Deleting your digital past -- for good

Can you erase your tracks online? We tried to get a few bad mentions off the Net forever. Here's how we did.

We knew only her first name, her hometown from five years ago and the bands she liked at that time. The e-mail address listed in the user account for her online journal was defunct.

WrongedGirl provided us with a possible last name for the author, but unfortunately, like the author's first name, it was too common to be helpful. Her first and possibly last names together garnered 1,260 hits on Google, including multiple references on YouTube and multiple accounts on LinkedIn and Facebook, none of which appeared to be our author.

After a couple of mind-numbing hours trolling MySpace accounts, we did find an entry that looked promising (same first name, same state and county, if not exact hometown, and same favorite bands), but that too had been updated only a few times before being abandoned more than two years ago. It looked like we had a serial journaler on our hands.

We gave up on trying to track down the author and turned to the site where the journal was posted -- Blurty . We posted our request to remove the offending material in the support forum. A few moments later, we received an automated e-mail response, with a tracking number, saying that our request had been received and would be addressed as soon as possible. But over the next four days, nobody responded.

Strike Two: Rotten Tomatoes

Our final attempt to erase someone's digital tracks also met with defeat.

Freelance journalist wants her name taken off the Rotten Tomatoes movie-review Web site.

Good luck with that, say ReputationDefender CEO Michael Fertik, ReputationHawk founder Chris Martin and Columbia University journalism professor Todd Gitlin. Large, commercial (implication: lucrative) Web sites have little need to accommodate your petty requests. If you get through and find a sympathetic person on the end of a phone line, perhaps you'll get lucky. Otherwise, fuggedaboutit.

That prediction turned out to be on the money. Multiple e-mails to various Rotten Tomatoes addresses went unanswered or were bounced back as undeliverable. Messages left at the phone number for the parent company, IGN Entertainment, likewise went nowhere.

Apparently, the journalist's best course of action would be to do what reputation mavens recommended in the first place: Create enough positive, search-engine-friendly content to push the "rotten + journalist's name" search result to Google's second page of results.

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Tracy Mayor

Computerworld
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