The Internet is a dangerous yet fruitful communication and information hub connecting persons across the globe. However, the Internet doesn’t discriminate or discern between certain types of information that is transmitted across its servers – unless it is highly illegal. Unfortunately, to a computer, the posting of a social security number will register as just a bunch of characters and numbers, and the posting of one’s telephone number the same.
One of the Internet’s Achilles’ Heels? It’s inability to recognize sensitive and personal data that is not meant to be shared publicly. Due to the Internet’s far off future of recognizing the difference between personal and public information – that users want to share and don’t want to share – it’s a ripe environment for scammers, fraud, and other malicious persons looking to exploit innocent persons and their personal information.
Even in cases where protective measures are taken to prevent the posting of confidential and private information, malicious individuals may simply move to a different server, website, or forum, utilizing creative formatting or text to skirt protections and other safeguards. As such, in most cases, the only way to prevent individuals from posting highly personal and sensitive information online is through the establishment of a deterrent – a legal deterrent, backed with tangible penalties and recourse.
In this comprehensive blog post, we are going to take a look at what’s exactly classified as personal and private information and common methods for removing such information.
Defamation Law Fact: Setting up a Google Alerts account is an essential step for anyone looking to closely monitor their online reputation. Using Google Alerts, you can input target keywords, such as your name and any personal information, and you’ll be alerted anytime they are mentioned online. Being proactive is always better than being reactive. Catch the fire before it spreads.
If you’ve had your personal information or other invasive information posted online and want it removed, reach out to the defamation removal lawyers of Minc Law today!
At Minc Law, we boast a nearly 100% removal rate and all for a flat reasonable fee. We’ve litigated in over 19 states and 3 countries, and have secured hundreds of takedowns and removals.
Defamation attorney Aaron Minc and his team of experienced removal attorneys know who to contact and how to work with them, and have worked extensively with content managers, site administrators, and third-party arbitration services to secure swift and permanent removals.
At Minc Law, we want to fight for your reputation and protect your online identity.
Table of Contents
- What is Classified as Protected & Personal Information?
- Common Methods For Removing Protected & Personal Information From the Internet
- What Should You Do When a Website Fails to Comply With Your Takedown Request?
- Website & ISP Immunity Under The Communications Decency Act
- Work With the Defamation Lawyers of Minc Law to Remove Personal Information & Prevent Doxing!
What is Classified as Protected & Personal Information?
Protected and personal information – also referred to as personally identifiable information (PII) or sensitive personal information (SPI) – is typically information that can stand on its own or with other information to identify, contact, or locate a person – or ultimately identify them in context.
Placed into the hands of the wrong person, a lot of damages can be done – not only to your bank account, but to your personal and social life. It can be used to steal credit cards, apply for verified documents, identity theft, and even as blackmail.
So, what’s exactly classified as personally identifiable information?
Sensitive personal information will typically include:
- Social Security numbers,
- Passport number or national identification number,
- Driver’s license information,
- Healthcare or medical records,
- Bank or financial accounts information,
- Credit card numbers,
- Debit card numbers, &
- Telephone number.
Personally identifiable information isn’t just tangible documents either, it can also include pictures of your face, fingerprints, and even handwriting. There are also less common types of personal information, such as:
- Job position & salary,
- Criminal record, &
When combined with other personally identifiable information or stated in a specific context, such information can be used to deduce a person’s identity. We live in a day and age when you don’t just need someone’s passport information to steal their identity.
For example, even something as simple as describing someone as a “short white female in her mid-thirties who works in the South side of town,” could be enough for a malicious person to steal your identity or cause significant harm to your social or financial life.
Defamation Law Tip: Sending a cease and desist letter is an effective and free way to let malicious posters know that you’re serious about holding them accountable. Cease and desist letters are a cheaper alternative to litigation, and oftentimes get the message across that you mean business.
