Slashdot is powered by your submissions, so send in your scoop


Forgot your password?

Best Way To Clear Your Name Online? 888

An anonymous reader writes "About fifteen years ago, I did something that I've come to regret on a university computer system. I was subsequently interviewed by a Federal law enforcement agency, although no charges were pressed and I have no criminal record as a result of my actions. At the time, I discussed the matter with a friend of mine who went on to mention it briefly in a text file zine with a small distribution list. I've generally tried to keep a low profile online and until recently there's been very little information about me available from the major search engines. Unfortunately, that zine mention was picked up by at some point and mirrored across the world. I've tried to address this with the owner of the site, but couldn't get anywhere. Even if my name in the source file is altered, cached copies will continue to link me with my youthful mistake. Have any other Slashdot readers had a similar experience? What practical steps would your readers recommend to prevent this information from hurting me? I am concerned that future employers may hold my past actions against me should they look for me online as part of their screening process."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Best Way To Clear Your Name Online?

Comments Filter:
  • by Servaas ( 1050156 ) <`captivayay' `at' `'> on Thursday December 10, 2009 @05:24PM (#30394378)
    Once its on the net, its on the net.
    • by commodore64_love ( 1445365 ) on Thursday December 10, 2009 @05:42PM (#30394700) Journal

      Society needs to wake-up and realize punishing someone for what they did 20 years ago is ridiculous. Nobody is perfect. It's like what Harlan Ellison said on Sci-Fi Channel: "People accuse me of contradicting myself because 30 years ago I said this or that. And they're right. That's because 30 years ago I was young and stupid, and now I'm older and wiser and changed my mind. judge me on who I am today, now when I was some young brat."

      IMHO just as thre's a 7-year stature of limitations on law, so too should employers have a limitation on how far back they can dig. Anything that predates this decade should be irrelevant.

      Sorry for the typos - I'm typing on a mac.
      I'm not usd to this keyboard'

      • Depends (Score:3, Interesting)

        by marcus ( 1916 )

        It has little or nothing to do with "society".

        Did you rape and murder my sister while burglarizing her house 15 years ago?

        If you did, and you get out of jail, I am going to cut your nuts off, first.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        IMHO just as thre's a 7-year stature of limitations on law, so too should employers have a limitation on how far back they can dig. Anything that predates this decade should be irrelevant.

        Sorry for the typos - I'm typing on a mac.
        I'm not usd to this keyboard'

        You're using a mac? Well, good luck on getting hired by MS for the next 7 years.

      • by Grail ( 18233 ) on Thursday December 10, 2009 @06:47PM (#30395802) Journal

        Any employer that chooses to judge an employee by good or bad stuff they did 10 years ago, is stark raving insane.

        10 years ago, the person didn't have two children and a spouse and a house with a 30 year mortgage. That kind of change in life status changes people's priorities. 15 years ago she might have been a party animal, with photos on Facebook showing her drunken charades with a bunch of equally sillly friends, these days she might not even touch alcohol since her dedication to her children is more important to her.

        People do change.

        • by sjames ( 1099 ) on Thursday December 10, 2009 @10:17PM (#30397778) Homepage Journal

          Especially going from youth to adulthood.

          If we're going to hold things against people forever, then practically everyone is a bed wetting cookie thief with poor motor skills who has to be told when to go to bed.

          Everyone learns life by trial and error. If we can't accept youthful error then nobody is acceptable. Error might as well be considered part of the very definition of youth.

      • by JesseMcDonald ( 536341 ) on Thursday December 10, 2009 @07:20PM (#30396292) Homepage

        IMHO just as thre's a 7-year stature of limitations on law, so too should employers have a limitation on how far back they can dig. Anything that predates this decade should be irrelevant.

        So when a board of directors is reviewing the candidates for their new CEO, they should just ignore the fact that eight years ago one candidate drove his company into the ground and ran off with all its assets, while another has a spotless record? Face it, history matters. Actual reform and rehabilitation should be considered, but you don't get a free pass just because it's been a few years since your last incident. If you want to take a chance on a candidate with questionable history that's your prerogative, but others retain the right to take that history into account.

