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Keeping Yourself Out of Web And Other Databases

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Ann Harrison's, Wired News article: 'UnGoogleables' Hide From Search, offers a profile of Geri Agalia (not her real name), a person who values her privacy and is trying to keep info about herself out of the Google database. We've seen stories like this before.

Allow me share a few comments:

From the article:

"More people are finding they're leaving an accidental trail of digital bread crumbs on the web -- where Google's merciless crawlers vacuum them up and regurgitate them for anyone who cares to type in a name.

Look, I can be as tough on Google as anybody, but always pinning these issues on Google is well, totally unfair. Many other crawlers are out there and accessing much of the same data as Google is. The person who wants/needs/desired to get to this info (often much more personal than what club you might belong to) will know to look elsewhere. Plus, trying to keep material only out of Google (I see lots of these stories) does not keep it out of other databases. Kudos to Ann Harrison for mentioning this at the end of her article but it should be an issue of "web search engines" not just Google.

Philadelphia real estate investor Victor Lindt says he's surprised his name doesn't show up on Google, especially since he once owned a well-known pastry shop that was covered by the local and national press.

If someone had the desire/want/need to learn more about Mr. Lindt they could look many other places besides Google like invisible or deep web databases. Lots of public record databases remain on the deep web. For example: if you've been involved in a U.S. Federal Court case, court dockets and filings might be available via the PACER database.

No doubt about it, web search makes things easier to find but the person who wants personal info is likely to have a database toolkit with hundreds if not thousands of free and fee-based tools to LEGALLY find what they're looking for. Now, you're likely saying the typical "troublemaker" doesn't have the time to check thousands of public record files. However, fee-based services like KnowX and Intelius aggregate lots of this material.

Finally, I regularly get email or read list postings about people outraged with Google's (not any other) online phone number lookup database. They want to know how to get their name and number out of the system. Here's the page. However, as Google correctly points out, simply getting out of Google phone database doesn't mean that it will be removed from others.

Trying to remain completely and totally private in the United States might be possible. Very difficult, but I guess possible. Laws in other countries make this a completely different issue. However, saying that some of the problem is Google's fault is ridiculous. However, it may be understandable given Google's prominence and a general lack of understanding on how large open-web engines work.

Note to search engines (not only Google): As a public service and to aid some privacy concerns, why not spend more resources (beyond a page buried on your site) teaching people, especially webmasters, how to keep material out of your databases. Keeping content off the web is becoming a frequent question we get asked at training sessions. I guess this also points out the fact that many people don't understand how web crawlers work. Btw, just placing this removal info on your blog will do little to no good. Why? These people are likely not to read your blog.


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