent me a screenshot of a Twitter account with my name on it that does not belong to me. (He posts to our social accounts and found it because he was trying to tag me. I have never had a Twitter account.) It looks like an inactive account that hasn’t posted for over a decade, so at least my name twin isn’t doing anything awful. But I was still surprised that there was another person out there with my exact weird name!

    5. OlympiasEpiriot*

      I agree, and adding the location is not enough. I have a very common name and there are several in my current city alone.

      I used to introduce myself to people with my LinkedIn because if you just typed in my name into Google, you got someone in prison for murdering their parents. Fortunately, these days that seems to have rolled off the top results in favor of an orchestra conductor.

      1. Beth*

        Yeah . . . my real name is relatively uncommon, but there are still several of us out there. I remember that at one point, the biggest number of hits were for a professional violinist and a woman in Australia who had had a headline-worthy car accident.

      2. Julia*

        I worked with someone who was John W. Smith Jr. which became an issue when his dad became a convicted sex offender. He reasonably was very insistent on people using “junior” when writing about him. I also felt terrible that he regularly had to explain “my dad is sex offender” for people to take the request seriously.

    6. Rainbow*

      I’ve never thought to check whether anyone else has my real name, though I’m sure they do. I always go by a nickname which is quite unusual, and there are two of us in the world! Clearly we have both googled ourselves, because after a year or two of my being aware she existed, we started following each other on Twitter!

    7. Cathires*

      I believe I am the only one in the world with my name. It is a combination of being a rare last name in the US, but if I were in the country of origin where it may be more popular, but due to gender naming conventions it is spelled differently than if I were in that country, and my first name is also not incredibly common.

      And actually I was the only one with my maiden name too – I think the spelling of our last name in the US was probably changed slightly when ancestors immigrated so there are not many people with that name anyway, add it to my unpopular first name and…voila. It is ALWAYS me when I google search. It’s kind of fun because there are newspaper things from the late 90s on there.

      1. virago*

        My old boss also (I believe) is the only one in the world with their name. Their family immigrated from a small village and added a consonant to their surname to make it easier for Americans to pronounce, and my old boss’ first name is one that was popular in the US at the time they were born but not in the old country.

        I’m envious because Old Boss always can use their own name as their username.

  12. Jens*

    As a PR, I have Google alerts on all the major players at work in addition to Cision TV Eyes, and Burrells. I also monitor problem employees which includes the alerts plus their private social media.

    I don’t broadcast it b/c this very common practice can feel invasive if you’re not in PR. It will continue to happen as more employers are forced to deal with their employees personal behaviors as being reflective of their organization, so people should assume anything findable is shareable. Live your life accordingly…

    1. NotRealAnonForThis*

      I feel like this needs to be made a clear lesson for everyone, honestly. Teen through adult.

    2. allathian*

      This is the reason I’m not on any social media. I don’t have a strict hermetic seal around my private life at work, if I know someone well enough to casually chat with them about non-work things, they’ll learn pretty soon that I’m married and have a teenager at home. But the point is that I want to control what I share.

      I hope that all of your “problem employees” lock down their social media ASAP. If they screw up badly enough to get their names published in the paper, that’s one thing, but just posting stuff on their own social media, as long as they don’t mention their employer in their profile, should be off limits to employers.

      I’m glad I’m in Finland, here it’s illegal for employers to consider any info about job candidates that they learn by googling them online in their hiring decision, so the prudent thing to do is to only look at social media profiles through links provided by the candidate in their application, like LinkedIn. Just like it’s prudent not to ask about family status because it would be illegal to consider that in their hiring decision.

      But if the job requires a security check, the security checking authority will absolutely look at everything they can find about the person. I work for the government, and our security checks are done by our equivalent of the CIA.

  13. a clockwork lemon*

    I don’t think it’s weird or creepy that a manager would have Google alerts set up for team members doing a lot of individual media appearances–that’s a pretty standard part of those types of jobs. Maybe I’m missing some context here but public information is, well, public. This isn’t a situation where boss is hunting down and sharing posts from a semi-anonymous Twitter/Instagram account.