        Moreover, all else being equal, a candidate with a known history of embarrassing (or criminal) behavior should expect to lose to a candidate with a clean record. I agree that society should be less sensitive to such things, but it is not unreasonable for employers to prefer candidates who have shown themselves to be conscious of their public image, and thus less likely to harm the company's reputation. If you want to be hired despite your history you must be prepared to justify the heightened risk they are taking by hiring you. (If society were less sensitive then this justification would be easier to make.)

    • by Anonymous Brave Guy ( 457657 ) on Thursday December 10, 2009 @05:46PM (#30394784)

      That doesn't mean you can't do what the PR agents do: generate higher-profile positive information. That makes it harder to encounter the negative stuff casually. It also changes the balance in the perception of the individual concerned if the negative stuff does also come to light.

    • by contrapunctus ( 907549 ) on Thursday December 10, 2009 @06:00PM (#30395032)
      bury it with new content with your name. nobody looks past the first few pages of a search.
  • I Don't Worry (Score:5, Insightful)

    by headkase ( 533448 ) on Thursday December 10, 2009 @05:25PM (#30394398)
    And I'm an idiot to this day. Any employer who would hold a youth mistake against you is also an idiot. Especially when you can google their name in return... Nobody is free of skeletons, just try not to have some real bad ones.
    • Re:I Don't Worry (Score:5, Informative)

      by Monkeedude1212 ( 1560403 ) on Thursday December 10, 2009 @05:36PM (#30394578) Journal

      If you consider something at "University" a Youth Mistake. Most people are generally at the age of adulthood since then.

      While I agree, anyone who will hold that one and only thing against you would be a jerk, that doesn't mean it won't happen. But it will usually mean you wouldn't want to work with that person anyways. (In the tough economy though, most take whatever job they can find).

      And if it's the ONLY thing available on him, it depends on what personally identifiable information is there. Does it include the University and his full name? Or just his first name and the University.

      I can think of a handful of circumstances where he could simply say "No, that's not me" if the information isn't solid.

      As a Pro Tip: Make a Facebook Account, spend 1 weekend on it putting a few non-embarassing pictures, Change your status to something positive, and never touch it again. It'll get picked up on Google and the images you're tagged in - blamo, that small thing is going to the bottom of the list.

      • Re:I Don't Worry (Score:4, Insightful)

        by John Whitley ( 6067 ) on Thursday December 10, 2009 @05:51PM (#30394886) Homepage

        If you consider something at "University" a Youth Mistake. Most people are generally at the age of adulthood since then.

        If you think someone at University at a typical post-high school age is an "adult", then practical experience, cognitive science [], and auto insurer's actuarial statistics have something quite different to say. Even ignoring brain maturation issues, in today's society that's the time when most folks are away from home and on their own for the first time, and are really just starting to figure out Which End Is Up.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by danlip ( 737336 )

        If you consider something at "University" a Youth Mistake. Most people are generally at the age of adulthood since then.

        I did some very stupid and immature stuff in college. Luckily none of it is evident on the Internet. I am a very different person now.

        As a Pro Tip: Make a Facebook Account, spend 1 weekend on it putting a few non-embarassing pictures, Change your status to something positive, and never touch it again. It'll get picked up on Google and the images you're tagged in - blamo, that small thing is going to the bottom of the list.

        Or create your own website with domain name matching your real life name, with at least your phone number and resume.
        And post to technical mailing lists using your real name. All that stuff will probably come high on Google compared
        to that zine. Stop keeping a low profile.

  • by Lord Lode ( 1290856 ) on Thursday December 10, 2009 @05:25PM (#30394406)
    I'm not sure how bad it is, but if someone types your name in google and the ONLY thing they find is that one thing you don't, then it'll stand out. Try to use your name for everything, so that those things appear first in the results.
  • by Mal-2 ( 675116 ) on Thursday December 10, 2009 @05:26PM (#30394420) Homepage Journal

    If you're "John Smith", I think it will be pretty easy to disclaim being the SAME John Smith unless there are a lot of other matching details.

