Erase Yourself From the Web

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Step 4: Clean Up Your Own Reputation

You've probably heard of online "reputation defense" companies--companies such as and RemoveYourName--that claim to be able to rehabilitate your online reputation. While they can do so, you can too.

[Read "How to Clean Up your Online Reputation."]

These type of companies use two main tactics to improve clients' reputations: They ask Websites to take down incriminating information about a client, invoking law and/or large amounts of cash if necessary; and they push down "bad" content in search results by uploading "good" content. The latter method isn't relevant to this article, since we're focusing on removing content from the Web, not uploading more of it, but the former method is essential.

The good news is that you can do this on your own. The bad news is that it takes a lot of time and determination.

Asking Websites to remove information about you is as easy as it sounds--just start e-mailing webmasters and asking for the info to be taken down. But be prepared to be met with a lot of resistance: Many Webmasters don't have the time or inclination. You're unlikely to get anywhere with search engines (including people search engines, such as Pipl) because they are aggregators, not databases.

You can opt out of Spokeo, but be aware that your information will still be out there. It will just stop appearing on Spokeo.

To opt out of Spokeo, go to the site and search for your name. Click the listing you want to remove. Highlight the URL of your search result, copy it, and click Privacy (located on the bottom right corner of the screen). Paste your copied URL into the URL box, and enter your e-mail address and the requested CAPTCHA code, and then click Remove Listing.

You'll receive a verification e-mail. When you click the link in the e-mail, your listing will be removed at once.

If Websites refuse to cooperate with you, you can invoke the law, or you can offer them money. Google will remove search results if you can convince the Google team that the site is infringing on your intellectual property (as the Church of Scientology did back in 2002). Another possibility is to offer Websites "settlements" to remove their content. Unfortunately, both of these options require money and are often best left to professional negotiators and lawyers; this is where reputation defense sites can be helpful.

Step 5: Hide from Advertisers

Now that you've done what you can to hide your public face from the Internet, here's how to hide your private face from companies that want you to buy their products.

Browser features designed to help you opt out of ads are still in the early stages, as some of these arrangements depend on advertisers' voluntarily complying with the opt-out request.

Still, you can opt out of targeted ads in Mozilla Firefox 4 and Microsoft Internet Explorer 9.

When you turn on Firefox's Do Not Track feature, the browser sends a message to every Website you visit (as well as to advertisers and content providers) informing them that you don't want to be tracked. Honoring this setting, however, is voluntary, Firefox notes.

To turn on the Do Not Track feature in Firefox 4, go to Tools, Options, Advanced. Under the General tab, check the box next to Tell web sites I do not want to be tracked. This will tell all Websites that you don't want to be tracked. If you prefer to pick and choose which Websites receive the don't-track message, you can download Abine's "Do Not Track +" Firefox add-on.

Internet Explorer 9's Tracking Protection feature differs from Firefox's Do Not Track. Instead of sending information to the sites, IE9 limits the third-party sites that your browser will access without your explicit permission, thus limiting these third parties' opportunities to track you. An example of a third-party site is an ad that you see on a Web page. Technically the ad is not part of the Web page you're looking at, but is a little part of another Web page. IE9's Tracking Protection feature will block these ads (if you choose), so that they'll be less likely to track you. You'll still be able to go to the Websites directly by typing the appropriate URL or clicking a link.

To enable IE9's Tracking Protection feature, go to Tools, Safety, Tracking Protection. You'll need to add Tracking Protection Lists (TPLs), which are lists of content to be blocked. You can find some premade lists on IE9's Website, or you can make your own.

Erasing yourself from the Internet is no easy task; and in most cases, completely removing yourself is impossible. But by following the five steps outlined here, you can make your online presence a lot less visible.

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