Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Take control of your online reputation

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Your age and marital status. Your home's value and your estimated annual income. Intimate details of your social life.

  • The LinkedIn logo.

    By Justin Sullivan, Getty Images

    The LinkedIn logo.

By Justin Sullivan, Getty Images

The LinkedIn logo.

Stalkers, nosy neighbors and potential employers can find this data and more. All it takes is a quick Web search.

As more of your life moves online, you need to manage your online reputation. Foil stalkers and snoops by limiting the available information. At the same time, you want to present your best side to employers and business associates.

This isn't easy. With a little know-how and persistence, you can do it. Find direct links to sites mentioned at

Remove unflattering and sensitive information

The first step is to see what information is available. Start with Google, Yahoo and Bing. Search for variations of your name; if you have a common name, add qualifiers like your city. Results near the top matter the most. However, unflattering details may appear on subsequent pages. Make a list of content to change or remove. Make a second list of content to promote.

Next, list online accounts you no longer use. Old dating profiles and social-networking pages can come back to haunt you. Privacy rules for these sites can also change. Close old accounts.

Your data also appears on people search sites and online databases. This is trickier to remove and often reveals sensitive financial details. These sites pull data from public records; they'll sell a complete file on you to anyone with cash. Each has different removal instructions; you must request removal from each site individually.

Requesting removal won't necessarily keep your data safe. Many sites make it difficult or impossible to remove data. Because this information comes from public records, it may reappear later.

I've posted a list of data brokers and people search sites at You'll also find removal instructions for big sites like Spokeo and MyLife.

You should also review your Facebook account. Limit sensitive information like your full birth date and home address to close friends and family. Remove or hide embarrassing posts.

There's a chance that unflattering information may appear on other sites. This can prove difficult to remove, particularly if it is factually correct. Your best bet is to write the site owner a polite letter making your case. Be sure to highlight any inaccuracies.

If the posts seem intentionally malicious, contact Google. In some cases, it removes links from searches. You may also consider contacting an attorney.

Promote the positive

It can take weeks to clean up your online reputation. Simply trying to remove data may not do enough. You may need to create content to push down unflattering search results. This gives you the ability to control what people see.

Several things will help. Create a profile on Linked In highlighting your professional accomplishments. Create a Google Profile. Use it to direct people to information you want them to see. Link to positive stories about you. Include links to other carefully selected sites.

Start a free blog with Blogger or WordPress. Cover your personal or professional interests and showcase your abilities. Others online will likely have your same name. This can be potentially embarrassing. In that case, create a post with links to others that share your name. It's a direct way to distinguish yourself.

Finally, you may not be able to control your online reputation yourself. Fortunately, there are companies that can help. and Reputation Hawk specialize in online reputation management. Prices start at around $100 and can run into the thousands.


Kim Komando hosts the nation's largest talk radio show about computers and the Internet. To get the podcast or find the station nearest you, visit: To subscribe to Kim's free e-mail newsletters, sign up at: Contact her at

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