For centuries, humankind has searched for a way to live forever. To my knowledge, only vampires have discovered the secret to eternal life–until now. As more of our lives are lived online, we’ve created a type of digital immortality on the Internet.
Have your searched for yourself on Google lately? Are you surprised by what turns up?
If you’re like most people, there’s a trove of personal information about you–educational background, employment history, relationships with friends and family, photos, videos and a whole lot more. As I wrote recently, college admissions officers and employers search the Web to find out about you. There can be a price to pay for unflattering material about you.
What if you’re unhappy with what you uncover? Can it be erased? The answer is yes, but it’s not easy.
If you have a website, you can always edit or delete biographical information. The problem is that search engines like Google cache the data. Even if you remove it, it can still be found and accessed from Google’s servers.
To complicate the problem, someone may have copied the material and posted it on another site or emailed it to a third party. The bottom line is that once the genie is out of the bottle, you may be out of luck.
Still, if you’re concerned about your reputation or privacy, it’s worth a try.
If the offending material is on your Facebook page, it’s easy enough to remove it yourself. But if it’s on someone else’s page, you will have to contact the person or organization and ask them politely to modify or remove the content.
You may find that you appear in a photo taken without your knowledge. Maybe you were an innocent bystander at a beer blast. An alternative to removing the image is to have your name removed from the caption or tag. At least it will make it harder to find you!
If the offending content is on a website or blog, try contacting the site owner or administrator. Many sites sport a “Contact Us” page with an email link. If you can’t find one, use the Whois database to look up the contact information for the site admin. Email your request along with a credible explanation of why the content should be removed.
Even if you manage to get the content successfully deleted, there’s that pesky cache to contend with. Try Google’s removal request tool. It’s an online form you can submit to Google requesting the removal of content that violates Google’s criteria.
Going forward, monitor what’s being said about you online by setting up Google Alerts. When your name or any any other topic you request are indexed by Google, you’ll receive an email, along with a link to the content.
Finally, don’t become your own worst enemy. Think before you post online or face the consequences, as this student from UCLA found out the hard way.