How do I Request Personal Information about myself off of Domains and Search Engines? Any ISP Laws?



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Question:

There’s web pages posted about me that are offensive. There are also user profiles that exist that I never created on other domains. Who can I contact to request to get this offensive, unwanted information about myself off the internet so it does not appear in search engines when my name is searched?

Answer:

You do have rights—even strong ones—but they may not be the rights you are thinking of. Generally speaking, there is very broad protection for ISP (internet service providers) or the owners of websites when they are merely acting to “transmit” other’s content rather than creating the content themselves. Under 47 U.S. Code Section 230, for example,

(1) Treatment of publisher or speaker

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.

What that means is that an ISP or a website owner is not liable for the content posted by other people—they are not treated as the author or publisher of that content. The law goes on to give them the right to take down offensive content (for example, “harassing” content) without being liable to the person who posted that content—but it doesn’t specifically require them to take it down. So if the owner of one website where derogatory comments are posted, or the ISP provider enabling that couple’s “John Doe Construction Sucks” website, don’t want to do anything about the attacks on you, it’s probably impossible, or at least extremely difficult, to force them to take action.

On the other hand, you still have all the traditional rights and remedies you would have under defamation law—people may not slander you with impunity. There are also some remedies available for attempts to interfere with or damage a business. Since you know exactly who is behind these comments, you should consult with an attorney about going directly after them, rather than trying to silence them by going after their ISP or any websites they post on.

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