Cleaning online information
March 6, 2018 8:59 AM   Subscribe

Through a random event I googled my cell phone number. Wow. It showed my name and variations of my name. It also showed some backgrounds on these people. Some had lawsuits. Some had several wives. Some had prison records. And none of this is true for me.

It dawned on me that this is a big problem. If I were to give my cell to someone who did not know me well and they googled this, it would show this information. Moreover I don't know what other information may be out there that is entirely incorrect. What type of firm(s) can I hire to look into this and hopefully get some or mostly all of this corrected?
posted by jtexman1 to Technology (9 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Isn’t the bigger issue that someone may google your name and be presented with this information? People don’t generally google your phone number, but may more likely get a confused google result John Smith, job applicant, with John Smith Jr, cannibal.

In any event, I have a common name, and I don’t worry much about it; such is the way of the internet. I think it’s actually worse if you have a less common name; much harder to establish you are not the Xaveria Hoot-Pleasance that done them murders.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 9:21 AM on March 6, 2018 [6 favorites]

Someone who cares a lot about this sort of thing sent me this which is apparently a compilation of methods/sources for online data scrubbing.
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:35 AM on March 6, 2018

First off, most people have internet doppelgangers like this. Unless it's actually a problem for you personally, just having data-doppelgangers who are a bit unsavory is absurdly common.

The quality of the data online is terrible, and it's essentially an unending task to try and fix it all. This information is held in databases that aren't even online, so even if you persuade a website to remove the information, the next person who buys a copy of the database can just republish the crap data again. I'm not saying it's useless, but it might end up being a matter of diminishing returns.

Probably the better way is to set up a personal website and get it ranked highly by Google. Register a domain name with some variation of your actual name, put a big picture of yourself on it, write a few inoffensive blog posts, create a Twitter account, and generally try to lay claim to your identity online.
posted by BungaDunga at 9:38 AM on March 6, 2018 [1 favorite]

It's endless whack-a-mole trying to get rid of those low value information aggregators. Many don't have a functional point of contact or won't listen to you if you do reach them. Some intentionally do things like mix up criminal records and extort people to have the information removed (and operate internationally so there's nothing you can do about it legally). People with savvy learn that those sites are essentially untrustworthy.
posted by Candleman at 10:23 AM on March 6, 2018 [3 favorites]

Nobody who works with data for a living takes the free online data aggregators seriously. So it's highly unlikely that, say, a prospective employer would even look at that stuff, much less make an employment decision based on it.

As for individuals who might fall for it and judge you harshly as a result, just suggest they do some searching on their own personal data to find out for themselves how incredibly inconsistent and often inaccurate it is.

The one thing you never want to do is pay somebody to have any of this removed. That's actually a business model, where miscreants deliberately seed inaccurate information in their online database, then charge the marks to have it removed - which they may or may not do.

Personally, I love all the inaccurate data out there on me. As Cory Doctorow says, Little Brother's job is to mess with Big Brother. The best way is to keep as much of your data private as possible. The next best way is to provide as much inaccurate data as possible. That can be a whole lotta fun, actually, especially after seeing where it ends up.
posted by Lunaloon at 10:45 AM on March 6, 2018 [3 favorites]

A couple of data points:

- thanks to the ease of caller ID spoofing and local area spam calling, your number may well end up reported in some of these phone databases. Nothing to be done; your number is as likely to be randomly selected as any other.

- my name in real life is not Larry Jones, but it's about as common as that. So I'm a grain of sand in the Googles. Unless you put in something about my occupation, city, etc., you'll get nothing of value. The only real life consequence seems to be that my state's stupid DMV won't let me renew my license at the Judge of Probate office - I have to go to the license division of the state police where they can apparently see the actual criminal records... as others have said, you just can't let this eat you.
posted by randomkeystrike at 11:41 AM on March 6, 2018 [1 favorite]

People don’t generally google your phone number

Counterpoint: I Google people's phone numbers all the time.
posted by Jacqueline at 5:33 PM on March 6, 2018

In the 90s I was contacted by a guy who collected links to websites of people with my name - it was his wife's name too - there are probably remnants of that site on the web somewhere. Also, search results of my name generally relate to the CEO/EVP of Norwegian Cruise Lines.

There are so many shady sites out there that comb the web and aggregate information about everyone who shares your name or phone number or who has lived in the same building as you. I can't imagine that a public website exists that can provide 100% accurate information about anyone.

If someone had your SSN - for example a potential employer - they could do a relatively accurate background check on you. Other than that there are very few ways to ensure any semblance of a real profile of you online.
posted by bendy at 8:58 PM on March 6, 2018

What type of firms can I hire to look into this?

The term you are looking for is "reputation management".
posted by rada at 10:23 AM on March 7, 2018

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