Four Escapes from Prison
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How to erase your information from the Internet

Why it’s impossible to commit “Internet suicide”

Here are some recommendations and myths about online reputation management:

It’s impossible to remove yourself from the Internet if you’re an average user. Disappearing from the online world is nearly impossible even for hackers. Committing full-fledged “Internet suicide” can’t be done without illegally hacking into private databases to delete one’s personal information. If you’ve been online, it’s most likely you’ll remain online.

Attempting to remove oneself from the web is a drastic measure. If your concern is the information that shows up when you Google your name, don’t attempt “Internet suicide,” instead practice online reputation management. Online reputation management is like “Internet suicide” without Internet banishment. Rather than disappearing in order to conceal, online reputation management means curating the content associated to your online persona in order to assert the way you’re perceived online.

Keep this in mind as you read on: if you’ve shared personal information online, even if you’ve made substantial efforts to conceal it, all that’s needed to locate the information is the right tool. The saying “seek and ye shall find” applies to the online environment more so than it does to the physical world. But online reputation management helps create layers of separation between yourself and the possibility of identity theft or unwanted attention.

  1. Delete your social media profiles:

Although you can’t be certain your profile will actually be erased…

It’s nearly impossible to know for certain if social media sites use your personal information after you’ve deleted your profile. For example, Ashley Madison, a site that connects married people looking for an affair, was hacked on July 19th, 2015. Hackers allegedly took 37 million profiles from users who had paid the site a $20 dollar fee to have their accounts deleted. It seems like Ashley Madison took the $20 dollar fee but did not delete user information. Users had no idea that Ashley Madison kept their full names, billing addresses and credit card information until hackers threatened to release the information if Ashley Madison didn’t shut down permanently. As Internet users we agree to follow the rules and can only hope that Internet providers we come in contact with do the same. You can’t know for certain that all your information was removed from a website’s database after you delete your profile. In security, one of the philosophies we abide by is “better safe than sorry.”

We understand you’d rather live as an online hermit than get another invite to play Candy Crush Saga, but face the facts, that embarrassing picture of you is safely stored in Facebook’s servers and (most likely) in a back-up server, and (probably) in a back-up of the back-up. However you do have control over which members of the public get to see those embarrassing photos. Our advice however is that rather than deleting your social media accounts, you become better at managing the information you share across all social media. If you want to practice reputation management, use social media site’s privacy tool to set everything in your profile to private including messages, likes, and pictures. Once your information is secure, make a few harmless photos on your profile available to friends only and delete the rest. For bonus points, unfriend/unfollow everyone with the exception of people you actually keep in contact with. Apply the same scrutiny when it comes to the pages you follow.

If reputation management sounds like a bunch of baloney and you’d rather close down your profile, go about it in a systematic way. First, erase all your images, and then proceed to make up random information in place of your name, address, and any debit or credit cards on file. Unfriend or unfollow every person and group page. When your entire home page displays nothing but random information and you’ve deleted all uploads and photos, then request a profile shutdown.

A step-by-step guide to security tools on social media sites is outside the scope of this blog. For specific instructions, your best bet is each site’s troubleshooting guides. You can also google “delete my profile on” while adding the name of the platform you’re trying to delete at the end of the phrase. Learning to use the privacy settings for each social media site is tedious, but once you get the hang of it, the process becomes intuitive, even across different platforms. Additionally, we recommend profile management over profile deletion, and knowing how to use security settings in your favor is a must if you want to manage your information properly.

  1. Delete search engine results that return info about you

But remember that search engines don’t actually delete the information for you…

Note the difference between wanting to remove information from search engine results and wanting to remove information from the web. Don’t ask your favorite search engine to remove information from the web, if you do, they’ll direct you to the Webmaster of the page you wish to remove. Google, Bing, Yahoo, and other search engines only organize information. Search engines can’t remove information that was uploaded to the web by someone who “owns” it.

