The removal from the internet of personal material is a subject on which there are very different views. Some people (and sites) are so entrenched in freedom of information theory that nothing should be removed, they say. Others are not so convinced and value privacy.
Those people who look at the situation in a very shallow fashion conclude that there is nothing wrong with having as much as possible on the internet – and keeping it there.
They are wrong, because simple errors of judgement at a young age can affect the more mature person in their careers, but matters go much deeper than that. The European Convention on Human Rights at Article 8 demands respect for a persons family life and keeping information on the internet or elsewhere and publishing it can be a breach of Article 8.
You only have to look on the www and see the number of services on offer that we now find it difficult to avoid using. The fact is that the collecting together of our personal material for the purposes of supplying these services gives important advantages to commercial companies out there in the real world. You may think that you are dealing with companies on a level playing field, but if those companies have purchased sufficient personal information about you then the competitive advantage moves very much in favour of that company. You never get to find out that this is the reason why they were able to target you, or to get the maximum price out of you, because nobody tells you that your personal information has been used in this way.
When it comes to cleaning up your internet profile, you need to put in a great deal of work or pay somebody to do it for you. The surprising European case brought by Costeja González established that individuals do have a right to be forgotten. Google has set up a system for you to make application to have material removed from their search engine results, but you will need good grounds as Google is very much a “free speech” presence on the web.
The search engines only report material contained on other people’s sites and you should therefore find out which sites you are on and either write to the webmasters setting out why you should be removed or, if you have control over the profile for the relevant information, follow the advice on the website to remove yourself. You can find advice for areas such as YouTube, Facebook, Blogger and Google +. You can also take advantage of websites such as Brandyourself.com in order to push the bad content off the first page of searches.
Once you have managed too clear up your footprint sufficiently you might want to set up Google alerts so that you are told when you appear again in other searches – just in case you have to start the process all over again.