Clean up your public Internet profile

Maggs2378 found personal information "on one of those 'people search' web sites" and wants to know how to get it removed.

Removing your private information from one site isn't particularly difficult, but it can be a hassle. You have to go to the site, search for your own name, and make sure you're there. Then you have to find the site's privacy policy page and read it carefully--a task that isn't always easy if you're not a lawyer. Then you have to follow the instructions.

When you're done, it's time to go on to the next site.

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To get a taste of the experience, I took my name off two such sites.

The first was Intelius. I visited the company's verbose Privacy Policy page, and found a section called "How to Remove your Information from the Intelius Public Records Databases." Within that single section's 611 words, I found an online form.

The first field on the form required me to photograph my driver's license, cross out the license number, and upload the photo to them. (I "crossed out" the number in the most analog way possible; I covered it with a sliver of a Post-It before taking the picture.)

The other two fields were much easier. One asked for my email address. I left the optional third field, Additional Information, blank.

I got a response immediately, informing me that they'd received my request and giving me a confirmation number.

The big, pleasant surprise came in another email only a few minutes later: "Your opt-out request has been completed." And sure enough, it was.

I had an easier experience with Spokeo. The Privacy page pointed me to their Remove A Listing tool. All the tool asked for was the profile URL, an Email address, and a CAPTHCA to prove that I'm human.

When I clicked the Remove This Listing button, I was told to "Please check your email for further instructions." Sure enough, there was an email, but it didn't have instructions. It simply told me that "This directory listing has been removed."

And it was.

After you've removed yourself from one of these sites, your private information may still pop up in Internet searches. But that won't happen for long. Google and other search sites cache pages, but they flush the cache regularly to remain up-to-date.

There's a saying that nothing on the Internet ever goes away. That's not entirely true. I've written articles for the Web that have totally disappeared--much to my dismay. But there's a real possibility that your information will continue to pop up from time to time.

And if something goes viral, you'll never get rid of it. So just hope you're never too popular.

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