How to remove your info from the web:

If you don’t want to appear on someone’s website, it’s the website owner and not Google to whom you need to speak. If you want to get removed from your previous employer’s site, it’s up to you to ask the Webmaster at your previous job to remove information about you from their web content. Furthermore, website owners are not required to remove information about you just because it pertains to you. Sounds crazy, but its true.

Make sure you know the difference between slanderous (something that is false or untrue) and embarrassing (something that is true no matter how much you wish it were false or untrue). A Webmaster must remove slanderous information about you if you so desire. If the information is not slanderous, it comes down to how convincing your request is. Google as well as most companies will ask whether the material you want to remove is slanderous and base their decision on that.

If a previous employer continues to list you as a receptionist even though you quit a year prior, you can rightfully ask them to change that statement. That you are still working there is an untrue statement if you no longer work there. If your previous employer lists you as an ex-employee there’s no slander in the statement. Be polite when you request that someone removes information about you from their website. If you have the right to remove the information (and perhaps even if you don’t) a “please” might make the difference between having to go through lawyers and what could’ve been a polite understanding of needs between two parties.

How to remove your info from Google and other search engines:

Search engines will provide a form to remove slanderous information pertaining to you from search results. It’s not an easy task to actually have information taken down. For example, it takes jumping through some hoops before you even find the forms to remove content from Google, and when you do find the forms, they’ll be the first to tell you that they rarely remove indexed content. Special cases are limited to instances in which the information is slanderous, or offensive, and most importantly, if it directly affects the person who submitted the request. If the information you wish to remove fits that description, you’ll have to fill out and submit the form and, send Google a court document to verify your claim. This means that if someone wrote something slanderous about your mom, your mom will have to submit the request to have the information removed from Google’s results. Your mom or her lawyer, that is. If Google rarely removes information from their search results, it’s because people rarely manage to complete the entire process.

In short, search engines will remove content that endangers someone but will not take the time to remove an embarrassing blog post or picture from a website, even if you created the website yourself. Google executive chairman Eric Shmidt said, “If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.” Your mother might’ve told you that, your mother was right.

Alternative to removing your information from search engine results:

If you fail to have information about yourself removed from the Internet, you can try to make search engines forget about specific information, by giving them better information. Google actually offers guidelines to manage your online reputation through a G+ profile. In a nutshell, their advice is to think of yourself as a trademarked brand and with that in mind, to create content about yourself with the intention of drawing the attention of search engines towards your curated content and away from unwanted information.

  1. Remove yourself from people search engines

Although you could be paying to have your own information leaked…

Removing yourself from people finder sites such as Spookeo is usually simple, nevertheless the process is tedious, not to mention there are hundreds of these data collection sites. You could fill out and submit multiple forms yourself, or you can pay someone to do it for you. Ghostly, Disconnect, and Delete Me are a few of the service providers that get your personal information removed from people finder sites. This type of service is ongoing and some providers charge a year of service in advance. Service must be continuous because data collection sites may index your information more than once. Ghostly, Disconnect, and Delete Me treat the symptoms while your data gets leaked elsewhere.

Demographic information (your age, gender, likes and dislikes), essential to well-positioned advertising is exactly what you’d pay Ghostly to remove from people finder sites. Ghostly is owned by an advertising company. Paying to erase yourself from data collection sites will work as long as you pay a monthly or annual fee, but depending on who runs the service, you may be funding data collection yourself.

  1. Face the facts

If you’ve been online, you’ll (most likely) stay online

You may not like this, but if you’ve done your research, you’ll realize that 1) it’s improbable you’ll manage to remove all unwanted content from the Internet, and 2) it’s impossible to know with certainty how Internet service providers are using your information. If professional hackers have a hard time covering their digital tracks (think of web black-market founder Ross Ulbricth), people with no training in programming will certainly have a hard time trying to disappear from the Internet. If you want to have more control over your personal information online while staying within the confines of the law, we recommend that you re-think your “internet suicide” and instead practice reputation management.

  • De Andre Micheal

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