Covering The Tracks: How To Keep Your Online Image Clean

An introduction to the digital footprint and the importance of keeping it clean by Eduard Oksem.

Covering The Tracks: How To Keep Your Online Image Clean

There is no doubt that the development of technology is making privacy an asset. Digital companies like Google or Yandex have recently achieved an extreme degree of integration into our lives - these media giants know where we live, what we do, where we go and what interests us. Personal information is available to anyone online - just try googling your name and you will have a nostalgic feeling, recollecting all the pictures you have ever uploaded to social networks, the discussions you held, and even some papers from the school you graduated.

Eventually, the nostalgic feeling will turn into a realization of being insecure and vulnerable to anyone who uses the Internet. This article will define the importance of controlling your personal information and help you take initial steps to removing it from the Web.

Why it is a big deal

Walking through the information about you in search query result is not only an entertainment, but it is also a useful measure to find and remove all inaccurate and outdated information regarding your person. Doing this may be especially helpful for students and job-seekers - more and more employers pay attention to employee’s digital footprint. Back then, when the Internet was not developed to such extent, HR-managers could only rely on your resume. Now the Internet can give much more information, that can both help you find a job, but can also cause problems when applying for a position. There are known instances of potential employees being rejected because their social network profiles were filled with disturbing content and pictures from parties - any HR would consider such worker an unreliable. Also, a question concerning some of your closet skeletons during the job interview may be an awkward surprise.

Taking steps

Since January 1, 2016, Russia has a law of a “right to be forgotten” which allows each person to request the search engine to remove any inappropriate, outdated or defamatory  information of their concern. Having all the relatable proofs and documents to confirm one’s identity makes it easy to report any piece of unwanted information online. The data that can possibly be removed from the search query are, for instance, bank details, national ID, credit card data, images of sexual character and nudity. However, not every inquiry finds it’s support. There are some useful tips to help you get started finding and disguising your secret data:

Google Yourself

Finding out what type of information is accessible on the Web by typing your name in the search engine might be a good starting point. The possible outcomes of this type of query are social network pages - both old and actual ones, your photos, some posts you have ever did on other sites, your friends and family info and a bunch of other potentially unwanted data. Typing in the variations of your name, changing the order of your first and last names, adding nicknames and social media links is highly important on this stage - this way you will cover all the options of someone stalking yourself online.

Change the information

So, you have realized how much filth is accessible to everyone knowing your name. Before starting to complain to the site or search engine support, consider changing the undesirable content by yourself! For example, If you have found your old Facebook page with a hilarious profile picture and tons of your pranker friends’ comments, try to remember a password to get access to the page and delete it fast and easy. Forgotten password is not a problem of a big concern if you still have access to one of your numerous emails. Outdated social network profiles created at the beginning of your Web exploring path do often provide lots of personal data, which can be used against you. Try deleting the unwanted content published or the entire page if you have another one. Whether you cannot get rid of the outdated information completely, try to change your name or other personal data to make the trackers get lost and confused.

Address Technical Support

Being unable to remove your personal data from the site by yourself still leaves you some ways for solving the problem. One of them is addressing directly to the site support. The online support agents are looking forward to solving the user’s problems 24 hours a day. If you can argue that the publication on the resource is somehow damaging your reputation - there is no problem removing it forever. The only thing they require to assist you is a photo of your ID or any other document - do not worry, they are not going to publish it!

Hide it from Google

if you have eventually realized that the site support is unable to help you, it is time to request your to hide the information from the search queries. Popular search engines like Google or Yandex have their special support for this task: Google provides services for deleting both pictures and URLs, Yandex has a similar service. Notice, that you can only report the data that can be proven to be fake, outdated or harassing to you. Hiding the unwanted data does not mean it will be removed completely - it will remain in annals of the Internet, but no one would be able to find it easily, which is more than enough for an ordinary person.

Googling wisely to find weak spots

This shortlist will help you to uncover your personal data online in its fullest:

  • Set your browser to incognito mode and log out of your search engine account - ignoring these will lead to the adjust search result - it will be mixed with your recently visited sites and social media. You want the search query to look like any other user’s one.
  • Try typing your name differently - use your both full and short names, add nicknames if you have any, type in your social network IDs.
  • Do not go too far but check 3-5 pages of the search query result - it is doubtful that anyone would go any further when stalking you online. Although, some data might be considered old enough for Google to move it to the further pages.

Try to analyze the search query from the perspective of HR manager - they pay their efforts to check up for their potential employee online. Consider which data is damaging to your image and try to get rid of it. If it is a problem, think about starting your blog covering your professional activity on Linkedin or Facebook - this way the relevant information will replace any other in a search result. However, some online publications might be a help when applying to the job - the mention of your name at the company site will be a strong evidence of your previous experience. Overall, moderate your online activity and remember that everything you have ever posted will remain there forever - use it for your advantage.

Text by
Eduard Oksem