    All that aside, is LW totally sure these updates are being driven by PR alerts? LW mentions boss gets permission to share these updates, but Jorge’s improv show and Linda’s baking competition are also totally within the realm of, like, normal stuff people talk about with their coworkers. And even if boss is getting this stuff through some sort of search alert/aggregator situation, is it meaningfully different from reading about them in the local paper, or finding out about these things through overlapping social media?

    1. Don't Google Yourself*

      OP! There have been so many good, insightful, and balanced responses to my letter (which I fully admit is fairly low-stakes). The personal updates I describe are absolutely not being driven by PR alerts. Our PR team may track us (who knows!) but they do not send roundups of tidbits about our personal lives. Our work is very similar to what another commenter described up-thread: akin to a research team, where our product is in the news, not our personalities. So there’s limited interest from PR in broadcasting what’s said about us personally. Also, our team is global and remote, so it’s not like this is stuff our manager is picking up from the local paper (and definitely not because we have overlapping social media – it would be the rare exception, rather than rule, for anyone on my team to follow anyone else on social). So there’s a bit of nuance around what our manager would be expected to know about us, professionally. And of course, none of our managers are in PR. So it’s not even a requirement of their job to track us, professionally.
      All that said…what’s been reassuring about this post is realizing that my initial reaction of “mm this feels a little icky to me but whatever” was more or less on target. It’s not an egregious breach, it’s not a huge red flag. It’s just a little weirdness I can deal with, or not.

      1. Marna Nightingale*

        Oddly enough, my first thought was that your manager might be doing this as a way of *managing* weirdness.

        Meaning, if for work-related reasons I had Google Alerts on my staff and this meant I was going to come into possession of non-work information about them, I think I would both feel weird pretending not to know about it, and worry about slipping by mentioning something I hadn’t been told.

        And I may be entirely alone in this, but if I knew they all knew but we’d just agreed to pretend it wasn’t happening that would be even WEIRDER.

        I’m not sure what she’s doing is a GOOD answer to the problem, especially considering how many people in the comments find it weird, but I definitely can see how she might perceive knowing and not mentioning things as a problem and be trying to address that, or even just be trying to make there be a silver lining to a weird situation.

        1. Cathires*

          Hmmm, this seems like a huge stretch. I think it’s more lack of social awareness. It’s not the knowing that is the problem, it is the “hi I know this and I will talk about it with you although you never brought it up to me” issue. That is the weird part. It would totally throw me off for someone at work to say, “hey how was that play this weekend” when I never ever mentioned it to them. We all know there is a ton of stuff out on the internet every single day about us, but you don’t bring that up with work colleagues. It’s just very weird.

          1. Marna Nightingale*

            May well be. As I said, it was my first and fairly instinctive thought, but it’s also very possible, as always, that I am the outlier here.

            Also if I were in that position I would share my thinking before acting on info I got that way, not just do it out of nowhere, like “So it feels weird to get non-work news about everyone through an alert and not say anything, so hey, nice finish on that 10k!”

      2. allathian*

        Do you have the sort of relationship where you could ask your manager not to share any info about you that isn’t related to your job that she learns through the Google alerts? You’d still know that she knows, but you could maintain the polite fiction that she doesn’t, and your coworkers wouldn’t learn things about you that you didn’t share with them yourself.

  14. L-squared*

    I find the responses and this letter intersting, because so many people freely admit to googling others, but it seems there is a level of “don’t do it to me though” going on that is interesting. I don’t really find this all that odd personally. While I don’t have google alerts set up about anyone, I also wouldn’t find it all that odd if my company did have one for me.

    1. Happy meal with extra happy*

      As someone who googles coworkers, I have no issues if those coworkers google me – just don’t tell me, lol. I would never tell them that I’ve googled them.