Common Methods For Removing Protected & Personal Information From the Internet
For individuals and innocent persons who have been “doxed” – or had their personal information posted online – the removal of such protected information in an expedient manner is of the essence. Having personal information and defamatory content posted online is similar to a wildfire, the longer you let it sit and spread, the more damage it’s going to do. And, with the depths of the Internet, the longer you let something sit, the further it will embed itself into the hidden and difficult to access corners of the web.
One of the most common methods to removing personally identifiable information from online is to personally reach out to the website where the information was posted. Oftentimes, reputable websites, such as Facebook, Google, Reddit, and Instagram, will have strict and comprehensive policies in place protecting the dissemination of personally identifiable information. However, with Facebook’s recent systemic privacy breakdown, it may even be hard to trust them these days.
For example – Reddit’s content removal policy lists an array of “unwelcome content” on their user-generated content platform. Unwelcome content includes:
- Personal & confidential information,
- Involuntary pornography – if you have had private pictures of you posted online, reach out to attorney Aaron Minc, as he helped secure countless removals of revenge porn and involuntary pornography posted online, &
- Other sensitive types of information & content.
Additionally, Reddit states that they reserve the right to remove content that violates the above or other rules, and they will ban entire communities if the posting of “unwelcome content” becomes pervasive.
Other common methods for removing personally identifiable information from websites include:
- Sending a cease and desist letter: a cheap and effective way of letting the website know you mean business.
- Deleting the source of problematic content: if you have access to the content and are able to make amendments or deletions, then it’s highly recommended you do so.
- Suppression: although not exactly complete deletion of highly sensitive data, pushing negative and personal data down in the search results is an effective way to “suppress” or hide it. Such methods include, creating positive content and frequently updating it, linking social media profiles, and responding openly to negative comments.
- DMCA takedown: most people are unaware that they actually hold the copyright to most photos or other published content that is posted by another person. Sending a DMCA takedown is an effective way to have unconsented photos and other works removed from the Internet.
The biggest problem for victims affected by the leaking of personally identifiable information online is what can you do when the information has been leaked to a non-reputable website, or one that recognizes its protection under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA)?
Online Reputation Management Tip: Some simple steps to protect your online personal information include: (1) Opting out of filling out your social media profile, (2) Withholding sharing your social security number, (3) Turning on private browsing when using the Internet, (4) Employing the use of a password vault to generate new and unique passwords, and (5) Using two-factor authentication (2FA) apps – such as Google Authenticator – to prevent malicious persons from accessing your online accounts and information.
What Should You Do When a Website Fails to Comply With Your Takedown Request?
While many respectable sites are responsive to the significant consequences that may result due to the malicious posting of personal and confidential information, some sites are less than reputable. These sites typically include non-major user-generated content platforms, such as scam reporting websites, cheater websites, and other rogue consumer advocacy websites.
It’s also worth noting that particularly a lot of web forums that are hosted overseas often encourage or permit the sale, trade, or bundling of large sums of PII. In situations like these, it’s highly unlikely a removal request will be acted upon, and may even confirm to the scammers that your information is accurate. It’s also not exactly practical to subpoena a malicious troll located in Siberia. It simply does no good.
In situations like this, it’s important to reach out to an experienced defamation and personal information removal attorney. At Minc Law, we are able to work with search engines – like Google and Bing – to reduce the visibility of sensitive and defamatory information while – if appropriate – pursuing additional legal options to change, restore, or protect certain types of protected information.
Ohio Defamation Law Tip: Ohio classifies defamation and libel plaintiffs into for core types; private persons, public officials, public figures, and limited-purpose public figures. Depending on a plaintiff’s classification, they will have different standards of proof they must show in order to succeed in their defamation of character claim.
Since search engines are the primary method used by consumers and everyday persons looking to find content and information, they also pose a serious threat to your financial and social stability. Keep in mind that de-indexing a page from Google is often an effective way of reducing a webpage’s visibility, and ultimately the protected information’s visibility, however the page can still be found, and it’s of the utmost importance to have the page and content removed completely.
