Who Can Get Their Digital Past off the Internet?

Who Can Get Their Digital Past off the Internet?

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Taryn Williford
Nov 18, 2008

ComputerWorld recently did a piece about erasing your digital past and how difficult it can be to remove embarrassing and damaging search results from sites like Google. They gave themselves a week to try to expunge unwanted online mentions, using three real-life examples as test cases: First, a recent college graduate with a distinctive last name would like to get rid of an entry on someone else's long-abandoned online journal. Next, a freelance writer is mistakenly identified as a movie critic on Rotten Tomatoes, and doesn't want her byline juxtaposed next to the word "rotten." Last, an IT professional who gave a quote to Computerworld in an interview seven years ago that included a salty phrase. So who's reputation is now clean?

With advice from online reputation experts, the staff at ComputerWorld sought to wipe the offending information from the internet without legal action, which is near impossible due to laws protecting Web sites, but instead by just getting in touch with the editors, Web masters and ISPs who have access to remove the info.

So who got their clean slate?


  • Not the IT pro who wanted their saucy quote removed. Attempts proved that it would be exceedingly rare for any mainstream publication with journalistic integrity to change the record for any reason.

  • Not the freelancer with the same-named "Rotten" critic. Again, large, commercial (implication: lucrative) Web sites have little need to accommodate petty requests. The freelancer's best course of action would be to create enough positive, search-engine-friendly content to push the unwanted search result to Google's second page.

  • It was the job-searching college grad with the nasty online journal entry that mentioned her by name that got her past removed. Friendly emails to the journal site's abuse@site.com address resulted in the unused journal being permanently suspended after much waiting time.

The whole article, a very good read, is here.

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