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.

Scoping out the site

Trying another angle, we trolled through Blurty's support, legal, privacy and terms of service documents and sent e-mails to any other addresses we found there (abuse@blurty.com, for example), asking that the entry in question be taken down.

Two days later, with no response on any front, we used WhoIs to try to find a physical address for Blurty. Its technical contact was listed as being in Encinitas, California. When we called the phone number given in the WhoIs listing, a recorded voice informed us we'd reached Sunlane Media.

Back to the Web for more searching: Our heart sank when we found that Sunlane has registered hundreds of other domains, nearly all of which appeared to be porn sites. Wonderful.

We called three separate phone numbers we found for Sunlane in various WhoIs listings -- two of which sounded like mobile phones and one that had the quality of a home answering machine circa 1995. None had a live person on the other end. We left messages at each number, trying to sound professional enough to elicit a swift response and distressed enough to elicit sympathy.

Resolution

The next day was Friday, our self-imposed deadline. We sent one final e-mail -- replying to the webmaster address from which we'd received the tracking number earlier in the week -- and requesting a response that leaned even more heavily on the sympathy angle.

Still nothing. At the end of the day, feeling discouraged, we drafted an e-mail to Fertik at ReputationDefender, requesting suggestions for further action. But when we Googled WrongedGirl's name to find and furnish the link to the offensive journal entry, it was gone from Google.

Amazed, we flipped over to the Internet Explorer bookmark we'd made for the page and saw this message: "Error. This journal has been suspended."

Excellent! But just what had done the job -- which e-mail or phone call? We had no way of knowing, though a full 10 days later, an e-mail arrived from the abuse@blurty.com address, telling us what we'd already figured out: The journal had been taken down.

We were ebullient but also chastened. Yes, we had managed restore WrongedGirl's good name, but we had no clear understanding of exactly how we had done it, and our other two attempts at erasing unwanted online tracks had come up dry.

In the end, Fertik's words came back to haunt us: "A lot of this stuff you can do yourself -- if you have the time, the expertise and the temperament to get it done," he had told us before we began. "But how many people change the oil in their own car anymore?"

Of course, Fertik has a vested interest in urging people to hire companies like his own, but we had to concede that he also had a point: Erasing your tracks online takes time, perseverance and more than a little luck.

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Tracy Mayor

Computerworld
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