      1. Jaunty Banana Hat I*

        Yeah, I think it’s the added “and then they shared that with other people like I told them” part that makes it weird.

      2. Cathires*

        YES. that is it. People will do it. I do it. I do NOT then bring up the things I find out about them.

    2. Relentlessly Socratic*

      I just Googled myself and found one of my old workshop talks on YouTube. I refuse to listen to it, though….I remember being nervous and I certainly don’t need an extra dose of anxiety to my day!

    3. Charlotte Lucas*

      I think of it like knowing where someone lives, even if I’m not a close enough friend to visit them. That doesn’t mean I go peek in their windows & tell others what I see. Or report back on how many vehicles are parked in their driveway on a Friday night.

      Getting information & using information are two very different things.

    4. Samwise*

      There’s a difference between just looking, and looking and telling everyone and his dog.

    5. BubbleTea*

      I occasionally Google my ex, but I don’t have an alert set up, and I certainly don’t send out an email telling everyone including them what I find. That’s what makes it weird to me.

  15. Some Dude*

    Years back when our HR moved everything to a hosted solution, they mentioned “You might recognize something…” We all had profile pictures on the site. Mine was one I had shared for a weekly “getting to know your co-workers” thing a year earlier, so I figured it was from that. Nope. A co-worker commented, “I haven’t shared this picture with anyone at the company, but it is my Facebook profile picture.” Yep, HR went and looked everyone up on Facebook and downloaded their profile pics (visible even if your account is locked down) to put on the site. Felt kinda gross!

      1. Lady_Lessa*

        Grin, If that had been tried with me, HR would have gotten a religious picture (or a cat photo)

        1. Manders*

          For years and years, mine was a photo of the actual Beaker Muppet from a Jim Henson exhibit. I would love to have that as my company-wide photo :)

    1. Watry*

      That seems weird anyway. I don’t use Facebook much and I dislike having pictures taken of me, so my profile picture is from when I was 19. I’m 33 now, it’s nearly a different person.

    2. OlympiasEpiriot*

      Another opportunity to be relieved I never made a Facebook page. I pray no one did on my behalf, either.

  16. not a hippo*

    How is your boss verifying that you’re actually the person named in the alert? My name isn’t all that common but when you Google my name, results kick back a gym teacher, a GP, and an insurance salesperson.

    Blessedly I don’t appear at all!

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      You can add locations to alerts, and context from whatever pings helps.

        1. Allonge*

          Sure, but with all the context the boss would have, it
          1. may be obvious who it is (there is a picture or age mentioned) or
          2. may well not matter because there is no work relevance and
          3. if it’s neither of the above, boss can ask both.

          Boss is not compiling a full history of employee’s lives, they monitor this for work-related reasons and for whatever reason they find it fun to bring lighter aspects up.

  17. Detective Rosa Diaz*

    I work in a somewhat public facing industry and as such, am aware that what might be public on me also reflects upon my workplace — not just need mentions, but even things like tweets I’m tagged in, or tweets I write. Having a manager pay attention to these things, in a time were even a benign mention or opinion can be twisted into unexpected ways, doesn’t seem out of line. And given that the manager hasn’t seemed to use this to be punitive or police behavior, and has asked permission before sharing good news, not sure it’s all that weird. Uncommon, probably, but not weird.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      This is where I come down on it too. I can understand why OP is uncomfortable but it sounds like pretty high level information the manager is getting, as opposed to aggressively profile diving or something. This wouldn’t bother me at all.

    2. Camelid coordinator*

      I agree and think the tracking is going to be more common in fields that deal a lot with the public. For what it is worth I have a google alert on myself, my brother, and my husband (in his case with his employer’s name tacked on to get the right person). I am working to set up a new nonprofit, and the examples above of people setting up google alerts so they are not the last to hear about a potentially controversial story involving their employee or others has me thinking. I also agree with the comments that if you do set up google alerts it might be better to pretend not to see the personal stuff.

