Two Parts:Undoing the DamageProtecting Yourself
As you surf the bitstream, you leave a digital trail of words and photos that are picked up and indexed by Google’s robots, then offered for anybody to see. By the time your name hits Google, there is virtually nothing you can do about it—even if you’re a U.S Presidential candidate. Google has claimed that they do not remove content from search results unless that content is illegal or violates their guidelines. However, there are things you can to un-Google yourself, and steps you can take to reduce your exposure in the future.
Things You’ll Need
A computer with access to the internet.
Accounts on websites.
Part 1 of 2: Undoing the Damage
Know what’s out there about you. Whether you call it self-search, vanity search, or egogoogling, it’s a good idea to check in with yourself from time to time. This is especially true when you’re thinking about taking on a new career (or new significant other, who will no doubt be Googling you after they’re done ogling you).
- Search for your full name—with and without middle name—and also search for your family name, any nicknames and aliases you might have, and any other variation of your name that you can think of.
- For example, if you regularly comment on a political blog under the name “AlwaysRight,” for example, Google that. Then Google “AlwaysRight” “Your Realname”, quotation marks and all. This will force the search engine to return a very specific result that contains both sets of words, to see if the two names can be linked.
Contact the offending website. There are occasions where a particular website, blog, or even friend on Facebook has posted an unflattering image or embarrassing quote from you, and Google has dutifully immortalized that on their pages. While Google will do nothing, the person who posted the information can do something.
- If they are a friend, just contact them informally and ask them to please remove the offending content. They may not even realize it’s embarrassing to you: maybeeverybody at that party got tagged doing you-know-what!
- If they are not a friend, send them an email, written as you would write any business correspondence. Be polite, proper, professional, and direct. You can say something like:
- “Dear [Person]; I’m pleased you follow me on Twitter, but would you kindly remove that post I made the other night about the Governor? I regret that I was not at my best that evening, and the allegations I made about his family tree do not reflect my true feelings. Thank you for your consideration. Regards, Ms. Oopsie.”
- This will not remove the Google result, but anybody interested on your thoughts about the Governor will only see a “404-Not Found” page, if the webmaster honors your request.
- Do not threaten legal action unless the content is truly libelous, not just offensive. If you feel this is the case, contact your attorney before threatening legal remedies. If it comes to that, your attorney’s letter will carry much more weight than yours. They might also post your threats online.
- If the person you are making the request to is acting in a malicious manner, do not send them an email: that can be selectively copied and pasted to further embarrass you. Send them written correspondence via the postal service instead.
Make changes to existing content. For content that you can control, such as Facebook pages or Twitter tweets, make changes to the page linked to in the Google results.
- Log into the account, follow the link from the search result itself, then either delete the post or picture, or simply modify them with something less problematic.
Request removal of information from Google. Google rarely will remove information unless it is violating their policies. Examples of what Google will remove would be: someone posting your Government ID number, Tax identification number, adult spam, and so on.
- If the information is showing on Google search, you can fill out the form that Google provides here: https://support.google.com/websearch/answer/2744324
- Remember if the offensive information is on a website that is not Google, any action Google takes will only remove the information from Google. It may still be available on a source website.
Delete obsolete accounts. While old accounts may not contain embarrassing information, it’s always a good idea to remove information that’s no longer current.
- If you had a MySpace page back at the turn of the century, and you haven’t visited it for 10 years, it’s time to shut it down. Chances are, you have changed significantly in those 10 years, in both style and substance. If somebody is searching for you, no need for them to see that side of you!
- Consider deleting any online account that contains information that could be embarrassing. Google results are based on relevance, and if the source (your old account) is gone, there’s very little relevance there. Even if you have a completely unique name, the result will be pushed far down on the list. Only the most dedicated snoop will even read past the top of the page.
- Change any personal information on sites such as Facebook, or set the privacy so that personal information is not visible to anybody but you.
- Change your name. While the links may still be active on Google, changing your name on the account page may at least leave the searcher puzzled over where they landed.
Part 2 of 2: Protecting Yourself
Be proactive. Google cannot crawl what they cannot see, and you cannot be identified by what you do not choose to share. Be very selective on who, when, and where you share any personal information.
