Detox Yourself From Google

Submitted by SadInAmerica on Tue, 01/19/2010 - 5:58pm.

The mighty search engine has allowed us to do so many things. "Mighty" is the operative word, as these same search engines (usually the one that starts with a "G" and ends with an "oogle") can also curse us all. If you think about it, any schmuck can find out more about you than you'd like by typing only your first and last name... (Stop using spy search engines Google and Yahoo! Use 'friendly' non-spying and non-tracking StartPage and Scoogle... S.I.A.)

Different folks certainly have different tolerance levels for their online persona and how public they want it to be, but thankfully, there are tips to ensure that your boss, your ex, or your mildly interested former friends can keep tabs on you on your terms.

Unfortunately, pleas to remove content on Google fall on deaf, mechanical Google ears. The best and easiest way to remove content from Google (and other search engines in the process) is to remove the content from the internet. This guide will show you how to make the best of the content that is there or how to remove it entirely.

Google Yourself

Do yourself a favor and Google yourself every now and then. Search websites, search images (Google Images and Yahoo Images both allow you to do this), search video; all of it. Carefully comb the rest of the website on which you find yourself linked, too. Trust us, a completely innocuous photo of you at a backyard barbeque can easily end up in the same, shameful, public album as your friends trying to give the cat a contact high at the same event.

Some tips: You'll want to put your first and last name in quotes. That way, Google will show you the pages where your first and last name are together and filter out lists of pages that just happen to contain both your first and last name somewhere on the page.

Take inventory of your search results. How would this look to your next employer? Scary?

The Entourage

Many of the scariest websites are most often from people you know. For example, members of wedding parties will often find themselves on a wedding website. Lucky for you, if you're on a wedding website, you're probably friends with the person who owns and hosts the content on the internet. A simple e-mail should straighten up any wayward information.

Picasaweb, Flickr and other image searches

Though wedding websites are usually safe, public photo albums are probably not. It's therefore a good idea to politely request removal of your last name from friends' public photo albums. Think of how embarrassing it would be to find your full moniker attached to a caption reading "butt contestant," no matter how tame or innocent the context.

On Flickr and Picasaweb, if you find yourself tagged in a photo that you really don't want people to associate to your name, you'll want to un-tag yourself. Under the picture where you are tagged it says "Remove tag." Click the link and it won't show up in the photos section of your profile. It will still be in your friend's album and other people can still see it, but your name won't appear when passerby's mouse over it.

SmugMug is often a professional, password-only site. Perhaps recommend this site to the friends who have sensitive photos of you.

Facebook and LinkedIn

Though you should already have a private Facebook account in the interest of, well, taming your Googlability, here's how to hide yourself, anyway.

  1. Log into your account. Hover your cursor over the Settings tab, and click on Privacy Settings.
  2. Click Profile to control who can see what on your profile. Just about everything should have "Only Friends." Ditto for Contact Information (which is the second tab under Profile).
  3. Fiddling with the Search is also a good idea. Web searches will tell others looking for your name if you are indeed on Facebook, though you can fix it so people can only see your name, profile pic, and a link to add you as a friend. Or, you can go into mega-stealth mode and make it so just about anyone will never find you. It's highly customizable, depending on what you want people to see. And trust us, they are looking.

It's also advisable you check the information you've posted elsewhere on facebook. Your profile might be super-stealthy, but that doesn't help you if you've posted your phone number on a public "Lost my phone give me your numbers" group or you put your home address as the location for a publicly viewable event.

Ditto with LinkedIn. Anyone googling your name will likely come up on your LinkedIn profile first, and despite it being a repository for your more grown-up pursuits, it's probably still unsettling to have random Google searchers ask you about things on it if you weren't expecting it.

Adding Robots.txt to your web host

Google and other search engines will be stopped cold in their tracks if they see a dreaded little text file on a web server. The text file is named 'robots.txt' and it needs to contain the following text:

User-agent: *Disallow: /

You can create the text file in any plain text editor. If you want to host the embarrassing websites, but don't want Google (or any other search engine) to see it, add the file to your web host in its top-level folder.

Slycer on Digg had this little tidbit of follow-up: If you remove something from the web, you might want to tip-off Google to erase it from their cache. Submit a removal request from Google's Webmaster tools pages.

Hide in the Clutter

If you can't eliminate embarrassing web content you may be able to add enough innocuous content that a searcher would not easily find what you would like to remain hidden. For example, I typically use a specific user name for web comments - it is similar to "smoking toast". While this is anonymous it seemed that after many posts to different forums someone could get a pretty good idea of who I am and where I live. However, on Googling "smoking toast" I was surprised that my content was lost in a sea of other content that contained that specific phrase. So, while it would be a bit of work you could post a phrase or phrases in so many places that it would obscure a particular instance of those phrases.

In the Future

 As your online and real lives merge even further in the so-called digital age, it's going to be an uphill battle to remove the content that's out there. Bad news for those with little common sense.

However, the best way to avoid compromising situations online is to avoid compromising situations in real life. We're not saying not to have any fun, but until you are able to keep people from taking digital photos of you, you're stuck behaving properly in public. Look on the bright side, your online self is keeping you honest, right?

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December 9, 2009 - posted at Wired

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Submitted by SadInAmerica on Tue, 01/19/2010 - 5:58pm.