Your Online Reputation – Can We Remove Information about Ourselves We Don’t Want to See Online?

Our personal information and data are both very important and incredibly sensitive. While most of us maintain at least a marginal interest in protecting ourselves online, it is vital to remember that there are innumerable individuals, organizations and third parties around us determined to obtain access to our personal data.

Among those interested parties are companies greedy for information for the purposes of marketing.  There are also various social networks and search engines that require data to sell targeted advertisement space. And, of course, all the apps available for free on smartphones make considerable revenue by collecting data from your phone and re-selling them to the highest bidders. Such companies are also starting to collect our information as we connect to the internet via other household objects such as refrigerators, dishwashers and washing machines.

Among the less obvious, other interested parties could include the HR manager of the company to which you just sent a job application, or a recruiter or headhunter looking for an individual with a certain skillset. Perhaps your co-workers or colleagues in your field are interested in gaining information from you in an effort to discredit your abilities and accomplishments. Along this same thread, your information can also be used against you through cyberbullying.

While those companies that seek information for marketing purposes receive mostly anonymous data, their general aim is to sell and make profits. The greater danger stems from the aforementioned “less obvious” parties, where information is usually garnered from social media and apps.

Social networks are a fantastic opportunity to enable users to express and share ideas and thoughts with other individuals. However, the misuse of such outlets can cause a user’s potentially compromising or embarrassing personal information to become available to the faceless masses across the internet.

The recent significant decline in Facebook posts, as found in a study by Global Web Index , could actually pose a positive development as it demonstrates that people may have realized it is actually better to protect their personal information, rather than share every single moment of their life. However, there are still various other apps on the market that directly and indirectly collect data and/or broadcast it on the web without the user realizing it.

All the data you collect and share online help to compose your online reputation. Online reputation was and remains connected to search engines. Previously search engines collected information only from traditional websites, but they now collect them from apps and social networks, thus making it difficult for users to control their own data. Users consciously and unconsciously share information and personal data through those apps.



Within this current context, is it actually possible to remove and control the information about ourselves online?  If we consider only the information available on search engines like Google, the answer is yes. In Europe, this is known as the “right to be forgotten”, but some conditions apply here.

Unfortunately, some apps and social networks shift the risks from search engines to the apps themselves where information or even a person’s name can be posted without any user control. Even some dating apps like Badoo will post users’ names on Google, which could understandably result in embarrassing consequences.

Could this possibly damage someone’s online reputation? The answer is most likely yes.


In the photo: Collage of Digital (Social) Networks. Photo Credit: Flickr/Tanja Cappell

Peeple, ASKfm and Badoo Person-to-Person Ratings

The recently launched app, Peeple, caused controversy and fear over how it might affect both personal and professional reputations. The app was supposed to be a game-changer and would, for the first time, apply the concept of a person-to-person rating. This essentially means that ratings would no longer be limited solely to restaurants and companies but to individuals as well, thus allowing users to place ratings on other persons based on their own personal and/or professional relationship with them.

The most disturbing feature was the possibility to upload the names and ratings of individuals who had not signed up for the app; they put in place a restriction that would have limited the possibility to remove comments on profiles.

Many people feared that such a system could lead to bullying, shaming or bodily harm, which rightly provoked a strong debate. Further, the idea of non-consensually assigning ratings of individuals who were not members of the app received a significant pushback.

The controversy eventually forced creators to release a “softer” version of the app without all the features it was supposed to have—it now excluded the star rating system and allowed users to choose and remove comments from their profile. After the first beta version, a complete version of the app was released in March 2016.

Could the app’s original design be accepted in the European Union? It is unlikely as it does not imply the consent of the people involved, and European legislation on internet safety is stricter than in the USA.

Would it have been allowed in the USA if it hadn’t received the pushback? Most likely, considering the value that the country places on both freedom of speech and entrepreneurialism.

While the app’s developers likely did not wish for their Peeple to be utilized as an instrument for bullying, the significant amount of chatter surrounding the app certainly helped to raise its profile in the crowded app market.

For a full mindmap behind this article with articles, videos, and documents see #Peeple


ASKfm is a Latvian-born and American-owned question-and-answer app widely used by teenagers from all over the world. It currently has over 150 million users.

On this social network, there are not ‘friends’ per se, but merely a number that represents a sum of anonymous followers. Followers can ask questions about the user or about a third person to the people they follow. On the homepage of the app, there is just the user’s profile picture with the questions asked by other users.

