What Would You Do?

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As mentioned briefly on Twitter, I’m struggling a bit with a privacy related problem on behalf of a friend of a friend. As some of you have greater expertise in these areas than I do, I thought I’d put the question to you. What would you do if:

  1. You’d been attacked in Denver a little less than a decade ago
  2. You’d testified against your attacker, helping to secure him a 20+ year prison sentence
  3. You were about to become a minor celebrity for unrelated reasons
  4. You’d searched Google and discovered that the first or second returned link included your real home address
  5. You’d determined that the link didn’t point to a normal site with whom you could work to have the information removed, but one that was oddly repurposing old government records
  6. You’d contacted Google indirectly and received a well meaning and reasonable but ultimately unhelpful response telling you to work with the site to have the information removed

Frankly, I’m at sea here, as are the folks from Google that I contacted (I won’t name them, but I sincerely appreciate both their help and responsiveness) on her behalf. Google obviously cannot be responsible for the content on the trillions of pages on the web, nor can it scalably game search results on an individual basis. Once they have, how and where would you draw the line? Further, the information was clearly part of the public record at one point.

It’s just as obvious, however, that the lack of control the individual has over her own information is unacceptable and possibly dangerous. Is it fair that moving would be the only real solution left to her if she can’t convince the publishers to correct or remove the page in question? Hardly. After contacting Google, I did a whois lookup on the domain and passed the contact information along to get that process started, and also recommended that she start a blog to try and self-correct the rankings if she can’t remove the page entirely. Our mutual friend has recommended legal counsel, and it may be there’s a privacy law being violated. But if any of you have any other ideas as far as what can be done, I’d love to hear them because I’m fresh out.

Generally speaking, I’m for transparency, information availability and what James would term declarative living. But this is clearly one instance where the cost is too high.


  1. I was also thinking about a blog or some other way to “retake” at least the most prominent rankings to try to bury the info. That’s probably a good secondary strategy.

    But I’m a far bigger fan of personal safety than I am of blogging, talking privacy rights or taking the high ground on ownership of your personal identity. As ugly and offensively imposed as it sounds, moving is probably the safest thing to do.

  2. Google’s privacy counsel for Europe’s blog is here. he *might* be able to help/point you in the right direction. http://www.peterfleischer.blogspot.com/

    Your blog suggestion is a good one. I hope everything works out.

  3. What country? Privacy law are vastly different depending on the country/geo. If it’s U.S., I’m not privacy expert, but you’d likely need an attorney assuming the offending website will not comply. In the U.S., it then varies by state. Some states protect victims of violent crimes to a greater degree. I assume this address is unlisted in the phone directory and so you’re essentially facing someone who pulled it from a public court document?

  4. […] of the folks who wrote in with advice and or suggestions regarding my friend of a friend’s privacy issue. To keep you in the loop, I’m very pleased to report that through the kind efforts of our […]

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