Are there days when you wish you could just disappear from the Internet?
Maybe you're haunted by things you've said on social networks, or you're just sick of having companies track and catalog your every digital move.
Yeah, it'd be nice to pull the plug on the whole thing, but it would be easier to stop a runaway train, right?
Actually, it's not terribly difficult to pull the Internet equivalent of escaping to a deserted island. All it takes is time and tenacity.
A good place to start is with a Google search of your name to see if anything unsavory pops up. Remember that Google isn't your enemy; it's just the messenger. If you want to remove some embarrassing things you've said in a forum, or bad things that have been said about you somewhere, you need to get it removed from the original source.
Find an email address or phone number for the website in question and talk to a person who has the authority to grant your takedown request. Most websites have a Contact Us link at the bottom of their home pages.
If you can't find contact information, a “Who Is” Google search will tell you who registered the site. Type “whois www.name-of-site.com” in quotes.
Website operators are under no obligation to remove content unless they get a court order. But most will give you a fair hearing if you're polite and explain that the content is untrue, hurts your reputation or is making it hard for you to get a job.
If it's a site's policy to not remove content, ask whether your name can be removed from the post or whether the content can be blocked from appearing in search engines.
If you succeed at changing a site, it can take Google a while to show updated search results. Fortunately, you can speed up the process using Google's URL Removal Tool at http://support.google.com. You need to have a Google account to make the request.
Google isn't the only information collector around. Anybody who's willing to pay online information brokers, also known as people-search sites, can learn your phone number, address, criminal record and a lot more.
Primary data brokers like Intelius collect information from public records. Secondary data brokers such as Spokeo aggregate information from primary brokers and add data collected from social networks and other online sources.
If you truly want to disappear from the Internet, you should search for yourself on these sites and remove yourself from their databases.
The privacy company Abine maintains a list of 25 major data vendors and instructions for opting out of each one. Click here to view it: www.abine.com/optouts.php.
Each site's opt-out procedure is different. Some even require letters and faxes. But it's the same routine that Abine's data-removal specialists follow if you sign up for the company's Delete Me subscription service. It just takes a bit more time.
Don't let your guard down after you opt out. Keep searching for yourself on people-finder sites every few months to make sure the data collectors haven't added you again.
When an amateur sleuth or average crazy person wants to find you, the first place they'll look is Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Flickr and other social networks. It's easy to delete your profiles on all the big networks. You can find full instructions on sites like Account Killer.
If you can't bear giving up a network, go into your account settings and at least make sure your profile is private and can't be found by search engines.
If you come up against a website that won't delete your account, there's a workaround.
Go into the account and remove all of your personal information. If a site won't let you leave fields blank, fill in with fake information.
Make sure your real email address isn't associated with the account. If it is, create a new free email account with a random user name. Associate your fake email address to the account. After the site emails you to confirm, cancel your fake email account.
When you feel the urge to go back online, and you will, be smart about protecting your hard-fought online privacy. Use an alias to hide your real name and identity and use a disposable or alias email address to go with your online persona.
Kim Komando hosts the nation's largest talk radio show about consumer electronics, computers and the Internet. Hear it locally at 94.3 WSC News Radio noon-3 p.m. Sundays. For more information, go to www.komando.com.
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