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Companies That Clean Up Bad Online Reputations 180

Posted by samzenpus
from the it-never-happened dept.
Radon360 writes "As the ever-increasing amount of information available online becomes indexed and searchable, more and more people find themselves potentially at risk of having unwanted personal information revealed or their names incorrectly associated with inflammatory topics. The are several firms that now sell their services of trying to remove or bury such information that their client deems offensive or troublesome. Companies, such as ReputationDefender and DefendMyName will, for a fee, do the legwork to find content that negatively impacts your reputation and have it removed or buried deeper in search rankings. However, some of these efforts can backfire, as the act to get it taken down can sometimes draw more attention than the offending content in the first place."
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Companies That Clean Up Bad Online Reputations

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  • Suspicion (Score:5, Insightful)

    by FraterNLST (922749) on Wednesday June 13, 2007 @10:05PM (#19500279) Homepage
    You would definately have to be careful with something like this. It's the same as the US Government's approach to cryptography, the idea that "if you're hiding, you've got something to hide.". A perfectly normal person with something slightly embarressing showing up online (and who hasn't done or said something that would be embarressing to have sprawled across the net?) is likely to draw far more attention if someone finds out they're paying to make that info disappear than if they just left it to get buried in the noise. And of course, you're trusting the companies that are offering the service. Can we say blackmail? Anonymous leak?
    • Re:Suspicion (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Esteanil (710082) on Wednesday June 13, 2007 @10:43PM (#19500573) Homepage Journal
      Personally, I'm just glad I did most of my (major) online screwups back in '95, on MUDs.

      The sad thing about our lovely new commercialised net is that as long as it could be valuable to keep, it will be kept (drive space is cheap).
      Add to this the various governmental ideas that as long as it could potentially at some time be construed as possibly being scary or linked to terrorist activity, ISPs should be forced to keep it... Well. I had my reasons to screw up, I'm sure plenty of the current generation have got their good reasons to screw up, but they likely won't be getting away from it as easily as I did.
      • Re:Suspicion (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Darundal (891860) on Wednesday June 13, 2007 @11:53PM (#19501007) Journal
        I just did a Google search on my name, and although I have never made any online screwups, my first name is listed as being associated with an Italian spammer. At one point, my name was randomly associated with a load of porn sites. No, I don't have a common name. The sad thing is not the longevity of your screwups on the net. It is the longevity of the screwups that you didn't make, but that are associated with your name, that is truly sad. Especially since many of those things screwups that you didn't make are very hard to disprove (say, a blog by someone that has your name, that doesn't list a location, that happens to speak a lot about going out, getting drunk, partying, and many other acts that a company might disapprove of, but could be hard for you to personally disprove because of vagueness in the original writing).
        • Re:Suspicion (Score:3, Insightful)

          by G27 Radio (78394) on Thursday June 14, 2007 @12:44AM (#19501275)
          It becomes especially hard to disprove when your potential employer doesn't even bring up the data they retrieved during your "background check." The HR department will decide they have better things to do than justify the background check that they did--they'll just tell you and the management that wanted to hire you that you're not qualified.
          • by networkBoy (774728) on Thursday June 14, 2007 @03:03AM (#19502035) Homepage Journal
            You know, I've been following your blog for some time now.
            I would tend to suggest that you simply point employers at it.
            If I was a hiring manager (I am not, and hope to never be one), I would likely offer you a job right now (after reading your resume), if you were willing to relocate. Your writing is quite good.
            -nB
            • by h2g2bob (948006) on Thursday June 14, 2007 @05:01AM (#19502535) Homepage
              Yeah, he offers you a job now, but wait until he googles your name...
            • by G27 Radio (78394) on Thursday June 14, 2007 @11:32AM (#19506107)
              Thanks. I'm committed to the business I've started, at least for the next year, so I won't be looking a job before that. In fact I think that in a couple months it will be profitable enough to stay with long term or sell it--of course, I've said that before and the growth wasn't as fast as I'd expected. Still I think I've got a solid foundation now, so I'm not looking for new work at present.