    On the other hand, if your last name is "Szczerbiak", maybe you can make a case for wanting to simplify the spelling and change it.

    Basically those are the first two options I can think of -- dodge, and go stand somewhere else.


    • by JWSmythe ( 446288 ) <jwsmythe@jwsmy[ ].com ['the' in gap]> on Thursday December 10, 2009 @05:53PM (#30394926) Homepage Journal

          There's a bit more to it.

          Of course, deny, deny, deny is a wonderful thing. He has other options though.

          1) He could bury it so deep in the searches that no one would ever stumble upon it. He could plaster his name across so many sites that he seems like a good upstanding citizen (and search engine spammer).

          2) He could build a disinformation campaign. Build up identities with the same name but obviously different information. We'll assume his name is so unique there's only him to find. Now, with 100 profiles on sites and message boards with different ages, locations, and experiences (although all bogus) they'd have to wade through the crap to identify him.

          3) Deny, deny, deny. It's still a good option. :) If a prospective employer comes across it, laugh about it. "Ya, I found my name, and saw what that other guy did. It's funny, but no it's not me."

          4) Admit to the felony electronic trespass against the university that he was at, and not get the job. :) Ok, I'm just making an assumption on that one, but at some point, especially if there were federal charges, someone's going to track it back to him.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by gznork26 ( 1195943 )

      I'm "Philip Zack", and as it happens a person with the same name was caught on video removing anthrax from a military base. Anyone who attempts to learn about me by googling my name will find lots of references to this other guy. I have no idea whether any of the jobs I didn't get were lost because an employer tried to do a quick and dirty background check, and didn't bother to ask whether what they found was me or not. Fortunately, the TSA didn't use google when I last flew, or I would have had a lengthy d

  • by Manip ( 656104 ) on Thursday December 10, 2009 @05:27PM (#30394446)

    Did you ever consider taking what you did and using it as a reason they SHOULD hire you?

    • by pyster ( 670298 ) on Thursday December 10, 2009 @05:45PM (#30394778)
      You have to remember that the BBS days were full of hack/phreak/anarchy. Many of us were terrible children. If a kid did half the shit we did, or lied about doing, they would be carted off to gitmo never to be seen again. hell, they want to charge you with a crime for just having 'anarchy' files today.
  • 3 thoughts (Score:4, Informative)

    by Red Flayer ( 890720 ) on Thursday December 10, 2009 @05:27PM (#30394448) Journal
    Some thoughts:

    1. Are you still friends with the writer of the zine? Ask them to send a DMCA notice. Don't know if it would work, but may be worth a shot.

    2. Drown out the old stuff. Develop an online presence that will bury the old stuff into obscurity. Register your real name as your user ID on all the sites you post on. Downside: prospective employers, etc, will think you spend all day on those sites.

    3. Change your name.

    Sorry if this is of no help.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by kalirion ( 728907 )

      1. Are you still friends with the writer of the zine? Ask them to send a DMCA notice. Don't know if it would work, but may be worth a shot.

      Could easily backfire through the Streisand Effect.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by nine-times ( 778537 )

      Are you still friends with the writer of the zine? Ask them to send a DMCA notice. Don't know if it would work, but may be worth a shot.

      Or you could just send a DMCA notice yourself. You have no right to request a takedown, but that doesn't stop big media companies.

  • Live with it. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by qoncept ( 599709 ) on Thursday December 10, 2009 @05:27PM (#30394450) Homepage
    Just live with it. A reasonable person can see the difference between a simple mistake years ago (especially if there is no conviction) and a habitual law breaker. I sold alcohol to a minor because I was too lazy to check an ID, and it turned out to be a sting. It didn't ruin my life.
  • by Zocalo ( 252965 ) on Thursday December 10, 2009 @05:28PM (#30394476) Homepage
    ...posting the fact to a site where a good deal of the readership's instinctive reaction to the posting of sensitive information on the Internet is to find and mirror it in as many locations as possible is probably not the best first step. See "Streisand Effect". [] Then again, if you are just pretending to be the subject of the text in order to humiliate the actual victim even further, then I tip my hat to you sir. Bravo!
  • smokescreen (Score:5, Insightful)

    by resfilter ( 960880 ) on Thursday December 10, 2009 @05:30PM (#30394500)
    if you manage to smokescreen your online identity with huge amount of positive material that bears your name (i.e. get your name on a lot of popular projects), with lots of cross linking, you will at the very least bury it into non-existance as far as search engines are concerned.

