Simply accessing the Internet is all that is required to add to your digital footprint. A digital footprint is made up of 3 main components, each of which have their own part to play in managing your online profile. The components include:
All 3 of these components together are used by information brokers to create some of the most thorough profiles you could ever imagine. They sell and display your information and also use it to create predictions about things you’ll like, people you’d vote for, stuff you’d buy, and more. Taking control of each component will help make sure you take back your privacy and refuse to let these companies manipulate you while profiting off your information.
Your personal footprint is the biggest component of your digital footprint. Using RecordSweeper, you can see for yourself just how much information about you is out there and just how many locations it is available. Most of these websites are information brokers that have taken advantage of technological advancements in data storage and analysis.
These information brokers use public data and private sources of information to create personas of you. Using our experience helping people with criminal records with Expeal, we know how important your online reputation is for your personal and professional life. That’s why we have provided instructions on how to opt-out of data aggregators, individual sites, and mugshot sites. All these sites collect information that is publically available, including:
With all this information, these information brokers create thorough and detailed personas of you, profiles that can be used to predict your behavior. Many of the largest companies use it to figure out movies or TV shows you may like, things you would probably buy, and even who you would probably vote for in an upcoming election! Through our work, we have found that these profiles contain at least the following information:
These profiles are sold to large number of different companies, organizations, and sometimes even individuals. Anyone that needs to know where you live, what you like, and even what you might think, are potential customers. The most common that we’ve found are:
By using RecordSweeper to opt-out of all these services, you’ll reduce the size of your profile and reduce the value of your information. That is only one of many reasons to remove, or at least reduce, your public footprint. Other reasons people cite when they clear their public records include:
Though removing your records from these information brokers will go a very long way towards removing your records from the Internet, it doesn’t remove them. However, it does force people who want your public records to go to the source – often a county clerk or courthouse.
Removing content about you that was created or is controlled by someone else is usually the hardest thing to do, especially when it has been indexed by Google, Bing, or other search engines. You can never get anything off of a search engine’s results page without first getting it off the original source. Part of doing that requires you be willing to fight for your right to privacy, because no one ever makes it easy.
While you may be able to opt-out of your public footprint and you have control over you social footprint, you are completely at the whims of the owners of the content. Making sure you find the right person to remove your information and asking that person in a polite and professional manner will help get the ball rolling. Keeping up with those requests until they’re fulfilled will make sure you achieve your goal.
"Person" is the important part of your first step in removing third-party controlled content. There are different approaches to take based on the type of content. There are a few different ways to find that person – whether it is an actual person or a division.
Start by looking for a takedown request link or procedure. Whether it is through the DMCA or otherwise, a takedown request is generally the easiest way to get something removed. Similarly, if there isn’t a takedown procedure, you can look at their terms of service or use. Generally, that is where you’ll find official instructions to get something removed.
Should you be unable to find an official procedure spelled out by either a takedown policy or other legal document, start looking for a "contact" page or "about us" page. Your best bet is to find a phone number so you can actually talk to someone on the phone, whether that is a webmaster, editor, writer, or otherwise.
If you aren’t able to find a phone number, do a https://whois.icann.org/en whois lookup on the website. This will give you the official registration information for the website. Every website has to provide three contacts – a registrant contact, admin contact, and a tech contact. Some websites – like Expeal.com – uses a privacy protection service that masks the actual information. However, calling the number of the organization should put you on the right track.
Finally, if you can’t find a takedown procedure or a phone number, look for an email. Remember to file your emails in a folder created specifically for the particular website. If there isn’t an email anywhere, go back to the whois lookup. Even if the website uses a privacy protector for their registrar, you’ll at least have an email that can help you start the hunt.
It is important to note that there is usually no legal obligation that would require these sites to remove your information. However, as was previously mentioned, if you’re polite and professional, you may get your way. That means organizing yourself prior to reaching out to someone. Whether you are making the request via telephone or email, the structure will be the same.
Start by giving your name and the reason for your call or email in the first line. For instance, you can state something along the lines of "My name is John Doe and I’d like to request that you remove my information from your website." If you were able to call, after clearing up why you are reaching out to them, confirm that they are the correct person to speak with, and if not, ask for the contact information for the right person. Don’t ask to get transferred – ask for a name and a direct line or extension in case you get disconnected. Then you’re OK to be transferred.
