As people become more reliant on the Internet, personal information is becoming more easily accessible. If you've typed your name into a popular search engine, you might have been surprised to find more information out there than you anticipated. Maybe you own a business and were disappointed to find negative reviews online, or you discovered that your full name and address are available for anyone to see. While it's almost impossible to immediately wipe your name from Internet search results, there are a few things you can do to make it harder for inquiring parties to access your information.
Even though you’re currently dealing with how to remove information from Google, there’s no better time than the present to prevent this from happening to you again in the future. Below we’ve outlined even more measures you can take to prevent your personal information from becoming public.
Place of Employment
Tons of databases have popped up over the years that collect and share information like your home address, phone number, age and email address. Unfortunately, there isn’t necessarily 1 database that will wipe that clean once it’s out there.
However, there are some steps that you can take to prevent it from getting out there in the first place. Start with making sure that you’re unlisted in the Whitepages. And be very discerning when connecting this information to online accounts, find out the likelihood of this information being sold and/or published by reading the terms of service.
Consider investing in a PO Box, or even just relying on the mail service at your place of employment and listing that as your address. When purchasing a web domain – don’t use your personal information as the buyer. Instead, create an email account used just for this, and use a mailing address that doesn’t reveal your home address. ICANN laws mean that the information associated with domain registrants is open to the public.
Revenge Porn/intimate videos or photo
Make your Facebook profile private. Facebook is one of the first things that will appear on a search of your name, so setting your profile private can be very effective. Your changes may take a few days to take effect.
Log into your Facebook account and click the ▼ (looks like a upside down triangle) button in the bar at the top.
Select "Settings" and then click the "Privacy" tab on the left.
Find the "Do you want other search engines to link to your timeline?" option. Click "Edit" and then uncheck the box.
Find the "Who can see your future posts?" option. Click "Edit" and make sure it's set to anything other than "Public".
When it comes to photos and videos of you that are embarrassing, unflattering or even downright humiliating – prevention is key. While prevention isn’t always possible, there are some steps you can take to protect yourself. In terms of damaging photos or media – start by really considering the content that you post. It’s easy to post something that’s funny or sweet in one context, but when it loses that context it can be damaging to your reputation.
Make your tweets private. If you use Twitter, you can set your tweets to private. This will prevent others from reading your tweets unless they are authorized by you. This will make it much harder to gain new followers.
Log into your Twitter account and click your profile icon.
Select "Settings" and then click the "Security and privacy" tab on the left.
Check the "Protect my Tweets" box in the "Privacy" section. You'll still need to remove your old tweets if you don't want them appearing.
That’s why it’s important to reconsider your personal mission statement whenever you plan to share anything online. Does this really support your personal mission statement? Does this work with the professional image that you’re trying to build? If not, then don’t publish it. In the case of unflattering or inappropriate content posted by other people, that’s a bit trickier to remove from Google Search. Keep in mind that when you’re in public, between surveillance cameras and the number of people who have smartphones – there’s a good chance that there’s evidence of any outrageous behavior. And if the idea of revenge porn turns your stomach, then don’t agree to be a part of any intimate photo or video content with a partner.
And if you do decide to participate in this, make sure that you keep tabs on where you keep physical copies.
Private email exchanges
Change your name on social networks. There's a good chance that the people you care about on your social networks know who you are, so changing your name will help hide your profiles from search engines. Change your name to a nickname that your friends and family will recognize you as, but others won't search for.
Facebook - You can change your name from the "General" section of the Settings menu. Click "Edit" next to your name. You can only change your name every 60 days.
Google+ - Open your Google+ profile page and click your name. Enter in your new name. This will change your name for all Google products connected with that profile, such as Gmail and YouTube.
Twitter - Log into Twitter and open your profile. Click the "Edit profile" button and then change the name underneath your picture.
Perform searches on yourself. You'll be able to attack your problem much easier if you know where to focus your efforts. Perform web searches on your name using a variety of different search engines. Add modifiers like your location to help narrow down the results. Note the top results for each one.
Using multiple search engines will help you find everything that's out there, as different engines crawl the web in different ways.
Remember, it's not the search engine that is causing your name to appear, it is content on the web.
Whether you’re making jokes that are inappropriate, sharing private information or just talking in a way that isn’t meant for public consumption – private chats and email exchanges can be quite damaging to all parties involved if exposed online. The prevention here requires secure networks, platforms, internet connections, etc. More importantly, though, this requires a moment of reflection. When you find yourself in a conversation online, via text or messenger that seems to be escalating, take a moment to pause. Even with the most secure systems in place, there’s always the chance that someone within the group will share it, screenshot it, or something of the like.
Or a hacker could gain access to this and expose it. While you shouldn’t be afraid to send an email, try to think of everything that you do online as potentially becoming public information.
Credit Card Numbers
Social Security Number
Highly sensitive information like credit card numbers, social security numbers and medical histories appearing online can be truly damaging to your financial well-being, and put you at risk for identity theft. In terms of prevention, only use highly secure modes of sharing this information with trusted parties. Also, feel free to ask the people you share this with how they store it. While you do not want this kind of information available online, the good news, is that it’s easier to get removed than other content because it very clearly endangers your financial well-being.