    if it's result number 999 on google, i doubt your average employer will read that far into it, and if they do, the amount of positive things that have been said about you will probably outweigh the one negative result

    and i'm not sure of US law in this manner, but is it legal to deny someone a job opportunity based on an alleged crime for which they were completely pardoned?
    • by tacokill ( 531275 ) on Thursday December 10, 2009 @06:29PM (#30395510)
      but is it legal to deny someone a job opportunity based on an alleged crime for which they were completely pardoned?

      Uhh, yes. There is no "right" to a job in the USA. You can be denied for ANY reason except race, religon, or sexual orientation and those are hard to prove.

      Why in the world would you think any employer "must" hire someone? Are you kidding me? The USA is a hire and fire at-will country and always has been. It doesn't even make sense to consider whether an employer "must" hire someone they don't want to hire because any employer in their right mind would simply eliminate the position before they would hire someone who is forced upon them. This isn't France.

      I kinda-sorta give you a pass because it appears you are Non-US. I'd only point out that this distinction is one major difference between the USA and the rest of the world. There is no right to a job in the USA at all.
  • by The Real Nem ( 793299 ) on Thursday December 10, 2009 @05:32PM (#30394516) Homepage
    You just awoke a sleeping giant. As we speak thousands of once idle keyboards are feverishly trying away to unravel the mystery of just who you are and what you did - you even told them where to look. How fond were you of your name?
  • Go Buddhist (Score:4, Interesting)

    by scorp1us ( 235526 ) on Thursday December 10, 2009 @05:32PM (#30394522) Journal

    There is no way you can track down all those bits and alter/destroy them. Regardless fo the legality, it is impossible from a legal perspective.

    Go Buddhist, give up everything, change your name, (your SSN will stay, IIRC) and reinvent yourself. Seems to me to be a lot for a stupid text file. As someone who would work at a summer camp, I would disappear 3 months out of the year to the world outside the camp. I'd come back fresh, refreshed and unencumbered. Live off the net for a while and see how really irrelevant it is to the Real World.

    or just maybe remove all the link destinations?

  • Suggestion (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 10, 2009 @05:34PM (#30394554)

    Just hack into the server hosting the offending item and... oh wait.

  • by Hognoxious ( 631665 ) on Thursday December 10, 2009 @05:34PM (#30394560) Homepage Journal

    First[1], you need to invent a time machine. Then you travel back in time and either convince your former self not to do it or you kill all the witnesses and destroy all the evidence.

    [1] You can actually do it last, if you like. Or in the middle. Whenever. It is a time machine, after[2] all.
    [2] Or before all. It is a time machine, after[3] all.
    [3] Or before all. It is stack overflow near line 5. Bailing

  • by macraig ( 621737 ) <[moc.liamg] [ta] [giarc.a.kram]> on Thursday December 10, 2009 @05:38PM (#30394620)

    I bought a used street sweeper and modded it with an extra tank on the top. I fill that full of white-out that I made myself in bulk from a secret family recipe (what can I say, I come from a long line of screw-ups). Then whenever I put my online foot in my mouth, I run out and hop in my "Eraser" and head off for my ISP's local datacenter... I whitewash the whole place top to bottom, and problem solved.

  • by shawnmchorse ( 442605 ) on Thursday December 10, 2009 @05:39PM (#30394650) Homepage

    I'm a long-term Rocky Horror Picture Show cast member, and I run a web site [] for our local cast in Austin. I've been running this web site for over a decade now.

    Cast members are frequently very interested to see photographs of themselves performing in the show. And since it's Rocky Horror, they're usually wearing lingerie of some sort. At the time the photos are posted, they're invariably very excited about this. Especially because I take pride in my photography, and most people haven't seen photos of themselves prior to this that someone had actually put significant work into.

