THREE RULES FOR DELETING YOURSELF FROM THE INTERNET
1. FIND THE ORIGINAL SOURCE
Many people assume because an unflattering photo is showing up in a Google search, you can just petition Google to take it down. However, Google is a search engine, which means that it shows images and information from other websites.
Essentially, Google is showing you a list of the data that exists on the internet, it doesn’t have much control over the data itself. To permanently delete whatever unflattering piece of data showing up in a Google search, you need to go to the original source.
This means if you find an unflattering photo or an article defaming you, then you need to have it deleted from the host website, which may be a blog or a news site. This requires talking to the webmaster or site owner. Reaching out to Google for help will not get it done. Once the original webmaster takes it down, Google and other search engines will gradually filter that information out of their search results.
According to their removal policies and guidelines, Google can remove images if they contain sensitive personal information that may lead to identity theft such as pictures of your signature, credit card numbers, or nude images posted by someone else. If you want Google to remove an image or piece of information from the search results, then you will need to show just cause. Google even goes on to say that if the data you want them to remove does not fall within their removal policies, then you should contact the hosting website’s webmaster.
2. YOU NEED TO ASK NICELY
Most of the information or images many of us find unflattering online are on social networks because we voluntarily posted them. If you made a comment or posted an article on someone else’s website, then there is a good chance that you lost the rights to that content as soon as you hit send.
A simple ‘I look fat in those jeans’ won’t cut it. Remember, these people are not obligated to take down that content. But if you ask nicely (sometimes you may have to pay money), they might consider it.
3. KEEP TRYING!
There are very few ventures that will test your patience in the face of so many rejections and non-responses as trying to take down an unflattering image or video online will. You have to keep speaking up and keep emailing webmasters if you want to see progress.
With that being said, here are the necessary steps to take if you want to see yourself, things, and photos permanently deleted from the internet. If you've ever searched for someone on the web, what you usually end up finding is data gleaned from publicly accessible information. Websites that have this data, like phone numbers, addresses, land records, marriage records, death records, criminal history, etc., have collected and consolidated it from dozens of different places and put it in one convenient hub.
Websites that do this aren't working illegally. This is all public information, so they function as search engines for public data. We all scatter small bits of our personal information all over the place in real life and online, but since it's spread out and requires effort to access, this affords us a certain level of privacy.
Aggregating all this information into one place and making it so easily accessible can bring up serious privacy concerns and make people uncomfortable. A simple people search website is enough to make it easy for basically anyone to research your life.
If defamatory material is posted about you on the Internet and you know – or strongly suspect – who wrote it, you have several options. First, you can contact the person and demand that they voluntarily remove the false statement(s). Often you will get no response. Depending on the perpetrator, this could also lead to additional statements – or your correspondence itself – being published.
I constantly remind my clients to be cautious in what they write in their emails or post on their social media accounts. Anything that you put out into the Internet world can, and often will, be used against you in a way you had never intended. Often a well-written letter from your lawyer is all it takes to have the content removed.
Another option – irrespective of whether the perpetrator is anonymous – is to contact the ISP, website or webhost directly to request that the statements be removed. Of course, this usually is the first step if you cannot identify the person who posted the defamatory statement(s). Always review the relevant website’s Terms to ensure that you understand its required procedure (if it has one), are sending your correspondence to the appropriate contact person, and, if relevant, are citing to a specific violation of that site’s Terms. Depending on the website, webhost or ISP and depending on the content of the statement itself, this may result in the removal of the material or redaction of the worst of it. Otherwise, there may be an automatic refusal to take down or disable access to anything without a court order.
In many cases, your only option may be to commence litigation. To the extent that the website, webhost or ISP requires a court order before revealing an anonymous user’s identity or removing anything from the website, your task may become more challenging. Your likelihood of success in obtaining the subpoena, identifying the perpetrator and having the content removed will depend on several factors, including the jurisdiction that you’re filing the lawsuit in (and the burden that its laws place on you as the plaintiff), the context of the statement(s) at issue and your status (as a public or a private figure). Depending on the court that you are in, a determination may be made by the judge as to whether you have a valid case – before the court will even consider issuing a subpoena.
One important element to consider before commencing a lawsuit is your ability to prove your damages. In any complex litigation, this may be a daunting task. Establishing reputational damage in a defamation case will often require a good amount of evidence. Depending on the laws of your jurisdiction, if you can establish defamation per se, which includes injurious statements about another’s trade, business, or profession, damages are typically presumed.