If you have been an internet user for more than five minutes, you've no doubt seen an advert or two that promises to "find out who's searching for you". It sounds like a scam, but is it actually possible?
Can someone find out if you've been looking at their Facebook or LinkedIn profile? Can you tell if someone's unfriended you? And can you see what searches have been performed with your name?
First the warning: there are scams aplenty promising to show you who is "stalking" your Facebook page. I put in a call to Facebook and spoke with their technical folks - the truth is no-one can see who's been on your Facebook page. There are no features buried in the Facebook settings with that data. There are no apps that can unearth that info. Facebook says it is one of the most common scam come-ons on the site. Don't fall for it; you cannot see who's looking at your profile (and no one can see if you've been looking at theirs).
But… there are apps and tools to see who's unfriended you. Facebook tries to squelch these apps, but I found a couple: one that you download to your computer called UnFriend Finder and one for Android called Friends Checker. Sign in, and they store a list of your friends. Then every time you check back, it tells you who's no longer on the list. UnFriend Finder also reminds you of friend requests you've made that haven't been answered. For Twitter, Qwitter does the same thing, telling you who's unfollowed you each week.
LinkedIn is a popular social networking site that lets you connect with professional associates and keeps your work activities up to date, and it does let you see who's viewed your profile. This handy feature is over on the right column of the site - it looks like an ad, but click it to see a handful of most recent people who've looked at your profile. To access a comprehensive list of people checking up on you, you need to pay £8.55 (inc VAT) a month to upgrade to a Personal Plus membership.
While this may seem voyeuristic, it actually makes sense to me: if you're looking for a job, you'd want to know which hiring managers are checking up on you; or if you network for business, this feature tells you which sales leads are vetting you. Another professional site for academics and researchers called Academia.edu has the same useful feature.
Finally: search data about you. You'd love to know who's searching for your name, but the real truth is that search companies will not reveal any data about searches, not unless they are compelled by a warrant. So any come-on promising to tell you who's searching for you is a scam. But you can find out what search terms people combine with your name. Google AdWords offers a keyword search. It will tell you what corollary terms are associated with the search for your name. For example my friend Leo Laporte is a tech podcaster. The words associated with searches for his name are ‘Leo Laporte Twitter name’ and ‘Leo Laporte Blog.’ This corollary info is helpful and might influence his decision to more prominently market his Twitter handle or blog address.
Bottom line: there is very little data available for you as a consumer to track who's looking you up or looking you over on social networking sites.