              If I were to apply for a new job I'd definitely do everything in my power to make sure they knew I was not a criminal. The problem in the past was that I had no reason to believe there was anything on my record, let alone a bunch of felonies, so I had no idea why I'd started getting turned down for jobs all of a sudden.

              Even with proof that my identity was stolen I think I'd still be at a disadvantage--at least with a big company. If it's their policy not to hire people that fail a background check, they'll most likely just pass me over for someone with a clean record rather than doing the extra work to push it through the corporate bureaucracy. And, the fact is, anyone can claim that their record is inaccurate, and it will always require that someone go the extra mile to verify that my claim is true.
        • by Khashishi (775369) on Thursday June 14, 2007 @01:42AM (#19501587) Journal
          My name seems to bring up several scholars and doctors. Heh, it's not such a horrible association.
        • by d3ac0n (715594) on Thursday June 14, 2007 @09:13AM (#19504039)
          That's the one really nice thing about having a very common name. You always have plausible deniability.

          Potential Employer: We have found some troubling things on the Internet attribitued to you Mr./Ms. (insert very common name)

          You: Um, that's not me.

          Potential Empoyer: We would like to believe you, but your name is all over it.

          You: Do you have any idea how common my name is? Just Google it! You'll find people with the same name as me all over the internet!

          Potential Employer: Hmm.. Good point. Ok, you're hired!


          Ok, maybe that's a bit simplified, but the overall principle remains the same. As long as there aren't full-face photos of you doing porn, alcohol or drugs, you should be OK.

          Of course, people with uncommon names don't have it so easy. Sucks to be them I guess.

          • by mcmonkey (96054) on Thursday June 14, 2007 @10:36AM (#19505223) Homepage

            The problem is the conversation you described is a very, very, very rare thing.

            A much more likely scenario is:

            Potential Employer: Thank you for meeting with us. We'll let you know.

            You: Thank you. I look forward to working together.

            Potential Employer: ...

            You: Hello? We met for an interview recently. Have you made a decision?

            Potential Employer: ...

            You: wtf?

            If the employer really wants you and has no other comparable candidates, it may come up just as a CYA so employer can say, "he said it wasn't him." In any other case, it won't come up. They'll just hire someone else instead.

            On the bright side, soon everyone will have some sort of embarrassing or undesirable content online associated with their name, whether it refers to the person in question or just someone with the same name. Like job-hopping. So many IT workers in their 20s and 30s spent the last decade in a series of short-term positions, an employer looking to exclude people with such a history will have trouble finding employees.

            You don't need your online identify to be pristine. You just need to be cleaner than the next guy.

        • Re:Suspicion (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Zenaku (821866) on Thursday June 14, 2007 @11:11AM (#19505715)
          My name is not especially common, but there is another person with the same first and last name as me, who is also from the same hometown as I am, and is 8 or 9 years younger than me.

          I first became aware of him when I was in high-school -- his drawing of a ninja turtle was published in the children's section of the newspaper, with my name under it. I got teased. Then a short while later I endured some more razzing when he called the local radio station (and got on air) to request a song that I hated.

          I've heard about him numerous times over the years, just because of wires getting crossed. A friend will tell me that they met someone else who knows me, only it will be someone I have never met. My sister will get asked if she is related to me, say yes, and then get a follow up question about how I'm doing that makes no sense, because the person is really asking about the other guy.

          I figure he must be about 21 now. God help me, I hope he doesn't have a myspace page.
      • by MMC Monster (602931) on Thursday June 14, 2007 @07:25AM (#19503213)
        I said a lot of silly things back in the late 80's/early 90's in usenet (under another name), and it's still indexed in google.
      • by porcupine8 (816071) on Thursday June 14, 2007 @10:07AM (#19504781) Journal
        as long as it could be valuable to keep, it will be kept

        Tell me about it. When I was in high school, I made a web page on tripod that has horrible loud backgrounds and graphics and talks for far too long about my then-boyfriend. All around, very embarrassing. I haven't touched it in nine years, since my freshman year of college, and it's STILL THERE! I've long since forgotten the password, the email account it's linked to is long gone, and per my email exchanges with tripod tech support I seem to have registered it with fake personal info (address etc). So so far, I haven't been able to convince them to either take it down or give me the password. NINE YEARS! They've been wasting server space on a site that never gets edited for NINE YEARS! And it still is a top google hit if you search for my maiden name. Thank god I'm married now.

