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Are you making it easy for an identity thief – or your ex – to dig up dirt on you online? Got any embarrassing photos or personal information on social media websites? What about those questions sites ask in case you forget your password: like the city you were born in and your mother’s maiden name? Facts on YouTube, Facebook, or your personal blog might leave you vulnerable to harassment or worse.
The good news is you can do something about it. If you want to reduce your public profile on the web, here are a few suggestions…
1. Google yourself.
If you’re lucky, you share a name with someone else, and maybe their details pop up higher than yours. Figure out what content you own and have direct access to: your personal blogs, social media accounts, and any websites you own. Other things that many people contribute to – like forums, newsgroups, and wikis – are probably owned by someone else and are harder to get rid of (see below).
2. Delete or change what you directly control.
Many sites provide a way to automatically delete all your personal content in just a few steps, though the links aren’t always easy to find. Take a shortcut to the delete options at some of the most popular social media sites with these links…
- Facebook Account Deactivation (Temporary) or Deletion (Permanent)
- MySpace Account Deletion
- Twitter Account Deletion
- Youtube Account Deletion
- Flickr Account Deletion
- WordPress Hosted Blog Deletion (You can’t delete an account, but you can delete all your content)
3. Ask others to remove what you can’t.
If you don’t have control over something that reveals information about you, ask the owner to take it down. Look for the owner’s e-mail address or a contact form and send them a polite note explaining exactly what you want removed, explaining why. If you can’t find someone to contact, Google tells you how to look up a site’s owner and contact info.
4. Check for back-ups.
Sometimes websites host “mirror” copies of the same information or keep outdated “cached” copies. Follow the same process to make sure those are removed, too. If you want Google to delete the cached copy of your info, they will – but only if the original has already been removed.
5. Grab another e-mail address.
This one may sound simple, but sometimes keeping your personal address separate from your public or professional one can save you a lot of grief and will help keep the different aspects of your life separate in your head, too. Since your account/profile on many websites is tied to your e-mail address, changing them up allows you to distance yourself from sites you don’t want to be strongly associated with in search results. But this tip is most valuable when used with the next one…
6. Create a new online identity.
Sometimes it’s easier to start over and build a positive, safer web presence than to completely erase a negative one. If you’ve already cleared things out and don’t want to give up social media, the Federal Trade Commission offers some practical advice for social network safety. Although it’s targeted towards a younger audience, it holds true for anyone.
Consider not using your full or real name, and try to avoid giving out identifying information in your new Web life.
And while you’re thinking about a new username that won’t give you away, use a tool like Know ‘Em? to check if it’s available on a wide range of networking sites as you rebuild your web identity. A unified personal brand can help push down any leftover, unwanted Google results from your less safety-savvy days.