Why is this app dangerous? Statistics indicate that a large number of bullying cases, and even a case of suicide, were related to ASKfm. The developer primarily held a laissez-faire attitude towards controlling questions on the app, but it has now made some steps for users to flag and report questions they consider harmful or offensive.

The problem remains that questions are asked anonymously, so it is not just “A” asking “B” a potentially-offensive question, but “A” could also ask “B” offensive or harmful questions about “C”. How does one avoid this? The logical answer is to stay away from it. However, teenagers remain attracted to the app as they now consider Facebook for older individuals.

Reputation and the Right to Be Forgotten

Dating apps are used widely worldwide. However, in most cases, users would not be happy to let other people know that they are using such apps. It varies from country to country and from app to app, but there are surely very few young, single professionals who would like to see their first Google result to be associated with such apps.

This is the case of Badoo, known to be an app for those seeking sexual opportunities rather than love or relationships. Unsurprisingly, one of the top requests on Google to apply the “right to be forgotten” is related to Badoo. Furthermore, dating apps sometimes enable users to undertake a picture search or a username search that will allow third parties to find out other users’ real names. Even the reverse image search of a screenshot can accomplish the same.

Can all of this affect your online reputation? Certainly.


In the photo: Secure Data. Photo Credit: Flickr/Perspecsys Photos

Given this, how can we begin to protect ourselves online? How can we change or remove unsavory or non-consensual content about ourselves on the web?

The right to be forgotten is an incredibly useful tool. This enables users to request the removal of their information from search engines. It is only available to people who live in Europe, and it only applies on European versions of search engines. There are forms online that allow users to request their information be removed.

It derives from Article 12 of the European Union Directive 95/46/EC which states that it is a person’s right to be able to have unwanted information about them removed from search engines. However, it does not always apply.

For public figures, the application of the right to be forgotten is very limited, as the tendency of Google and other search engines is to try to keep everything online. While dating apps like Badoo appear to be at the top of the list of requests for applying for this right, how does one protect him or herself from apps like Peeple (if it had been launched in its original format) or from ASKfm?

Are companies doing enough to protect not only users but non-consensual third parties (as has been seen with cases of revenge porn around the world)? How can we avoid such misuses of personal and private data from happening in the future? While the right to be forgotten is a start to fixing this in Europe, no such legislation exists in the US.

One of the most interesting examples relates to the former president of the International Automobile Federation who was caught by British tabloids undertaking unsavory (but private) sexual activities. After he resigned from his position, he sued the tabloid for stalking him and taking unauthorized pictures of him. After winning this case, he went in front of the European Court of Justice to claim the right to be forgotten. Google claimed that he was a public figure, so this was not able to be applied to him.

Other relevant cases concerning the right to be forgotten involve Google Maps. Many people had been caught in a particular embarrassing situation by the Google car on the site’s “street view”. Their reputation was damaged because of this, and Google had to compensate them and remove the image. Examples like this show how easy it is to damage someone’s online public image.


In the photo: Data Security. Photo Credit: Flickr/Perspecsys Photos

Online reputation and How to Protect It

Is it actually possible to control our online reputation? To an extent, and there are steps that can be undertaken to do so.

First of all, it is good to frequently Google yourself across various search engines. If you find something that you are not pleased about, immediately submit the forms available on the bottom of this article to apply the right to be forgotten, unfortunately this is only available in the E.U. . When using apps on your phone or tablet, be mindful of non-professional and dating apps, and try to avoid giving your real name. Use a dedicated email for this purpose, and do not use images that could be found on an image search. Ensure that you check the privacy settings of your social networks, and try to avoid sharing personal and private aspects of your life that you wouldn’t want business partners, colleagues or unfamiliar persons to view.

While it is certainly difficult to build a solid reputation online, it can only take a few seconds to destroy it.

Recommended reading: “PEEPLE IS BORING

Featured Image: Interconnectedness. Photo Credit: Flickr/Jurgen Appelo

Useful Links:

Ungoogle Yourself

Search Removal Request Under Data Protection Law in Europe

Request to Block Bing Search Results in Europe

Requests to Block search results in Yahoo Search: Resource for European Residents



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  1. Claude Forthomme

    Very useful article, thanks. Europeans certainly seem to be better off than Americans, but the “right to be forgotten” is obviously very hard to apply in a digital world. Perhaps the only sensible thing to do is to be very careful at all times and stick to basic traditional rules of politeness, including the old one that you’re not supposed to talk about yourself when you meet people you don’t know or don’t know well, but simply be pleasant with them and non-invasive (which means refrain from self-promotion!)

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