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Deleting your digital past -- for good

Tracy Mayor | Nov. 17, 2008
Is it possible for an ordinary person to get some damaging tidbit entirely erased from the Web?

ReputationHawk's fees vary by case. For a situation like WrongedGirl's, the charge would be $500 or less, Martin says. ReputationDefender doesn't take on ad hoc erasure cases. Instead, clients pay $9.95 per month for a yearly subscription and $29.95 per removal.

Both services claim that they have a much higher success rate than individuals. The reason? You're a newbie; they do this all day, every day.

ReputationDefender has taken on about 1,000 cases with an 85% success rate, according to Fertik. He says the cases build upon one another as relationships develop. "If you call them informally enough times, let them know you're not an abusive company, you're not sending legal letters, then you can have a very high success rate."

In contrast, says Martin, an individual trying to clean up his own reputation starts from scratch and has almost no clout. "We can dig and find contact information pretty quickly, and we're going to have a lot more pull when contacting the Web site owner," he says.

Setting WrongedGirl right

Of our three cases, both experts said the case of WrongedGirl stood the best chance of being resolved. That's good news, since it's the type of scenario that's playing out ever more frequently as the Net generation enters the workforce.

Armed with advice from the pros, we set out one recent Monday to see how far we could get in righting WrongedGirl's reputation in a week.

We first tried to track down the journal author herself, with the idea that we could entreat her to take down the offensive material. (Perhaps she had matured since her partying days.) It seems that five years ago, she set up an account at a free online journal site and posted half a dozen entries in 10 days -- most apparently written under the influence of one substance or another -- before abandoning the site.

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.

 

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