We all know how useful internet is in today’s world. It’s your ultimate source of pretty much everything you need information on, your medium of staying in touch with friends and relatives across the globe, it is what you use to express your feelings and opinions on anything and everything you feel strongly about, and it may even be your bread and butter. In short, in this era where technology has pretty much taken our lives over, it’s impossible to imagine what life without internet would be.
But you must remember that though it connects you to the world, it can expose you to the world as well. What most innocent web users don’t realize is that anonymity is the best policy when using the internet. Initially, it’s a great feeling to see your name pop up when you search it on Google, but what you don’t realize is that, that Stumbleupon photo blog that was automatically generated when you added your ratings to that nude photo has also made it to all the search engines. Similarly, your funny home movies, your age, your personal information that you carelessly added to your MySpace or Facebook or other social networking profiles all becomes public information for anyone who wants to see it.
With the recent advent of employers checking potential job candidates online before making their final hiring decisions, it might be wise for you to pull all your personal information from the web before things that you have always believed were personal, but don’t know have become public, are seen by those who you want to keep them away from.
Fear not, because no matter how bleak it seems, Internet is not an information black hole that suck up all your personal data and disseminates it to the entire web. It’s just as useful as it ever was, and pulling information away from it is just as possible as it was spreading it. Maybe not that easy or cheap, but yes, definitely possible.
Here is some practical information that will help you become web anonymous, and more internet savvy about sharing your personal date on the internet.
Track Your Online Profile
The first thing you should do is search your name in the ALL known search engines to see how many websites are displaying information about you. Use quotes, “John Doe” and try to go through ALL the returned search results. It would be wise to make a reference file with the results that point to YOU.
Now, start deleting what you can first. I know it sounds simpler than actually doing it, because it is almost impossible to keep track of all the online accounts we’ve created over time. A simple way of doing it would be to create an Account Sheet, detailing the URL’s of sites we’ve carelessly created accounts at or posted on.
Commonly forgotten repositories of information include, but are not limited to, Flickr (and associated comments), old blogs, online resumes, for sale ad on non-expiring websites, personal ads, want ads, genealogy webs and bartering sites.
Trying to delete social networking profiles like Facebook can be a little difficult, but the details of the deletion process can be found here.
Always Use Pseudonyms
Most people feel a compulsion to use their real names when posting on forums or commenting on anything over the internet. Like I mentioned earlier, yes, it feels real nice to see your name on the screen knowing millions of people will read it, but it’s not the smartest thing to do.
Create a Pseudonym and an accompanying email address to post your opinions, rants, and gossip. This ensures that whatever you post wont some day fall into the hands of your employer or a federal agent. The best thing to do is “cover your ass.”
Webpage Removal Request Tools
Google and Yahoo! offer a “Delete URL” feature, which gives websites administrators and webmasters the power to stop specific URLs from being indexed. Non-admins can also request that “private” information be removed, or request the webmasters to take advantage of this tool to remove pages with your name from indexing.
Ask.com has included an “AskEraser”, the simple purpose of which is to completely delete your search activity, including your IP address, user ID and session ID cookies, plus the entire text of your search query – all within hours.
Contact Webmasters Directly
Despite the general idea that webmasters are impossible to contact, you need to remember that they are people too, and in more than most cases, just an email away. So if a reference to your name appears on a blog or website that you are not comfortable with, simply e-mail the webmaster voicing your concerns and that should fix the problem.
So what about websites that don’t mention any contact information for the webmaster or the administrator? You can simply use the publicly available WHOIS service. Just type in the website’s domain and viola, you’ll get all the domain registration information, including the contact info. If the email is not available, just write a snail mail letter, firmly demanding that your name be taken off of their website.
This California based company is who you should turn to if all your other efforts fail. ReputationDefender was founded to protect your good name on the internet. Their goals, stated on their website are:
1. To SEARCH out all information about you and your family throughout the Internet and present it to you in a clear, easy-to-understand fashion
2. To provide DESTROY assistance, helping to remove, at your request, inaccurate, inappropriate, hurtful, and slanderous information about you and your family using our proprietary in-house methodology. This same mission extends to your personally identifiable information, like name, address, and phone number.
3. To deliver CONTROL over how others are able to perceive you on the Internet
Hide Your Ass with Hidemyass.com
Hidemyass is a proxy service similar to iBypass, aimed at hiding your online identity. It can be used to hide your IP address and bypass your work or school web filters very easily.
ChillingEffects is a site dedicated to fight for freedom of speech online and to the education of internet users about their rights. They feature a form (available here) that you can use to send a cease and desist notice to a site administrator who refuses to comply with your requests to remove your information from their website.
Though this service is a little expensive, but it’s worth the cost. RemoveYourName.com guarantees that they will not stop working until your name is off of all the major search engines. They back this claim with a money back guarantee. The prices begin at $795 for personal and $2495 for the business package.
Counter the Negative Information
So, you’ve seen what a little carelessness can cost. You don’t have the money to pay the premium services to expunge your bad name from the internet, but you can’t live with the consequences either. So why not counter the negative information with positive?
Your major concern is negative information about you showing up on the first page of Google, Yahoo!, and MSN. What you need to do is move these negative listings aside and replace them with positive information. You can do this through Wikipedia. Make a page dedicated to yourself or your company that illustrates everything good about you. With Wiki’s reach and rank, your post will appear above the negatives ones in no time.
Yes. Internet is just as addictive as marijuana, though it hasn’t been deemed illegal yet. Try to spend some time away from your computer and do something constructive with your time. You’ll thank yourself later.
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