    A few years later though, these same people have frequently quit the cast, possibly graduated from college, and moved on to other activities. They may decide they want to apply for jobs in education, as music minister of a church, etc. They do some vanity searching on Google and are shocked... shocked I tell you!... that the Rocky Horror cast web site is still online and kicking with what had been posted some years previously.

    Now keep in mind this is a hobby web site that I do purely for the enjoyment of myself and other cast members. It's done in my spare time, and I've always paid for it out of pocket.

    I'm sure I could honor requests to remove all of these photos, but I simply don't want to. It involves a lot of time and effort on my end, to accomplish something that's actively taking away from things I take pride in myself. I get probably a half dozen requests per year on average at this point all basically saying the same thing: "Take down my photos now! You're causing damage to my reputation!". At some point I just had to say to hell with them all and whip up a form letter response saying "Sorry, but I'm just not going to do anything about it".

    • by Anonymous Cowpat ( 788193 ) on Thursday December 10, 2009 @06:10PM (#30395178) Journal

      do you tell people before you put the pictures up that you can't be bothered to tweak a few pages every 2 months when it becomes desirable for the pictures to come down again?

      Or set the site up so that none of the pictures stay up for more than 12 months? (If people want them, they can snaffle them while they're still up)

      Or why not set up your robots.txt so that only the frontpage gets indexed?

      If you put potentially damaging pictures of people up on your website, you need to be responsible enough beforehand to recognise that you will need to 'budget' more time later to take them down again. If you can't do that, don't put the pictures up.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by geekoid ( 135745 )

        If they are in public then too bad. If they gave permission, either explicit or implicit, then too bad. If they where in a situation where it's to be expected by a reasonable person, then too bad.

        Trying to hide or change history of ANY kind is a bad thing.

        No one is under any obligation to change something just becasue someone doesn't like it. It's thinking like yours that holds things back.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      That last paragraph reads like this:

      I take pride in damaging people's reputations.

      You're a prick, Shawn McHorse. I wouldn't hire you to mow my lawn. Eat that, google.

  • by 2ms ( 232331 ) on Thursday December 10, 2009 @05:41PM (#30394684)

    In fact, it bugs me nearly every day:

    A few years ago I was living in a place for just a few weeks and using the computer that came with the room there. Unfortunately, I apparently left my browser with the cookie or whatever that automatically logged me into gmail account. So, some asshole came along after I left and used the opportunity to use my email account to register for some forum that discusses getting Viagra in all kinds of illegal ways. My gmail address is basically exactly my name.

    So every time I apply for a job, every time I apply for an apartment or whatever, when I meet a girl etc, I feel like someone's going to Google me and nearly the first result that pops up is all this crap about all kinds of illegal ways of getting Viagra for recreation use etc. It's a nightmare. I've done everything I can to email administrators of the forum (which has now seemed to be swallowed up into other forums so the same posts appear on several different sites) but no one ever returns my emails no matter how much I explain the situation. Due to the nature of my work, I'm very confident this has in fact impacted my career. I don't want to think about things like potential girlfriends, housemates, people generally interested in what I've done in the (scientific) community I work in, etc.

    If anyone has any ideas for me on what I could do it would be IMMENSELY valuable to me. I'm very glad this has come up on Slashdot.

  • by Old97 ( 1341297 ) on Thursday December 10, 2009 @05:54PM (#30394942)
    After that you can right a memoir and appear on talk shows. You won't need another job.
  • by trims ( 10010 ) on Thursday December 10, 2009 @06:02PM (#30395060) Homepage

    First off, to everyone who knows me: This wasn't my story submission

    OK, now that's out of the way, I suffer from a related, but not quite so bad situation: I'm pretty much the only Erik Trimble on the Internet (that's not true, but close enough). Google me, and 90% of the first 100 returns point to me, in some way or not (FYI - the MySpace page for "leathercladdemon" isn't me. Really.) There's nothing bad there, it's just that my life has evolved, and having absolutely all of it retained and searchable over the past 20 years allows people to draw incorrect assumptions about me.

