It has been said that the Internet never forgets, and that is generally true.
As The New York Times pointed out, it used to be that embarrassing incidents would simply die away, or one could simply move elsewhere and reinvent yourself. But “the Web has changed that.”
Consider a man who had a DWI conviction from years earlier. It was still the first mention in a Google search of his name, and, he believes, largely responsible for his being unemployed for the last year.
Or the unfortunate woman who was the recipient of Anthony Weiner’s sexting. Her name will be forever associated with that incident.
Last week I wrote about the remarkable amount of personal information that can be obtained about us from the various online services.
What do you do if some of the information is wrong, personally intrusive or seriously damaging your reputation?
The first thing to do is to assess what is out there about you, with Google and Bing searches. Look for your name, but also your address, phone number, email address and other personally identifying information. Don’t just look at the first page of the results — the dicey information may be on page 6 or 10.
Next, look into the people information databases, such as Spokeo, 123People, and Intellius.
Or, you can pay $99/year to Abine.com, and they will do the research for you, and send you a report each quarter. (I wonder what their privacy policies are? Might be an interesting way to check up on a date or a possible employee ….)
It often possible to remove or at least bury the information, but it is a time-consuming and sometimes expensive ordeal.
An obvious place to start is the social networking sites. Delete anything that can too closely identify you, such as your full birthdate or home address. Adjust your privacy settings to make information available only to your friends. And delete any social networking accounts that you no longer use.
Most of the data brokers will let you opt out of their databases. But there are 140 of them, according to the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, so it is a time-consuming process.
If there is incorrect information out there, you may be able to get it corrected or removed. Contact the source, explain your situation, and hope they will be reasonable.
Another strategy is to bury the negative information by generating more of the positive. Use LinkedIn and maybe a personal blog to push the stuff you don’t want to be seen down to the 3rd or 4th page of the search results.
After that, it is probably going to cost you some money. Abine has a service called DeleteMe, which can sometimes remove information, costing $10 to $50 per entry.
Reputation.com offers a $99/year service to monitor and remove simple information. For serious situations, they offer custom services, but these could easily cost several thousands of dollars.
Finally, if there is defamatory information being spread, you may need to hire a lawyer.