    • Re:Suspicion (Score:5, Interesting)

      by IvyKing (732111) on Thursday June 14, 2007 @12:28AM (#19501189)

      A perfectly normal person with something slightly embarressing showing up online (and who hasn't done or said something that would be embarressing to have sprawled across the net?) is likely to draw far more attention if someone finds out they're paying to make that info disappear than if they just left it to get buried in the noise.


      That's pretty much what tipped Stalin off to the US work on the A-bomb - seeing a sudden cessation of publishing of nuclear research. Similarly, Stalin's crew picked up on the problem of xenon poisoning in power reactors when mention of it was deleted from the Smythe Report.


      Then there's the recent uproar about a certain number being deleted from Digg...

      • Re:Suspicion (Score:2, Interesting)

        by FraterNLST (922749) on Thursday June 14, 2007 @01:51AM (#19501643) Homepage
        Exactly, it's the entire reason behind huge areas of research, particularly in data mining and analysis. What's not being said is generally even more important than what is - the first rule of diplomacy. It's Racists and Sexists that fear frank discussion on race and sex (which should make you look closely at who's driving the political correctness machine in various countries), and it is the same with every other issue. If you want to know who holds those beliefs strongly, look to who is repressing speech and publication. I can still remember talking about hiring practices and being told that to read a reference from a previous employer, you only use what is said to compare against what isn't. There are standard things you expect to read - ie, punctual, trustworthy etc. No-one ever writes "This person is late to every shifts and steals from me" - the ex-employee would just toss it out. But if you omit saying certain things, to an experience office manager you can get your point across whilst the ex-employee thinks they got a great reference. The web is an organic information mass. Anyone trying to carve even small chunks out of that mass is going to create unnatural gaps that will draw notice.
  • Disturbing (Score:3, Interesting)

    by royrules22 (1115273) on Wednesday June 13, 2007 @10:05PM (#19500281)
    This is a disturbing trend. We could find to-be politicians removing everything bad about themseleves and painting a good picture just so people vote for them. Not good.
    • Re:Disturbing (Score:4, Insightful)

      by FraterNLST (922749) on Wednesday June 13, 2007 @10:09PM (#19500315) Homepage
      Because government officials have never tried to cover up after themselves before? And they havn't got the resources to do it by themselves? Actually, if anyone is unlikely to use these services, it's probably politicians. They're far better off trusting their close allies to help them cover up then to risk letting an outside company, who may or may not share their political leanings, know that they want information disappeared.
      • by royrules22 (1115273) on Wednesday June 13, 2007 @10:10PM (#19500327)
        Because government officials have never tried to cover up after themselves before? And they havn't got the resources to do it by themselves? Actually, if anyone is unlikely to use these services, it's probably politicians. They're far better off trusting their close allies to help them cover up then to risk letting an outside company, who may or may not share their political leanings, know that they want information disappeared. While that is true, this makes it easy for any no-good person to do. While privacy is a good thing, painting a false picture of yourself for the internets/public is not.
      • by VariableGHz (1099185) <variableghz@nospAM.gmail.com> on Wednesday June 13, 2007 @10:14PM (#19500349) Homepage

        They're far better off trusting their close allies to help them cover up then to risk letting an outside company, who may or may not share their political leanings, know that they want information disappeared.

        Mod parent up.

        Indeed, it's unlikely that they (a politician) would give a third party the trust necessary to cover up something that would be important enough to have them contact the cover-up company in the first place.

      • Usenet (Score:3, Interesting)

        by ukemike (956477) on Thursday June 14, 2007 @01:31AM (#19501525) Homepage
        Back when google was relatively new, and the internet was relatively small still, (we're talking late 90s) it occurred to be to search on my name. I was very surprised to find archived USENET posts from the late 80s and early 90s! Knowing that, I refined my searches and was shocked at the reckless things I had posted. It had not occurred to me that all of that was being archived.

        Even then it was only possible because I have an unusual name, and I had an unusually early presence on the internet.

