Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.

Once information has been posted on the internet and can be found, it's nearly impossible to remove it. The internet has a long and persistent memory.

How do I block people from finding me and information about me on the internet? I want to erase myself from the internet. How do I stop my name and my information from showing when people google me or search for me on the internet?

This is, sadly, an extremely common question. I say sadly, because the answer is both disappointingly complex, and ultimately unattainable.

The short answer is very, very simple: you don't.

The longer answer involves understanding how little control you have, what steps you can try, and how effective they may or may not be.

I want to start with something else: prevention. Prevention is really the only cure, and even then it's not at all complete.

Assume that everything you put on the internet will remain there forever, and will be viewed in the worst possible light. Let's be clear, I'm not saying that it will be there forever, or that it will be viewed in the worst possible, light. What I'm saying is that that's the safest way to view how what you say, do and post in public might be used. To the extent that you have control about what goes on the web before it goes up, exercise caution, with those two phrases as your guide: "forever", and "in the worst possible light".

"Assume that everything you put on the internet will remain there forever, and will be viewed in the worst possible light."

Don't quite feel like posting those party photos now do you?

And that leads to the most common example we hear about all the time: someone losing a job or job offer because they spoke their mind in a public post, or posted unflattering photos of themselves, or otherwise made public information that they ultimately regretted. Information that their employer eventually found that impacted their job.

It happens all the time.

One of the counter arguments is along the lines of "I should be able to post and say and do whatever I want." Freedom of speech, and all that.

Absolutely. You're very right. Go ahead. Post and say what you like. In most countries you have the right to say pretty much whatever you like. Just remember that freedom of speech does not mean freedom from consequences.

Because chances are you're not going to get whatever it is removed from the internet.

And even preventing what you do may not be enough. What about other sources of information that might relate to you?

You can't control what others say or post about you. (Within the legal limits of harassment, libel and slander, of course, and even then within the limits of your own legal or justice system and your resources.)

Have you perhaps been mentioned in a newspaper? Listed in publicly accessible government or organization records? Do you participate in discussion groups that are visible and/or archived publicly?

All of these are ways you can show up online. I'm sure that there are plenty more.

And most all are places from which you probably can't remove yourself.

But I know you want to try, so let's see what we can do.

People like to focus on the search engines, yet there's a fundamental problem: the search engines have nothing to do with it. Yes, you might use one to find information, but that information is not in the search engine itself - it's in any of a thousand other sites out on the internet. As I've discussed before, the only way to truly remove yourself is to ask each and every one of those sites to remove the information that pertains to you.

A common request is how to get Google to remove you. There are two problems:

  • They won't. They're a search engine, and their "job" is to report what can be found on other sites on the internet. They're simply showing you what's out there, and what's out there is not in their control.

  • Google's not the only game in town. Google's perhaps the most popular, but there are literally thousands of search engines out there. From Windows Live to Yahoo, to many medium and smaller niche search engines, there are more search engines than you can count. Even if you could get Google to remove you from their results, which you cannot, you'd still be faced with all those other search engines that might also be returning results that show your information out on the internet.

There's a growing service area called "reputation management". These services will promise to remove you from the search results. They can't. If they tell you that they can, they're wrong. The best that they can hope to accomplish is to push whatever it is you want to hide further down the results list when people use common search terms for you. The information has not been removed. At best it's simply somewhat harder to find. That may, or may not, be valuable to you.

It's tempting to think you have control over the information that's placed on sites and services that you control on the web. You don't have, control and that shows it is another way that this issue gets so complicated.

You might think that if I wanted to remove something about myself that's been posted here on Ask Leo! all I need to is exactly that - remove it.

Not good enough.

The "problem" is that there are other sites that take copies of the pages on my site and preserve them as a kind of historical record. Archive.org is a good example, but in fact there could once again be any number of sites archiving or duplicating the information here - many of them illegally I might add. I could certainly remove information here, but I have no control over what these other sites do with the information that they've already captured and made publicly accessible.

So what can you do?

  • Well, you can use the search engines yourself to see where all the information about you is, and then contact all of those sites (not the search engines) and ask them to remove it. Good luck with that.

  • You can use a reputation management service to try and "bury" your information, making it harder, but not impossible to find. If that's enough for you.

And that's about it. Once something is on the internet, it's pretty much there for good.