Once you’ve confirmed you are speaking to the right person or after stating your purpose if you’re communicating via email, the next line should be the specifics – which webpage(s) on their website has the information you want them to remove.
From there, thank them for their time. This because now you want to make your request. Explain the reason why it is so important to have the information removed from their website. Give them a good reason, but don’t get too over the top. For example, tell them that you need the information removed because you can’t find a good job, but don’t over exaggerate and tell them you can’t get any job at all if that’s not true. Another reason could be that it was emotionally traumatic, but don’t tell them that you’re so depressed you’re going to kill yourself. Make them understand you’re just like them - don’t try to make yourself out to be a victim they can’t relate with.
After giving your reasoning, end with a request to have your information removed one more time. Something along the lines of "I hope now you understand why it is important to have this information removed." Think of this as the end of your opening statement. Now you should wait to hear how they respond.
There are two ways this could go – they’ll either agree or they won’t. If they don’t, be prepared to make a counter-offer. For example, if they don’t want to remove the page, maybe they can anonymize references to you so you can’t be identified. Another option is to use the robots.txt file to keep it from being indexed in search engines. If neither of those options work, provide them with a couple of lines they can use in an update. Make sure you provide some clarification of whatever it is you want corrected.
Once you’re done, thank them for their time and for considering your request. Wish them a good day and let them know they can contact you if they need any additional information or if they have any questions.
If you are making your request by email, make sure you check the spelling and grammar of your email. Details like that are incredibly important. If you are making your request by phone, make sure you have taken notes on your call and you get the name and employee ID or title of the person you were speaking with before you hang up.
If you don’t make it through on your first attempt, keep trying until you get a response one way or another. Remember, the squeaky wheel gets the oil!
If you are successful in getting content either removed or updated and you have confirmed the changes, you can begin the process of either removing or updating their content. It generally requires you create an account with the search engine so that they can communicate with you if necessary.
Google has a relatively simple process. You submit the exact link as shown in Google Search Results and, if you are successful, the cached result and snippet provided when the page shows up in the search results list will be removed from Google.
Bing provides detailed instructions on how to remove pages that have either been removed or updated from their search index. Like Google, it is relatively simple.
If you were unsuccessful in getting your content removed or updated, you may have an opportunity to get it removed on legal grounds. Look to see if there is a way you can flag the content first. That gets a team member to review the content right away. If not, both Google and Bing have legal removal request procedures. Some of the most common legal reasons for removal include:
If something is actually defamatory and the site owners refuse to remove your information, then you will want to get in touch with a lawyer. Most court orders generally come from situations like this. It is important that false and harmful information about you actually fit the legal definition of defamation.
Something mean or bad for business, like a poor review of a restaurant, is not defamatory. But accusing the staff of spitting in the food or having rodents and roaches when they don’t, for example, most likely will be considered defamatory.
A defamatory statement is something that actually hurts someone’s reputation. Spoke defamation is called "slander" and written defamation is called "libel". In the United States, defamation law tries to strike a balance between the harm of telling lies and the ability to speak freely. However, if a statement meets the following four elements, it will most likely be considered defamation, meaning it crossed the line:
We recommend you definitely get the advice of an attorney before moving forward with a defamation case. Make sure you go to an attorney that gives free consultations. Any attorney that charges for a first meeting is not an attorney you want to work with. Feel free to contact us if you want to a referral for an attorney in your jurisdiction.
Going against the grain of everything we’ve been discussing so far, social media information is something you want to control and curate rather than remove. Many of the most popular social media platforms will be the source of top-rated search results if those social media accounts are made public and are registered in your actual name. The top social media platforms in terms of improving your search results are:
We recommend people have two profiles – one that is kept private and for friends and family and another that is kept public and is for professional use and search engine result improvement. By creating information about yourself that portrays you in a positive light, you should be able to outweigh any potential negative information.
Once you have your information removed from your public footprint and third-party footprint, improving your social media footprint will be your final step. This means creating content that includes search terms that you want to "clean up". For example, if "Jane Doe Florida" results in news articles about an embarrassing moment during college, start using that term in your own social media profiles, blog posts on your private webpage, and comments on other websites, taking over the search term.
Take back your privacy, be proud of your online reputation, and create the best version of "you" online!