    3. Purely Allegorical*

      +1. If you’re in PR or in a public-facing industry, this is a lot more normal. If you don’t like it, ask her not to mention the personal stuff.

  18. AA Baby Boomer*

    To be me, it’s crossing a boundary. Does she have a history of crossing boundaries with her employees? Or is this a one -off? If it’s a one-off she may not be aware of how it’s coming across. I do not understand the need to know everything about my coworkers, etc. I’ve worked with some nosy bees in the past; and what they find out about you in your private life is used to judge you. It’s a hinderance at work. I’m taking it as a lazy route so that she doesn’t have to take the time to develop relationships. It comes across as false camaraderie.

    Could someone please explain to me how the google alerts work? Is there a cost associated with it? I would like to consider it as a possibility for personal use; not work.

    1. redflagday701*

      You can set up Google Alerts for any string of words — your name, a movie title, a celebrity’s name, a brand, anything — and then you’ll get notified via email every time Google finds a new result for that search query. So it’s handy if, for instance, you don’t want to miss any news articles about famous xylophonist Waukeen Llamagroomer but don’t want to actively search his name every day. (As others have pointed out, it’s less handy if you’re looking for news about, say, Minnesota man Jeff Olson.)

    2. BadCultureFit*

      I love how you have no idea what Google Alerts are or how they work, yet you’re adamantly opposed to them. LOL.

  19. redflagday701*

    OP, it’s not clear if you’ve talked to other members of your team about this, and I think I’d do that for a head check before bringing it up with your boss. It’s possible one of them will have more information about why she does it (maybe she just doesn’t like relying on the PR team to stay looped in, and she thought it would be nice to share what she discovers incidentally, too), or that you’ll hear that some of them appreciate it; it’s also possible they’re uncomfortable with it the same way you are. But whatever you find out will give you a better sense of how to calibrate your own response.

    The fact that you believe she’s asking permission before sharing this info is a positive sign, though (assuming it’s true). It suggests she understands that privacy does matter, and isn’t doing this because she’s a busybody or doesn’t care about boundaries. Letting her know about your discomfort might prompt her to either explain her reasoning more clearly or to reconsider whether to keep it up with the updates.

    1. Skippy*

      Agreed about checking in with colleagues for a gut check. I don’t think I’d do this as the boss, but I would definitely think it was weird for one employee to ask to opt out of a Google alert if boss is reading it OK that this is accepted in their culture.

      1. allathian*

        I don’t think a request to opt out of the Google alerts would land well, but I also don’t think that a request not to share with others what they learn about the LW’s non-work life would be out of line as long as the manager has some empathy.

  20. Becky*

    I’ve had a Google alert set up for a decade on my Real Name, in all that time it has never returned a result about me–it is always someone with the same name as me.

    For a long time, the only person regularly in the news with my name was an Australian politician.

    1. BitterGravity*

      That’s my thoughts, except at least you got a politician. I’ve got a social media star and apparently have died multiple times based on obituaries. Which still beats the time there was a CP court case by someone with the same name :-/

  21. Charlotte Lucas*

    I’ve worked with two people whose last names were common verbs in the singular present tense with reasonably common first names. I once tried to look one up online for work-related reasons. So many results: articles, works of fiction, social media posts. And no filtering helped.

  22. There's another side to this...*

    I wonder if this manager is sharing the personal accomplishments (yay, Jane is a finalist in the photo essay contest!) as a way to low-key let everyone know that their activities outside of work are on the company’s radar. As a manager, I would definitely want to be alerted if my employee were in the news for, say, participation in a white supremacist rally or for being part of hate group.

    In my career, and before Google alerts was a thing, a co-worker was arrested for soliciting a minor (it was in the news and it mentioned both his title and where we worked. The company first learned about it when a media org called for a statement); a board member of a nonprofit I worked with was charged with fraud (unrelated to the nonprofit, but they were well known as philanthropist, so it in the news multiple times). Another time, I had a coworker who had authored a few books, and when someone did a search under the person’s name to get more info on the books, some very ‘revealing’ personal photos featuring my co-worker from a photo storage/sharing site came up in the search results. We weren’t among the first to know (probably the last) in the above situations, but we had to do damage control for each one.