        Now almost 10 years later, even I, with my better than average search skills and first hand knowledge of things like past email addresses and what groups I had posted in, CANNOT find most of that embarrassing stuff. It's just too buried. Though I imagine that someday soon some totally unheard of search engine with some radical new approach will make it easy to uncover all of that ancient sillyness. I guess I learned my "myspace" lesson early.
    • by Joebert (946227) on Wednesday June 13, 2007 @11:37PM (#19500919) Homepage
      I agree.
      The first Politician to run a campaign that shows me everything they've ever done, including fucking that retarded girl in the butt after getting her to pretend she's a pony, will be the first Politician to get my vote.
    • by nyquist_theorem (262542) <mbelleghemNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Thursday June 14, 2007 @01:30AM (#19501521) Homepage
      The problem actually runs much deeper than that. Those of us who know how the net works and have seen the fossilised remains of our online actions during the latter part of the previous century wash up on more recent shores know only too well that we've likely already participated in enough silliness to effectively prevent us from seeking political office, lest we have past indiscretions show up in our faces at the worst possible time - which is of course when they always turn up.

      Clinton, Bush, and Obama have all admitted (or at least lied poorly about, which is the same thing really) past indiscretions, but they were largely able to control when the news of those indiscretions came out. Tomorrow's politicians know they won't be so lucky. Unless the trend is reversed, our children will be forced to choose from candidates with completely sterilised white-bread virgin-till-marriage always-feed-the-meter coke-is-a-beverage pasts. Which, like it or not, is not the sort of past from which a real leader comes.

      Google's new shorter-term memory is only a start. What other steps should be taken? Dunno. Which is why most of my most entertaining moments usually end with 'whoops, guess I won't be getting into politics now!' (My educational background is in political science, which makes the joke passably humourous. Or so I tell myself.)
    • by smellsofbikes (890263) on Thursday June 14, 2007 @11:54AM (#19506497) Journal
      You do recall the articles about politicians editing their Wikipedia entries [arstechnica.com] to remove negative information, or in some cases to alter the reports on their voting records, right?
  • it's true (Score:4, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 13, 2007 @10:06PM (#19500285)
    Consider the time roblimo took a picture of his stretched out asshole. Then posted it on the alt.binaries.pictures.homosexual. If he had left it at that, people would have been disgusted, but nobody would know it was him. Instead, he files DMCA takedown lawsuits to have it removed from hick.org. Now everybody knows that roblimo is the goatse man.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 13, 2007 @10:08PM (#19500311)
    And they kill babies and rape puppies! Or maybe it's the other way around!?

    (Let's see them defend themselves against THAT!)
  • by mauddib~ (126018) on Wednesday June 13, 2007 @10:14PM (#19500351) Homepage
    So, it appears we go back to a masked society. Now, we learn from history and see that the fact that masking happens is an indicator that we feel that there is an unfair judging taking place and we want a level playfield. In the end, we can all take off our masks, because it is who we are, not who we were, that ultimately defines us.

    Now, we're so lucky that we have intelligent and abstract thinking personnel managers (newspeak: Human Resource Managers) who will be able to look over such inconveniences as the tracks we leave behind and focus on personality and ability, mixed with some cultural heritage, ignoring the ambiguity of the net altogether. Or, maybe this takes another 50 years to sink in for the working area you might work in (given a lack of such 'Human Resource Managers' at a place near you).
  • by tverbeek (457094) on Wednesday June 13, 2007 @10:17PM (#19500361) Homepage
    In my case, the first thing they'd have to do is take down Slashdot. Yeah, like that'd work. :)
  • by 3seas (184403) on Wednesday June 13, 2007 @10:18PM (#19500367) Journal
    .. but can be used to bury information, bring forward disinformation, etc...

    Information is information, and it don't care what sequence of symbols are attached... seek, find and bury or bring forward.

  • wayback machine (Score:5, Interesting)

    by narced (1078877) on Wednesday June 13, 2007 @10:18PM (#19500373) Journal
    Having dug up some dirty old web sites on friends, I'm sure we all know about the wayback machine at http://www.archive.org/web/web.php [archive.org].

