So I Just Googled Myself...
Have you ever used Google or Bing to search your own name, address or phone number? In an age of powerful search engines, social media, artificial intelligence, and changing attitudes about privacy, you might be shocked to see what a casual searcher can learn about you. If you're okay with that level of transparency, then fine. If not, read on for some tips on what you can do about it...
Removing Personal Information From Google
If you search for yourself on Google, you may be surprised by the results. Things you posted on social media without thinking twice; blog posts or news reports that mention you in an unflattering or libelous manner; an embarrassing photo; even your home address or phone number... all of these are examples things you'd probably wish you could remove from Google.
Recently I saw an example of a well-meaning person who saw a neighbor dumping trash. He posted a photo on social media of the man's truck, along with his name, license plate number and home address. Thankfully, several people warned that this could put both the poster and the bad neighbor in danger, and the personal information was removed. But that doesn't always happen.
It's not easy to remove information from Google (or any other search engine), once it gets found and indexed. Google's business is indexing Internet content so that people can search it. Since Google does not control what is published on the Web, you have to start with the person who did publish what you want removed.
If you published something you regret, delete it. If the offending info is on someone else's site, ask the poster, publisher or site administrator to delete it. Then, when Google's Web-crawler indexes the site again, it will delete Google's cached copy of the now-missing content, and it will no longer appear in search results. But that may take a while, depending on how often Google indexes that particular website. To speed up the process, you can file a remove outdated content request with Google. But first, you must be sure that the content you want removed from Google search results has been removed from the Web.
If you can't get the content owner to remove the offending content, there are some special cases in which Google will intervene. On the Remove your personal information from Google help page, Google lists things such as "non-consensual explicit or intimate personal images," "financial, medical and national ID information," and cases where “doxxing” (exposing information with an intent to harm) is involved. Google won't help you remove the offending information from the page where it exists but they will expunge it from their search engine database so it is not easily found.
Dealing with other people who control content you don't want online requires diplomacy, lawyers, or both. It's always best to start with a polite approach: "Hi, sorry to bother you but I have a problem with this content... would you please delete it?" You'd be surprised by how cooperative neutral strangers can be.
More Removal Tools
Google has another tool for requesting removal of content from sites it owns, including Google Search, YouTube, Google Maps, and others. Requests for removal through this tool must rely on legal issues, i.e., violation of copyright, privacy, or child p**nography laws.
My article Breaking Up With the Internet (is hard to do) discusses your options for removing personal data from social media, online phone directories and other places.
The best way to keep unflattering information about yourself out of Google is to keep it off the public Internet. That means tightening up the privacy controls of all your online hangouts: Facebook, Twitter, Instgram, TikTok, Linkedin, etc., etc. Also, watch what you say in web forums, which are also indexed by Google unless the administrator has added a "do not index" tag to his forum. Be careful what you post on your own website, Facebook page, or blog.
You can use Google Alerts to monitor what's being said about you or your business online. There are also very expensive services like Reputation Defender that will fight on your behalf to remove offensive or incorrect content.
Of course, if it's someone who has a grudge against you, you may need to decide whether getting the offending content removed is worth the cost of these services, or even legal fees. But there's always the bluff. Sometimes sending a threatening letter spiced with a bit of legalese will do the trick.
If you are content creator, such as a musician, writer or digital artist, you may find that someone else has used your music, article or artwork without permission. This has become a bigger problem with the recent advent of "generative AI" tools that create content by imitating or taking portions of copyrighted materials, combining it with other content, and passing it off as something new and original. Some of these tools can write articles or term papers, create works of art, or write music. One recent example is the song "Heart on My Sleeve" which was created by AI software. It appears to be a collaboration between musicians Drake and The Weeknd, but it's an AI fabrication. In such cases, you can initiate a DMCA Takedown request to have the offending content removed.
But Wait, There's More...
Of course, Google is not the only search engine in town. Although it has a smaller reach, you should search for yourself on Microsoft's Bing search engine as well. If you find something that's troubling, use the Report a Concern to Bing page. You can report broken links or outdated pages, unauthorized use of intellectual property, child p**nography, offensive material, exposure of private information or images, or malicious pages.
In addition to searching for your personal info on Google or Bing, there's one more place you might want to look. The Internet Archive is a collection of over 600 billion Web pages, captured over the past 25 years. You can use it to see what a Web page looked like in the past. The point here is that something pertaining to you might have been removed from a given website years ago, but still lives on in this archive. See
how to remove something from the Internet Archive.
Do you have any good tricks for getting personal info removed from Google or the Web? Post your comment or question below...
This article was posted by Bob Rankin on 1 May 2023
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Article information: AskBobRankin -- So I Just Googled Myself... (Posted: 1 May 2023)
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Most recent comments on "So I Just Googled Myself..."
01 May 2023
"Norton" has a pay for account, for your personal "INFO".
01 May 2023
I hadn't tried that in many years. It was interesting that they had my address right on the sites I checked, but nothing else, including email or phone numbers. Of course, every site will sell you more and some of that might be right, but I'd never buy it so don't care. Your links might well be helpful to a lot of people, though, Bob. Thanks.
02 May 2023
I Googled myself and found almost nothing although I've been involved with computers for a long time. I also checked my husband's name and 4 pages in, found almost nothing. I think if I went back farther I might find more because he was even more involved in computers than I was but it was some time ago. I did find his obituary - he died a year ago, April.
Bob, above it says "most recent comments" but there are only 3. Are there more?