*Find out what Google knows about you, and delete it

By Komando Staff

The Internet is the best tool in human history for finding information. Of course, depending on the information in question, you might not want it found. Whether it’s an embarrassing picture of you, an angry status update or stupid video you posted, you might want it gone.

Unfortunately, it’s often hard to remove information from the Internet. Even if the original is taken down, copies might still be scattered around, and those copies are just a Google search away. That’s not Google’s fault by the way; it’s just pointing to information that it finds. However, because Google is the go-to place to find things, many people think it controls what appears on the Internet.

The European Union seems to agree. That’s why it ruled that people have the “right to be forgotten.” In other words, if a European asks Google to stop displaying certain links in a search result, Google has to do it.

While some U.S. companies are starting to adopt European privacy laws, it’s unlikely the “right to be forgotten” will be available to U.S. citizens anytime soon. Yet, it is still possible to remove your past from Google’s search results. You just have to go about it a different way.

Removing listings one-by-one

Naturally, the place you want to start is Google. Do a search of your name to see what pops up, and then make a list of sites that have content you want removed. You can do an even more thorough background check to find content that doesn’t show up, but for now we’re going to focus on the basics.

You need to go to each of the sites where you found information, then ask them to remove it. If it sounds like a hassle, it is. That’s why public figures pay companies huge sums of money to do this for them. Be sure you have a cup of coffee and a stress ball handy.

Contacting website administrators

On some sites, such as forums, a photo-sharing site or social media, if you posted the item yourself, you can usually delete it yourself. If someone else posted it, you’ll want to contact the person who posted it and ask to have it taken down.

If you can’t contact the person, or they refuse, you’ll need to talk to the site owner about taking it down. Find an email address or phone number for the site administrator or webmaster. Most websites have a Contact Us link at the bottom of their homepages.

If you can’t find contact information, a “Who Is” Google search will tell you who registered the site. Type “whois http://www.name-of-site.com” in quotes.

Remember, website operators are under no obligation to remove content unless they get a court order. But most of them will give you a fair hearing if you’re polite and explain that the content is untrue, hurts your reputation or is making it hard for you to get a job.

Alternative options

If it’s a site’s policy to not remove content, ask whether they can remove your name from the post or whether they can block the content from appearing in search engines. In extreme cases you might need to get a lawyer involved, but save the legal threats as a last resort.

Of course, even if the content isn’t removed, Google might still take it out of search results. It just has to meet certain criteria.

When to contact Google

Google will remove certain types of information from its search results. For example, Google will remove Social Security numbers, bank account numbers, credit card numbers, images of your signature and racy or sexual images that were uploaded without your permission.

To submit a claim of this type, go to Google’s URL Removal Tool. Just submit the address of the bad content and Google will review the situation. If the case meets Google’s guidelines, Google will manually remove the page from its search database.

You might be tempted to just go this route instead of hassling with other websites. However, as Google notes, other search engines could still find the negative stuff about you, or anyone who actually visits the site can see it.

Remember other sites and search engines

Google isn’t the only information collector around. There are dozens of “people search” sites out there – like these. They collect information about you that’s scattered all over the place, and compiles it on one site.

Anyone who wants to can see where you’ve lived, where you currently live, the names of your relatives, court records, social media accounts and plenty more.

Again, you have to contact each people search site and ask them to take down your information. A company called Abine has good step-by-step instructions for removing your information from 25 major data vendors.

You should also take care of any old account information floating around online. You might have signed up for a social media site in the past and never used it. Account Killer tells you how to close your account on dozens of popular sites.

For accounts you’re actively using, make sure you’ve set up your privacy settings to keep private information from leaking out. Click here for a step-by-step guide to Facebook’s privacy settings.

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