When it comes to preventing mugshot and criminal records, prevention means actively being an upstanding and law-abiding citizen. While that alone does not guarantee that you’ll avoid a mugshot or criminal record, it is the best way to avoid desperate attempts to remove Google search results.
Make sure to keep evidence that proves you own intellectual property like photos, videos, art, writing, etc. Copyright ownership can be an instrumental tool in cases of revenge porn. And in terms of preventing other people from using copyrighted work owned by you, consider using a watermark or filing a trademark as needed.
Outdated biographical information
Prevent people from finding outdated biographical information by regularly updating this on sites and profiles that you control or have access to. Make sure to regularly maintain those sites so that the rank well for your name in Google.
How to remove personal information from Google
Unfortunately, if you’ve come across this article, you probably fall in the camp of people who would like to remove personal information from Google Search.
You’ve already seen some common examples of items people want to remove from Google Search in Part I. But before getting started with common tactics for removing information from Google Search… let’s talk about what “removal” actually means.
When it comes to takedown requests from search engines like Google, the search engines aren’t technically deleting the content, but de-indexing it.
That means that when someone searches your name on Google (for example), the search results will not include the offending sites. A user can still find the original website or link by typing it directly into the address bar, but it will not appear in search results for your name. Let’s go a bit further to better understand the ins and outs of removal.
De-indexing, deletion and suppression explained
When it comes to fighting a damaging or personal search result online, the end-game is usually to prevent people from seeing that result.
While suppression, de-indexing and deletion may ultimately share this desired outcome, these are all unique solutions.
When it comes to removal requests, search engines often focus on de-indexing the offending pages.
Search engines don’t usually “delete” the site from existence then remove every trace of the unfavorable content. This terminology is helpful to understand when removing Google search results, so you know what exactly is happening.
Instead, the search engines are preventing the content from coming up as a search result. Think of it like removing a house from all maps.
The house still exists, but you can’t see it on a map.
Similarly, the process of de-indexing a Google search result means that the actual webpage still exists, but you won’t find it when you search for it on that search engine.
While de-indexing is a great way to reduce the chances that people will see this content, the reality is that even when a site is de-indexed, the source webpage is still accessible, and still a potential threat.
Deletion from Page
In terms of truly deleting the source of the problematic content, it’s possible, but depends largely on the webmaster or owner of the site.
If this webmaster is responsive, cooperative, or legally compelled, they have the ability to delete the page or site in question.
Once the site or page is deleted, search engines will eventually realize that this page no longer exists and exclude the address from search results.
While both are great in the long-term, there are of course some disadvantages.
Neither site nor search engine removal guarantees the complete elimination of the personal content. Even after content is gone from the site or search engines, it’s still possible for people to access it on a cached version of the site. The information could even pop up on another site if the information was saved or if a screenshot was taken at some point.
Even if this content is removed from the original site, there’s always the chance that it could make a grand re-entry somewhere else online. As you can see, removing Google search results isn’t as straightforward as it seems.
What is “suppression”, you may ask. Suppression refers to the process of properties that you control surrounding and overwhelming negative search results for your name. The goal is for the properties that you control to ultimately overtake the private results in search rankings so that searchers are less likely to see the unwanted results. We’ll go more into brand-building and suppression in Part III.
Now that you have a better understanding of what removal means, consider the different approaches that you can take to get rid of this unwanted content online!
We’ve included the full list of options for Google Search removal below:
For copyrighted Works – The Digital Millennium Copyright Act
In the US, search engines like Google follow the rules from the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.
Former President Bill Clinton signed this into law in 1998 to discourage the, “production and dissemination of technology, devices, or services intended to circumvent measures that control access to copyrighted works”.
The Digital Millennium Copyright Act also, “criminalizes the act of circumventing an access control, whether or not there is actual infringement of copyright itself.”
This law increases the penalties for copyright infringement online for users, but limits the liability of internet service providers and similar intermediaries. This is one of the most important things to note about the DMCA, as a US citizen dealing with a personal Google search result.
Even so, search engines are still responsible for following all the rules outlined in this act.
When it comes to copyright ownership, remember that the DMCA gives the established owner the exclusive right to use the work. But there are, of course, exceptions.
For sensitive personal information
In addition to adhering to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, search engines like Google also de-index sensitive information for US-based users.
“Sensitive information” usually refers to credit card & social security numbers.
If a site publishes information that could easily lead to identity theft or financial harm, you have grounds for removal.
But, information like your mailing address does not fall under this category.
Remember, if you could find the offending content on a government website, you probably can’t remove it with a search engine takedown request.
Search engines like Google also honor requests to remove revenge porn and child sexual abuse imagery.
To learn more about what Google considers to be “sensitive information”, visit Google’s help forum.
The right to be forgotten
The “Right to be Forgotten” expands the types of search result removal requests that Google and other search engines will honor.
However, this ruling only applies to people living in the EU and Argentina.
If you live in a territory that complies with the Right to be Forgotten, your chances of a successful removal request increase significantly.
But, there are still certain rules that govern whether or not your case fits the criteria for removal.