Once your personal info gets out onto the web, it can be a virtual monster to get rid of. Google seems to be trying to provide people with a way to cage it up before it causes any damage.
So what’s great about Me on the Web?
Awareness, really. It makes people more aware of their online reputation. You can easily set up alerts for what gets put on the Internet and indexed by Google so you know what’s out there. If your email or street address gets posted, you can set it up to let you know. If you uncover personal info, then you can decide whether or not you should try to take action. Me on the Web points out the helpful How-To’s that will take you down the right path for removing unwanted content and managing your online identity.
Also, by creating a Google Profile, you can try to add new positive, good content about yourself that have a good chance of outperforming and showing up for a search for your name rather than the negative content you’re hoping to hide.
How removing content works, and has always worked
If you publish something of yourself online that you don’t want to show up in search engine results, you can do a few things that Google suggests. First, you must take down the page yourself. If it’s still showing up in results after the change, it will eventually disappear the next time Google indexes/crawls the site. That process may take days to weeks, so if it urgently needs to be taken down, and once the content is no longer available to users, you can request that Google removes the URL if the page itself is now gone, or request Google removes its cached copy of the page if it’s merely been updated to remove the content. Google has tools for these processes in their Webmaster Tools.
What it doesn’t do
You can’t remove content from the web that you don’t own, even if it is of you. Google doesn’t own the Internet; it merely puts it into an index once its robots find and crawl its pages on the web. You must request removal of content from the source by contacting the webmaster of the site you find issue with.
What Google will go to bat for you over
Even if you don’t own the content, some things are not tolerated online. If confidential info is posted and it shows up on Google, Google will actually contact the site’s host to request its removal. Google will also work on removing that info from its own search results. Items that you can go straight to momma Google about include your SSN, government ID number, bank account or CC number, image of your handwritten signature, your first and last name or the name of your business appearing on an adult content site that’s spamming Google search results.
The skinny summary
The web is still a vast network, and anything you put online will probably be somewhere, on some server, in some archive, forever. Most people do go to Google searches first to find information about other people though. So Google’s “Me on the Web” is good in that it should help people protect their online identities to an extent. It will at least help people become aware of the permanence of posting items online, and it will help you try to bury personal information if it appears on the web.
But if your sensitive info gets leaked out there, don’t be naïve. People who are less lazy or know other means to access information that’s out there may still be able to find it. There are other search engines besides Google. So really, hiding stuff from their search engines is just an attempt at making those items less visible to the majority of the population that might, with luck, stop looking after one search for your name.