A Quick Guide to Erasing Yourself from the 'Net
Ever wanted to remove something from the internet? It could be an embarrassing photo, or a newspaper article that wrongly names you in relation to a crime, or an old social media account from middle school. It’s important to think before putting anything on the internet, because it could be on there forever.
Before you can begin removing anything from the internet, there are a few common rules that you have to understand:
- You must remove information from its original source before Google will notice
Many people don’t realize that Google is not actually a source for hosting information, but rather displaying the paths to the most relevant information based on a search term. Information won’t be removed from Google’s search results until it’s removed from the actual source.
B) In most cases, websites don't have any duty to remove anything
C) Persistence pays. The squeaky wheel gets the grease, as they say
If you hit a wall, go around it. Even if you continuously get denied when attempting to remove information online, keep trying.
1. Find Someone to Talk to
- Get in touch with the webmaster - whoever’s in charge for that website. Many website will provide easy online contact forms, but it’s hard to know if anyone actually reads that email inbox, or if you’ll even get a response
- Try to find a phone number for the person in control of that website: editor, webmaster, writer, author, etc.
- If unable to find a phone number on the website, do a Whois search for the website you want to remove from. You'll get a result for the person who registered the website, which usually includes a phone number
2. Email is almost as good as calling
- If no phone number, look for a personal email of an individual in charge of the website
- When reaching out via email, it’s better to initiate the communication politely, rather than go in screaming with demands
- If you can't find a personal email address, most sites use a standard format for employee email, and you can guess at an email with a bit of work. This website, Email Format, can help you guess by providing formats for many popular websites
3. Make a good case for removal
- Politely state who you are and your purpose for contacting them (e.g., "I'd like to talk to you about removing an item from your website").
- Verify that they are the correct person to speak to about takedown requests
- Provide brief background info on what you want removed
- Most importantly: explain why it’s important to have the information removed. Try not to be too emotional, but allow the other individual to relate to you, ask them to put themselves in your shoes.
- Restate that you’d like the information removed
- When speaking with an individual, make note of their name and keep an organized record of your communications in case you need them in the future
4. Petition Google to Remove Outdated Content
- If you see a search result in Google to an outdated article, you can petition Google to remove the outdated content using their URL Removal Tool.
- Successfully doing so will remove source URLs from relevant Google search results
5. Bury the bad with the good
- Create public profiles about yourself to highlight positive content and bury the negative content
- Example websites to create public profiles:
- Example websites to create public profiles:
- Once you’ve created new profiles, link these profiles to each other
6. Report legal violations
- If someone is breaching any law with content they’ve posted online (e.g. copyright infringement), you can report it to Google using this link
7. Get a lawyer if necessary
- If the content you want removed is something negative that someone said about you or your business, you usually cannot remove this type of item without legal documentation supporting your claims
- Defamation requires that: (1) there's a false statement of fact, not opinion; (2) that's publicly published to at least one other person; (3) if the defamatory matter is of public concern, there's fault amounting at least to negligence on the part of the publisher; and (4) there must be damage to the talked-about person's reputation.
- If the claims (1) are presented as facts and not opinions, (2) are actually false (and you can prove it), and (3) have caused actual, provable damage to your reputation, you may want to speak with a First Amendment attorney, especially one who specializes in Internet defamation.
About the Author: Will Simonds is the Head of Customer Success and Marketing at Abine, Inc., The Online Privacy Company. Since 2015, Will has lead a team of privacy-minded individuals to help Abine's customers reach their ultimate goal: feeling safe and private online. As a privacy advocate himself, Will has managed The Online Privacy Blog as its chief contributor and editor."