4 Steps to Clean Up Your Online Presence

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Last Friday, California’s Senate passed a bill that will make it illegal for employers to demand your Facebook password, and at least four other states are considering similar laws.

But as Facebook warned in March, that’s something employers should avoid regardless of the law – because it might open them up to discrimination claims. But it’s still likely your next employer will look up whatever you don’t make private on your social media profiles. They might also type your name into a search engine just to see what comes up. Even people who have learned to be careful about what they post online might find at least one result from the past that comes back to haunt them.

Once something’s online, it’s hard to ever truly get rid of it. But here are a few tips to clean things up the best you can…

1. Delete or change what you directly control

Many sites offer you a way to automatically delete all your personal content in just a few steps, although the links aren’t always easy to find. So we’ve done it for you…

2. Ask others to remove what you can’t

If you don’t have control over something that reveals information about you – for instance, if someone else wrote something about you – ask the owner to take it down. Look for the owner’s email address or a contact form and send them a polite note explaining exactly what you want removed and why. If you can’t find someone to contact, use this search tool to look up a site’s owner and contact info.

3. Switch up your email 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 it’ll help keep the different aspects of your life separate in your head too. While an email address isn’t as private as something like a Social Security number, it’s sometimes used in a similar way: It’s linked to your accounts/profiles on many websites, so people who know it may be able to find those pages. Changing your email allows you to distance yourself from sites you don’t want to be strongly associated with in search results.

4. Remove stuff from search engines

For the most part, unless there’s a legal issue, you shouldn’t need to contact a search engine to fix your search results. If you (or someone else) edit a website to remove the things you don’t want to show up in a search, it won’t show up, or if it’s updated, only the new version should appear.

But search engines don’t scan every website every day, and if you’ve got an interview lined up, you probably want to speed up that process. There’s no time guarantees, but the fastest way to take stuff down is to contact the search company directly. Google has content removal tools for killing Google-hosted content, cached versions (that is, old copies) of webpages, images, and entire sites. It has instructions for each of these things, but ultimately, you’re going to end up pasting a Web address here.

If you want to hide a website you own, Google explains how to include a robots.txt file to hide it from search engines without deleting the content (so people can still see it if they know the Web address).

For removing stuff from Bing, there’s an all-purpose contact form to fill out – select “Content Removal Request” from the dropdown menu.

Want to make sure you don’t go through that hassle again? Check out 4 New Ideas for Protecting Your Online Privacy.

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