    It sounds like being monitored is part of the territory with this job. They’re going to know more about you than you would willingly share, and you are not likely to be able to change that, but I would ask my manager to refrain from sharing non-work-related news without checking with me first.

    1. Charlotte Lucas*

      That first one doesn’t show the need to monitor mentions of the employee but of the organization.

      1. Splendid Colors*

        If I were in the PR department, I would definitely be monitoring the individual employees in the hope of planning damage control ***before*** the media linked their names to their employer.

        I wouldn’t care about people winning baking contests, but I sure would care if they were arrested.

      2. There's another side to this...*

        The first one- meaning the solicitation of a minor? My coworker’s name was mentioned prominently in the news article along with our company (a financial services type organization), his title, and our office location— The work references were entirely unnecessary since our services did not involve teens or younger children in any way. He was let go the same day, and would’ve been whether the company had been mentioned or not. Management was extra put out because in addition to cutting ties by firing him, they felt like they had to do some reputation management too.

        1. allathian*

          Sounds overly moralistic to me. I don’t understand why the employer would have any reputation management to do if the employer is never mentioned in any news report. Pretty much every employer is going to have employees with some sort of police record on their books, even if in most cases it’s only going to be tickets for minor traffic violations rather than felonies.

          Soliciting minors is horrible, but even people who’ve committed crimes before need a job. Since your employer didn’t work with kids or teens, allowing this person to keep his job wasn’t going to hurt anyone, at least as long as he was reasonably good at his job. I would understand that your employer would’ve had some reputation management to do if he had committed financial fraud at your company.

          I also think it’s grossly overstepping if a company fires an employee because they learn that the employee has, say, an OnlyFans account as a sideline. I don’t think it’s an employer’s place to police the morals of their employees.

  23. Grogu's Mom*

    In a past job at a university, I set up Google Alerts for all of the professors my office oversaw. The reason we started doing this was because we were blindsided on a couple different occasions where a professor behaved very badly (the sort of thing that would trigger immediate dismissal for non-tenured faculty and a serious inquiry for tenured faculty, think assault of a student off-campus or obviously bigoted language in a public environment). We often didn’t hear about the bad behavior until students complained that it happened x days ago and the school hadn’t issued any statement or fired the professor. And then once we learned of it, even though it was treated with the utmost urgency, it would still take anywhere from a few hours to a couple of days to get together the right people to take action just due to the large number of tasks to be completed in a variety of different departments (confirm with the head of the school that they should be fired, clear it with legal, notify the fired professor, start to process the HR paperwork, remove the professor’s profile from our website, put together a statement, develop a plan for another professor to take over classes in progress, etc.) So, students were rightly angered that it was taking us several days to react to these unfortunate incidents after they happened. The Google alerts helped us learn about these things around the same time that the students did, so we could start working on the solution ASAP. It also helped in other ways to learn about things going on in the professor’s lives that had an impact on our day-to-day work (change of address, new publications, etc.) that they were supposed to report to us but would forget. We got way fewer false matches than you’d think. It only took a couple minutes a day to go through the alerts and make sure there were no red flags. I think it could be useful in any workplace where it is critical for PR reasons to learn things about their employees before (or at the same time) as the general public.

  24. AnonToday*

    Pre google alert days, I worked with someone who read the entire daily newspaper and sent out a departmentwide message if anyone was mentioned. They did not ask permission. It was… not great. They retired, but when I ran into them, they asked me about something that had been in the paper that contained my name, so were clearly still “tracking” everyone.

