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Aug 21, 2008

How to Ungoogle Yourself

Do unflattering photos or embarrassing blog postings pop up when someone Googles your name? Or are you concerned about your privacy in this new digital age? With Google's excellent indexing of the Internet, the reality is that friends, family members and employers can find out more information about you than you potentially want them to, just by "Googling" your full name. Here are a few ways of getting out of this situation. Stop using your full name. The best way to "ungoogle" yourself is to not offer your full name or abbreviate your last name when signing up for online accounts, posting from your blog, or attaching yourself to any content that's published on the Internet. You can also create an online pen name or a screen name to go by.
Google yourself to find out what other people are seeing when they search your name. If you have a common name, it's possible that you'll be buried in the search results with all the other "Sarah Smiths" or "Chris Johnsons" in the world. Don't forget to search your name with quotation marks around it, as well as variations that include your middle name or initial.
Be careful what you put in blogs - you may get people other than your intended audience reading it
Be careful what you put in blogs - you may get people other than your intended audience reading it
Make changes to the content that's already been indexed by Google with your name on it. Change your name on public profiles that contain your name, such as blogs or social website accounts. Delete any accounts you might no longer use or might contain compromising or personal information.
Consider using the "robots" HTML meta tag in your content if you want to continue publishing information under your name but don't want it appearing in Google search results: This only applies if you have your own website and access to the underlying code, as it stops most search engines from indexing (cataloging) your page or following the links on it. The tag must go in the section of a document in order to work. If you like, you can leave out the "nofollow" bit, which allows the search engines to follow the links, but not index the page. The reverse is also possible.
Send an e-mail to the person responsible for a site that you don't directly control and politely ask either to have the content removed or your name changed or obscured. Politely explain your situation, and don't make empty threats about legal action. Just be nice and it shouldn't be a problem.
Bury the content you don't want to be found by adding new content or moving existing websites higher up in search results for your name. Most Internet users don't continue browsing past the first 50 search results, so join a mailing list that's frequently indexed in Google or sign up for some websites that will eventually index your name

Learn to view the search results with your name through the eyes of a potential employer. It's been observed that the majority of executive recruiters routinely look into candidates by searching the Internet
If someone else has the same name as you do and you worry about it tarnishing your reputation, or you weren't successful in removing embarrassing links to your name, you may want to consider using a middle initial or including your full middle name, both when you're active online and on your resume.
In addition to not using your full name online, you should also not use the same e-mail address that you do professionally. Recruiters may search for your e-mail address right after searching for your name.
There are also services, some free and some paid, which will help clear your name in search results for you .
Some employers will include employee names and pictures on their websites. Ask your employer to use only part of your name or a nickname on the website. If you are to leave, ask them to promptly update the website to omit your information.
Use Google's removal request tool to ask Google to remove search results or cached content.
If you try to subscribe to a social or network site and cannot use an alias or screen name there is a good chance your information may appear in Google searches. LinkedIn is one site that won't allow people to use aliases and requires your full name. Also beware of alumni pages as those seem benign but usually have your personal information (spouse, kids, job and email). Invitation sites may also allow your email or name to show up on searches allowing people to see the types of parties you are invited to.
Conversely, if you are trying to bury skeletons in your closet you may want to create a professional blog using your professional name and contact information. Post pictures of successful events and staff gatherings, post newsletter information about different charity experiences, post photography, blog about your industry and how great it is. Keep it all very tasteful and very oriented towards what a professional overachiever would have. Just don't make it seem like an online resume'. Sign up for alumni pages and social/professional networks too. Hopefully the professional references will push your naked bar dancing pictures farther back in the Google search.
Start posting on industry related websites with your professional name and contact details. Make sure everything is well worded and articulate and avoid political or over the top posts. Attend chamber or professional organizations meetings that have websites and make sure you jump into lots of pictures with important people. Also see if any non-profits post donor information and try to make a donation so you'll show up in a list of donors. Positive search results is as good if not better than no search results.

Meta tags don't always work. Try not to rely on them too much.
Once something is online, it's often stored in so many places that it's effectively immortal. The best way to get around this is to avoid it. Make sure that whatever you place online is something that can stick around for years, otherwise consider not putting it online at all.
Be careful. Asking your employer to remove or obfuscate your name on their web site could backfire when potential employers do their "research"--giving the impression that you never worked for the company listed on your resume.

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