How Can I Find Out What Information About Me Is Posted Online, and Can I Remove It?

February 13, 2009

in Internet,privacy & security

by Tina Gasperson

Have you ever “Googled” someone? It’s easy. Just visit your favorite search engine, such as, and type their first and last names into the search box, preferable encased in quotation marks in order to exclude pages that happen to have the first and last name in some other order. In a matter of seconds, you have a list of links to pages that include your friend’s name. If your friend has an uncommon name, you can be pretty sure you’ve got the right person. Now imagine your friend Googling you. If the thought of that makes you nervous, maybe you’d better Google yourself and see just what’s out there. You may be surprised to find that 10-year-old discussion forum post you made is still lingering online, even though you’ve moved on to completely different things.

Of course, Googling isn’t the only way you might find information about yourself online. If your county allows it, there may be an entire database of information just ripe for searching, with data that includes court dates, traffic tickets, arrests, mortgages, loans, contracts, marriages and divorces, even child support orders. This information won’t show up on Google, but anyone who is savvy enough to know where to look can potentially find some embarrassing information, at no cost. If you’re interested in finding the dirt on yourself, look up your county’s Web site and search for public records, then search for your name. If you’ve ever been arrested, search for the sheriff’s department in the county in which you were arrested and see if they keep arrest records online.

So, what if you search for yourself and find some things you wish you could get rid of, or at least keep private? In the case of random Web searches, unfortunately there’s not much chance of having the information removed. You can try contacting the owner of the Web site and asking them to remove the offending information, but in the vast majority of cases they are not required to do so. For public records stored online, you may have a bit more luck. Most county governments have a process that will allow you to have the information removed from online databases, sometimes for a fee. That won’t stop someone who’s really determined to get the information if it is a public record, but at least they won’t be able to do so from the comfort of their home computer.

Tina Gasperson (, affectionately known as Computer Lady by her family, has been writing about IT, home computing, and the Internet for more than a decade.