  25. Memarise*

    It does feel weird based on the type of thing that would come up – the first example I thought of was a name change in a US state that requires name changes to be publicized in a paper 3 times before the change can be made officially. Based on what was said it sounds like she wouldn’t necessarily publish that or would ask first, but it would feel weird to me knowing that something I’m required to do for a very personal legal process my boss would definitely see (rather than might see), and there are certainly instances where I don’t want to have to think about how my boss will see or think about something that may be deeply personal or complex. I also wouldn’t want her to know my car had been broken into, or any number of other things.

    However, as long as the individuals involved consent to her posting, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it. I think I agree that the right answer is to ask to opt out and maybe talk to the boss about making sure people know they can opt out of those alerts. Could she maybe set set specific alerts for name plus sport/theatre/hobby/community organization instead of just the name? That might help exclude things like name changes, crime stories, and family obituaries from being items she automatically sees.

  26. pcake*

    I’d want to know whether she checks with the employees before posting about them. If she does get their permission first, it’s weird but benign, but if she doesn’t, I’d have a problem with it.

    Not only because of personal privacy, but because of the possibility of mistaking someone with the same name for a team member. I know a guy who ended up on the no-fly list because someone with the same name did something nefarious, and a very close friend of mine spent 8 days in jail because he had the same name as another guy with the same name but a different age, height and eye color who had a traffic warrant out.

  27. DannyG*

    Several hospital systems I’ve been a part of tracked public & professional service by department, and that was a part of the manager’s evaluation criteria. In pre-outlook days I would give the manager a list of talk’s & presentations I had given each month as well as volunteer hours with the marrow program and the local DV shelter. Helped him check off a bunch of boxes. I can see using the alerts in a similar manner.

  28. SnappinTerrapin*

    It’s nice to be reminded that the technology exists for anyone in the world to find out anything that we ever do in any public forum.

    But it is also a little disturbing to contemplate that fact. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I really don’t like to think about it.

    Even when there is a legitimate business reason to monitor employees’ presence in cyberspace, there is rarely a good reason to keep reminding the employees how little privacy exists in this world.

    Thinking about our lack of privacy is a little creepy; reminding us that the boss is monitoring us away from work adds to that; reminding us of it compounds it.

    And yes, I realize that we wouldn’t have significantly more privacy if we weren’t reminded. But we could pretend that we do.

    There are a lot of polite fictions in a polite society. It doesn’t hurt to pretend we don’t notice something that we suspect someone would be embarrassed for us to know about them.

  29. Candy*

    >> The announcement posts she’s doing about our personal lives are relatively benign, and I’m pretty sure she asks the individual if she can share, before posting. I suspect she’s thinking of this as a way of building rapport, and helping us bring our “whole selves” to work.

    The announcements aren’t a big deal, you don’t actually know if she’s asking everyone beforehand, and you don’t really know why she’s doing it.

    Do you even know she’s set up google alerts for everyone? Maybe she’s getting this info from your PR team who already make a note of these news items for their roundup?

    There seem to be a lot of assumptions here

    >> And if I wanted to ask her to remove the alert for my name, do you have suggestions for scripting I could use?

    “Hi [boss], you may have heard I [am doing thing/have upcoming thing/did a thing] — please don’t add it to your public shout-outs. I’m not really into sharing that.”

    1. Don't Google Yourself*

      OP here – the kind of personal updates she shares are very, very separate from the PR roundups. We are not celebrities, personalities, or media personas of any kind. Our PR team announces when we’ve been interviewed by industry publications – interviews which PR arranges and sometimes oversees! So she’s getting personal news items from Google, unrelated to work and unrelated to our PR efforts. And she told me she has set up google alerts for us all. As for why she does it, she says she wants to keep up with what we are doing (we are a remote team)
      That said, it’s true that so far the things she’s shared haven’t been a big deal! They’ve all been positive things. And as I said, I’m pretty sure she asks before sharing – I would hope she does.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        As for why she does it, she says she wants to keep up with what we are doing

        Oooooh, okay, I see why you see it as a shortcut to/proxy for relationship-building (if she meant the non-work stuff).