In fact, it might well be easier to change you: move, change your name, change all of your identifying information, and then make sure that as little of that new you gets on the internet as possible.

But even then, I'll bet you'll show up somewhere.

Article C3742 - May 24, 2009 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

Not what you needed?

9 Comments
Marianne Rankin
May 26, 2009 10:17 AM

The above makes sense. I've never posted anything about myself much of anywhere, except jobhunting via various job sites. My question is, is e-mail still safe? There is no way anyone can get into one's e-mail through Outlook, etc., correct?

Philip Crawford
May 26, 2009 4:51 PM

Yes, Google will remove you out of their data base. They will let you opt out of their search engine. I just cant remember how I did it.

If you are a website owner this is true: you can instruct that your website not be included in Google. (Though other search engines may or may not be as accomodating.)

If you are simply a person wanting not to be found: this is false. You cannot remove yourself from Google, period.

- Leo
28-May-2009

Lee Nelson Guptill
June 1, 2009 1:53 PM

absolutely fascinating, educational, and amusing. Have we almost entered the age of "Big Brother?"

Norma DeRosa
June 15, 2009 7:58 AM

My identity was stolen many years ago. It seems that is not only one of me, but many. I am under such stress seeing myself morally destroy with all this names, and addresses. How can I correct it?

Douglas Gross
July 7, 2010 8:20 PM

Interesting. I used to be able to type my name into the search and see almost everything I posted. Then some doctor with the same name started popping up as I started posting less and now it is hard to find anything about me. I can find my Helium.com articles and sometimes a funny picture of me when I had insanely long hair. Ha! I don't care. If an employer wants to act that way, they need to work for someone else, not have people working for them. Unfortunately, most people who do the hiring for businesses (whether they are there own businesses or not) feel they are somehow entitled to a perfect employee that not only can do anything for peanuts but is also so clean you can eat off them. Though they'd like to think they might be taking steps to get a saint, God can probably mention a few facts about anyone that would keep them from getting hired or might cause them to lose a job. To me it's all symptomatic of a society that is inevitably going to have to learn to respect other people the hard way, and looking for reasons to condemn other people is disrespectful. I'd rather not work such an employer even that meant having no job at all, because they most likely don't know what is not their business and will repeat their offense in other ways for as long as you work for them.

Jordan
May 26, 2011 2:14 PM

I just visited the top 10 people search engines. Let me start with the fact that a lot of these search engines are sister companies with eachother. From what I have been noticing is that i sometimes can get my info removed right away and other times it takes 7 to 10 days or even 3 to 6 weeks for information to be removed. I was able to remove my info from about 9 search sites without having to send in something snail mail or by fax. Intellius, US Search, and People Lookup are all Intellius sites. You must fax in a picture of your Drivers License to 425-974-6194 with all addresses you want removed. For USA People search and People Search Now you must snail mail a letter with your full name an DOB to
Opt-out p.o. box 18860
Sacremento CA
I sure hope this helps but in all honesty you will never be removed from the internet. I agree with the whole name change thing that was mentioned. I seriously contimplated it. I looked into it be aware that you must notify everyone that you have legally changed your name. The list is massive not to mention that your mom an dad friends an family most likely will not understand nor be happy about it. remember birth cert. Drivers license social security card credit cards land lord, bank mortgage companies everything!!! have a great day an be persistant.

Tamara
January 27, 2012 4:40 PM

I have always tried to be careful when posting anything to the internet. I lie about my birthday and about other things that people could use for identity theft. Still doesn't matter. I type my name in the search engine.. and found my address very quickly. Much of the info was old. Going back to addresses used over the last 20 years of my life. But they were all me. :(

This about makes me want to use an alias when on the internet. That way people who know me in real life know my real name and where I am. But new people I meet on the internet would have a harder time finding me. Is really sad that the information is so readily available. It shouldn't be legal at all. Is sad to think you need to lie about your name or what city you live in, in order to maintain some privacy!

David
March 26, 2013 9:37 PM

If search engines can filter child porn then they should be able to filter anything.

Mark J
March 27, 2013 3:01 AM

@David
Search engines put in a lot of effort into blocking child porn and still they aren't 100% successful. It would be overwhelming for them to keep up with all individual requests to block searches. There are other complications. For example, they would have to verify that the requester is really the person affected by the search and not someone trying to block a competitor's site.

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