    This is all the privacy problems that the current young generations seem to be completely oblivious to, and that pundits like to ignore. People's perceptions of you matter, as much as we'd like to think otherwise. That doesn't mean it has to rule your life, but to think that such perceptions don't matter is foolish. The problem with retaining all this data out in the open is that it seriously harms the ability of people to change. And we want people to change. Lots of Very Bad Things happen to society if we forbid people (either legally, or de facto) from changing their paths in life. For just a minor example, look at what being convicted of anything does to one's entire life. It's not good to have complete personal transparency.

    I don't have a solution. At least not a simple one. But it needs to understood by everyone that it IS a problem.


  • by horza ( 87255 ) on Thursday December 10, 2009 @06:09PM (#30395168) Homepage

    Join Scientology. Then claim the files were posted online as a falsified attack by somebody that disagrees with your religious beliefs. The web site will be shut down in no time.


  • by mr_eigenvector ( 1697748 ) on Thursday December 10, 2009 @06:23PM (#30395402)
    Here is the offending file on

    I found it by doing a search on google for " university computer system" and it came up as the first match

    The Anarchives []

    In early march of 1995 I was arrested for "Unauthorized Use Of A Computer". (About 15 years ago)

    I was being accused of breaking into the computer systems at the University Of Toronto for the purpose of publishing "Anarchist newsletters".


    Doing a little bit more research shows that Jesse Hirsh is also a contributor to Slash Code: []
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Your mother never taught you the difference between what what can be said and what should be said, did she? Very jerkwad-ish of you :(
      • by mr_eigenvector ( 1697748 ) on Thursday December 10, 2009 @07:26PM (#30396366)
        I think Jesse is trying do a similar experiment to what Evan Ratliff did for Wired Magazine. He's probably doing research for a book or a presentation based on personal identities on the internet.

        Just look at all the talks he gives about the internet on this youtube channel: []

        He also has a very large web presence and searches on Google for him never yielded anything about him breaking into the computer system.

        It was only with the critical piece of information about "" was I able to find anything on Google about his past.

        For me, this is a little bit too convenient and highly suspicious based on the type of work he is involved with, especially as a tech commentator on the radio in Canada.
  • Own your Name (Score:3, Informative)

    by BobReturns ( 1424847 ) on Thursday December 10, 2009 @06:29PM (#30395498)
    The only way to deal with something like this is to drown it out. There are tonnes of people with my name online, some of whom I disapprove of. So what did I do? Registered my name as a URL, built a decent website and made sure that anyone searching for me found what I wanted them to see.

    You can't control what other people post about you, but you can control what you put out there.
  • Hi, Everyone! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Jason Scott ( 18815 ) on Thursday December 10, 2009 @06:48PM (#30395814) Homepage

    Just wanted to mention how Slashdot never fails to disappoint.

    For the record, has no ads. None. Going to it or not going to it doesn't affect my revenue/income particularly. I don't run that site for money.

    But if you'd rather hear a much funnier story about the legal threats I get, please watch my video That Awesome Time I Was Sued for Two Billion Dollars [].

  • by topcoder ( 1662257 ) on Thursday December 10, 2009 @06:49PM (#30395830)
    I Albert Walter from Wisconsin, did something similar as you, several years ago, i stole private information from my company (Software Systems, Inc). I, however, didn't make your mistake, i never told anyone or claimed to do it on the internet, because i knew i would be doomed if i did that.
  • by Cajun Hell ( 725246 ) on Thursday December 10, 2009 @07:13PM (#30396212) Homepage Journal

    Copy yourself to the clipboard and then delete yourself. Create a new record and then paste yourself from the clipboard and save. You'll then have a new primary key, and references to the old you will be orphaned, or maybe even delete themselves depending on how serious the engine is when it comes to referential integrity constraints.

  • Quickly.. (Score:5, Funny)

    by icepick72 ( 834363 ) on Thursday December 10, 2009 @10:23PM (#30397820)
    ..register more than 600 Slashdot accounts, keep using them until you get Moderator ability, then downvote EVERYTHING here to -1 as to not draw more attention to yourself online.

"I prefer the blunted cudgels of the followers of the Serpent God." -- Sean Doran the Younger