        1. Don't Google Yourself*

          Yes! I probably could have mentioned that in my letter but it felt like I was already getting a bit prosy.
          Thanks for your great advice, Alison! And great advice from so many of the commenters too.

      2. JM60*

        As for why she does it, she says she wants to keep up with what we are doing (we are a remote team)

        I’m on your side OP. I really wouldn’t want my manager to be actively tracking how I’m doing outside of work! It sounds like she’s trying to do this as a way of building closer relationships with you and other team members, albeit in a way that I think is misguided.

        Although, I’m also the type of person who would be okay with my manager knowing nothing about me outside of work. So others might not be as bothered by this as me.

      3. Sean*

        If your manager wants to keep up with you, surely she should interact with *you* as a human being and not with Google’s fragmented online avatar of you.

  30. Boss Scaggs*

    If the boss is getting permission from the employees as the OP says, this doesn’t sound like much of an issue. Odd yes, but I don’t see the harm.

    There’s no indication that boss is sharing anything overly personal, tragic, etc.

    1. BubbleTea*

      She gets permission before sharing maybe, but she doesn’t get permission before monitoring. That’s the part I find odd, and would rather she didn’t do.

  31. Not famous at all*

    It sounds like OP and I have really similar jobs, and I’d also be sqiucked out by this. In my case, when you read/watch the news and they quote some purported expert – i.e., “Sally Sanderson, head of the bleepblorb practice at McConsulting, said that ‘blah blah blah, statistic, blah blah” – that’s me, blah blahing in an interview with a reporter. It’s really a tiny part of a job that is not public facing the other 95% of the time, so it’s kind of hard to wrap my head around having a public persona. My personal socials are as locked down as socials can be, I don’t share anything that I’d be upset to find on the cover of a newspaper, and I do have Google alerts set up for my own name, but I don’t live my life like I’m a public figure. To me, OP’s situation is no different than your boss saying “hey so I Googled you this weekend and saw that you came in 1,208 place in a 5k, nice job, can I tell everyone you work with?”

    Those interviews are set up by PR, and PR tracks and shares our media hits internally. Now, I’d be surprised if PR doesn’t have alerts set up for my name – if I’m repping the company in public, they should know if I’m in the news for something that would impact my or my company’s reputation. I would hope that if my name popped up for a reason that is not work related and has no impact on the company it would just be ignored. My boss would have no reason to have those kind of alerts set up, since PR has that handled and my boss generally knows all about my media hits before they happen.

  32. GoogleAlertsAreNormal*

    it’s not the Google Alert that’s weird – you should expect things like that and assume anything public is seen by your employer – but the publicizing results.

    1. BubbleTea*

      I feel the opposite. It feels analogous to someone choosing to follow me around in a public place, not in a threatening way but simply because they’re interested in knowing what I’m up to, or they like my taste in clothes so want to see what shops I go into. It’s not precisely stalking because it doesn’t have malicious intent, but it feels odd and isn’t the same as just happening to bump into someone in town.

      There are times when I’d expect to be googled, like when I apply for a job, just as there are times I’d expect to be followed in town, like when I’ve arranged to meet someone and they’ve spotted me on my way there. It does feel different to know you’re being followed all the time.

  33. Skippy*

    When I was a small child, I was acting up in a restaurant and pushed a plate on the floor. A man at the next table looked at me pointedly and I yelled, “Don’t see me, man!” Clearly I am not in the majority on this, but saying “please don’t do a Google Alert on me” feels a little like “Don’t see me, man!”

    1. Allonge*

      Awww, that is a very cute image of little Skippy. I do agree though – I understand why people are uncomfortable with the power of Google alerts and social media but it’s reality anyway.

  34. Ozzie*

    I have an extraordinarily uncommon name, and as a result, tend to be quite tight-lipped for anything that may pop up online. I don’t particularly use social media, and have locked down the little that I do use. I check occasionally to see what pops up when I Google my name.