The permanency of the Internet is often incomprehensible, and even in certain cases where reputable websites comply and remove information, the search result may still stick around for days, weeks, or months due to its intricate embedding into the Internet. Furthermore, a Google cache (a copy) of the site may still exist on Google’s servers, so it’s important to consult an experienced personal information removal attorney about removing the search result AND the cash – for a comprehensive removal solution.
At Minc Law, we will do all that’s in our power to identify the person who posted your identity and personal information online, and should we successfully identify them, we will work and fight to hold them accountable for the damages you have incurred.
Libel Removal Tip: If you’ve been the victim of online libel, defamation, or had personal and protected information of yours broadcasted on the Internet, there are several simple (and free) steps you can take to suppress negative or private search results: (1) It may seem counterintuitive, but if there is extremely personal information about you posted online, you can suppress it by making public information you are alright with sharing – such as your social media profile, (2) Setting up a blog and posting frequently, and (3) Interlinking between your various online profiles.
Website & ISP Immunity Under The Communications Decency Act
As noted above, removing information from the Internet can be hard. It also doesn’t help that the recent years have seen the passing of landmark legislation immunizing websites and internet service providers for information posted on their website or forums by third-parties.
The Communications Decency Act of 1996 (CDA) is the governing legislation for content posted by third-parties to websites and its removal. The CDA was a landmark piece of legislation passed, immunizing website providers and ISPs in cases where third-parties have posted defamatory or other unconsented material to their website.
Specifically, Section 230 of the CDA reads:
“No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.”
When determining whether you are able to hold a website liable for the information posted, courts typically apply a three-pronged test, which requires defendants satisfy each of the three prongs in order to enjoy CDA immunity.
- The defendant or website must be the provider – or user – of an “interactive computer service – this typically means that websites allow the posting of third-party content and other contributions.
- The cause of action brought by the plaintiff must treat the defendant or website as the actual publisher or speaker of the offensive information at issue – this means that the plaintiff must specifically allege the website of publishing or creating the harmful information.
- The information must be provided by a third-party content provider – the actual provider of the information must have been submitted or posted by a third-party.
Think about it, just as a telephone company skirts immunity for all the illegal and malicious activities conducted on its telephone lines, user-generated content platforms and other ISPs skirt immunity for information that they don’t directly have a hand in creating. So, just remember, when bringing a claim to hold a malicious party accountable for the leaking or posting of personal or defamatory information, your best chance of recourse is not against the website – but against the individual poster.
Online Reputation Management & Monitoring Tip: If you own a business, it’s important to set aside a monthly budget for online reputation management and monitoring. Doing so will give you a good idea of the general public’s perception of your business and product. Additionally, it will allow you to identify intellectual property infringers and act swiftly to remove any infringing content.
Work With the Defamation Lawyers of Minc Law to Remove Personal Information & Prevent Doxing!
If you’ve had your personal information or other sensitive information posted online – including defamatory online content and posts – the defamation removal lawyers of Minc Law want to fight for you. Having sensitive and private information posted online is an extreme invasion of privacy, and we understand the extreme anxiety and stress that can accompany it – along with potential financial and social consequences.
Defamation removal attorney Aaron Minc and his team of defamation removal lawyers have secured hundreds of takedowns of online defamation and sensitive personal information, and all for a flat reasonable fee. At Minc Law, we boast a nearly 100% removal rate, and have litigated in over 19 states and 3 countries, so rest assured, we know who to work with and how to work with them.
Additionally, we know how to hold malicious posters liable.
Reach out to the defamation lawyers of Minc Law today in order to:
- Remove personal information from the internet,
- Supress online search results (such as Google), &
- Take necessary actions to hold the malicious and responsible party accountable for the damages caused to your reputation, finances, and social life.