- This is especially true in online forums or games, where you do not really know the other people involved. Always use an impersonal user name, and never share your real information or pictures with anybody you wouldn’t want knocking on your door.
- For professional or commercial accounts such as cable or Netflix, keep your user name abbreviated. Instead of calling yourself “joe.realname,” use “jrealname,” or if your real last name is very unique, try reversing things: “josephr.”
- For email accounts, follow the same general guidelines, but also create a couple spam guard accounts that you can use for your “public” email address. For example, instead of using “email@example.com” as your Facebook email address, create an email account just for Facebook: “firstname.lastname@example.org. That way, if you are compromised, you can simply delete the compromised account, and your “real” email account remains secure.
- Use these techniques whenever you are asked to put your name out in a public location that Google bots can find and index. You can’t stop them from finding you, but you can prevent them from pointing to the real you.
Tag your content. If you want to continue publishing information under your name but don’t want it appearing in any search results, use an HTML metatag: <meta name=”robots” content=”noindex,nofollow” />
- This only applies if you have your own website and access to the underlying code, as it stops most search engines from indexing (cataloging) your page or following the links on it.
- The <meta> tag must go in the <head> section of a document. If you like, you can leave out the “nofollow” bit, which allows the search engines to follow the links, but not index the page. To prevent only Google from indexing the site, change the term “robots” to “googlebot”.
Bury the content you don’t want to be found. Use the same feature that’s caused the problem to actually solve the problem! Post to multiple sites under the name that is generating the unwanted content, your offending content will be moved down the page, or even onto a second or third page.
- Most Internet users don’t continue browsing past the first 10 search results, so join a mailing list that’s frequently indexed in Google or sign up for some websites that will eventually index your name.
- Learn to view the search results with your name through the eyes of a potential employer. It’s been observed that the majority of executive recruiters routinely look into candidates by searching the Internet (according to a survey by ExecuNet.) .
- There are also services, some free and some paid, which will help clear your name in search results for you (e.g. Ziki, LinkedIn).
- Some employers will include employee names and pictures on their websites. Ask your employer to use only part of your name or a nickname on the website. If you are to leave, ask them to promptly update the website to omit your information.
- If you try to subscribe to a social or network site and cannot use an alias or screen name there is a good chance your information may appear in Google searches. LinkdIn is one site that won’t allow people to use aliases and requires your full name. Also beware of alumni pages as those seem benign but usually have your personal information (spouse, kids, job and email). Invitation sites may also allow your email or name to show up on searches allowing people to see the types of parties you are invited to.
- Make a donations to non-profits so you’ll show up in a list of donors. Not only does it helpyou look good—positive search results are like gold—it helps the non-profit be successful.
- Use Google’s removal request tool to ask Google to remove search results or cached content.
- If someone else has the same name as you do and you worry about it tarnishing yourreputation, or you weren’t successful in removing embarrassing links to your name, you may want to consider using a middle initial or including your full middle name, both when you’re active online and on your resume.
- Use a pen name and change it often. Never use it in a way that might link it to your real name.
- Conversely, if you are trying to bury skeletons in your closet you may want to create a professional blog using your professional name and contact information. Post pictures of successful events and staff gatherings, post newsletter information about different charity experiences, post photography, blog about your industry and how great it is. Keep it all very tasteful and very oriented towards what a professional overachiever would have. Just don’t make it seem like an online resume.
- Start posting on industry related websites with your professional name and contact details. Make sure everything is well worded and articulate and avoid political or offensive posts. Attend chamber or professional organizations meetings that have websites and take advantage of photo ops with important people.
- Once something is online, it’s often stored in so many places that it’s effectively immortal. The best way to get around this is to avoid it. Make sure that whatever you place online is something that can stick around for years, otherwise consider not putting it online at all.
- Modern search engines are wary of the information added to the meta tags by the web page author, and are seen as an attempt to influence what is returned in search results.
- Be careful. Asking your employer to remove or obfuscate your name on their web site could backfire when future potential employers at Company Y search for you online—and find no record of you at Company X, giving the impression that you never worked for the company listed on your resume.