    I would be pretty upset if I learned my boss did this, as I keep to myself, in both my work and personal lives. OP’s boss could always just have conversations with their employees and allow them to share what they’re comfortable sharing with their colleagues. Said boss asking to share them more widely feels like a bit of a pat on the back for doing the bare minimum to make a vaguely creepy thing a modicum less creepy.

    We all have the option to not search for people on the internet.

    1. Splendid Colors*

      And even if we have a reason to search, we have the option not to share the results with our team.

      If the team members are known subject matter experts, it’s possible for the press to approach them and get unauthorized interviews. This happened in my office back at Government Contractor in the early 1990s.

      Local Reporter calls, claims Grandboss asked him to talk to Boss about [project relevant to the current Middle East war]. Boss answers some questions, Reporter publishes his answers with embellishment. Grandboss calls in a fury the next morning about giving an unauthorized interview and speculating about [project]. (Basically sharing our engineers’ water-cooler talk about the situation.)

      Turns out Reporter was using a little social engineering and Boss should’ve checked with Grandboss before agreeing to an interview. Reporter had never talked to Grandboss and made that up to sound like Boss was supposed to answer his questions.

      I forget what they did for spin control. (This was almost 35 years ago.)

      Grandboss had an executive assistant or someone checking the papers for anything relevant–the pre-internet equivalent of a Google Alert.

      So there’s a legitimate work-related interest in using Google Alerts to catch people spouting off in unauthorized ways about work-related stuff. But that’s way different than finding people’s improv or baking prizes and sharing them with the group. And that’s different than having the remote equivalent of a coffee with someone where you end up talking about hobbies. OP’s boss isn’t “connecting with” them, they’re just being nosy.

    2. The only [my name] on the internet*

      I’m 100% with you on this one. I also have a SUPER unique name, and try to keep as much as I can locked down on the internet. I also have a mother who is uniquely bad at boundaries, and who (I’m pretty sure) does, in fact, have a Google Alert for my name. If not that, then she regularly searches me. To the point that about 30 minutes after our new work website went live with my (unique) last name misspelled, she was texting me about it.

      So bc of all that, basically everything about this letter raised my hackles. If I wanted people at work to know about something cool I was doing outside work (baking championship, whatever) I’d TELL them. It wouldn’t matter to me if the boss cleared posting about it with me…I’d still feel it was a major breach of my privacy for her to have a Google Alert set up.

  35. madhatter360*

    I completely understand why OP feels uncomfortable with this, and would probably not love it if I found out my boss was doing this. But…given the examples of what’s being shared there’s something kind of sweet about this too.

  36. JC*

    The Google news alert does not show every time your name is on the internet, just in a recognized news source. If your team’s names are regularly in the news for work it absolutely makes sense she has the alerts set up for everyone.

    Another way to think of it on the personal front thag might be less weird feeling – It would be similar to her seeing you won the local chili cook off in the local paper, which really wouldn’t be overly personal since it…made it in the paper.

  37. LawBee*

    The thing that would annoy me the most about this is the inevitable string of reply-all emails. I have so many rules in my work Outlook because our HR sees themselves as cheerleaders and love to wave the spirit flag, and it is so annoying.

    I get enough email that I have to deal with. I could not care less that it’s Steven in Schenectady’s 50th birthday, or that 37 people want him to have a happy one.

  38. TX_trucker*

    If you are in a public facing media position, I don’t think it’s weird. We also have similar alerts for a few people in my organization. I don’t think you should ask them to stop the Google alerts. But I do think it’s appropriate to ask them to stop mentioning anything personal. Suggested script: I know I’m sometimes a spokesperson for our organization and will show up in Google searches. But I prefer to keep my personal and private life separate. So if you find any non-work info about me on the Internet, I prefer that you don’t share with the team, or even mention to me.

  39. LL*

    If she’s only sharing positive things and with permission I really don’t think this is at all unethical.

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