    I wonder if these goons also create a robots.txt file on the server that they are trying to clean up? It would be hard to remove content from the wayback machine that you do not own.
  • Employees/Employers (Score:3, Interesting)

    by bh_doc (930270) <blhiggins AT gmail DOT com> on Wednesday June 13, 2007 @10:19PM (#19500381) Homepage
    I've heard stories (on ./ mind you) about companies doing google searches and the like on potential employees, and I can see how an applicant would consider the use of these services, perhaps for some specific reason, or just to clean their google-reputation generally, to get an edge over their competition. What worries me, though, is that employers actually take such searches seriously. The phrase "The internet is serious business" is meant to be a joke, but it seems to go over some people's heads.

    I wonder if in the future we'll ever see legislation against discrimination by internet search? Not for a while at least, I posit --- there are probably more deserving unlegislated discriminations to target first.
    • by Actually, I do RTFA (1058596) on Wednesday June 13, 2007 @10:48PM (#19500615)

      I've heard stories about employers using Facebook searches. They would get summer associates/recent grads to look up applicants. These stories are anecdotal, but only one degree of seperation, so I believe them (although two for you, so...)

      And on /. I heard about a teacher who lost their job because of their MySpace page. Granted, it was a little more detailed than that, as apparently she was directing students to her page, and it had drinking. But in those cases it is idiots posting pictures of themselves.

      But I see the discrimination as being an increasing threat due to the relative easy and persistence of spreading rumors anonymously. Employee too vital, get dumped? Now, I know this whole article is about companies that fix the problem for $120-$12,000 a year, but we all know how sucessful Internet censorship is.

      • by Gordonjcp (186804) on Thursday June 14, 2007 @07:14AM (#19503151) Homepage
        she was directing students to her page, and it had drinking

        Because heaven forfend that school pupils find out their teacher *drinks*! Won't someone think of the children?!!

        In any case, in the photo in question there was no indication of any kind as to what the teacher was drinking. How on earth this could result in her losing her job I don't know. I suppose it's the sort of thing that can only happen in ultra-conservative fundamentalist theocracies where people are denied basic civil liberties.
    • by Wansu (846) on Thursday June 14, 2007 @12:51AM (#19501317)

        "... I can see how an applicant would consider the use of these services, perhaps for some specific reason, or just to clean their google-reputation generally ..."

      Yeah, a sort of reputation laundering ...

  • by ip_freely_2000 (577249) on Wednesday June 13, 2007 @10:21PM (#19500393)
    I think I'll hire these guys after I leave my current job in 2009. It may take a few bucks to get it done, though.

                                        -- George W. Bush
  • by edwardpickman (965122) on Wednesday June 13, 2007 @10:27PM (#19500441)
    I was wondering why the web searches for drag photos of Giuliani are coming up bust.
  • been there done that (Score:5, Interesting)

    by um... Lucas (13147) on Wednesday June 13, 2007 @10:27PM (#19500445) Journal
    An acquaintance was arrested and served time in jail. Upon getting out, he googled himself and the top 5 links in google, along with several others, were all news articles pertaining to his arrest. So he asked me if we could bump those down in the rankings... Sure enough we did, by combination of both good press and posting a lot of cross-referenced fluff, the "tainted" material now has been pushed back to page 3 of googles results.

    That said, it's not hidden, and if someone came upon it, it would be useless to deny, but he thought it valuable to at least not haev it come up first in the rankings
  • The Streisand Effect (Score:5, Informative)

    by spellraiser (764337) on Wednesday June 13, 2007 @10:27PM (#19500447) Journal

    However, some of these efforts can backfire, as the act to get it taken down can sometimes draw more attention than the offending content in the first place.

    This is known as the Streisand Effect [wikipedia.org], the scourge of all Internet censors.

    Interestingly, I note that this Wikipedia article is now being considered for deletion. Wouldn't it be ironic if it got deleted and then popped up somewhere else?

  • by timmarhy (659436) on Wednesday June 13, 2007 @10:33PM (#19500499)
    this seems like a huge waste of money, google and archive.org cache huge parts of the internet for anyone who wants to look. bottom line is, never use your real name and never identify yourself. also beware of mailing lists
    • by wikinerd (809585) on Thursday June 14, 2007 @06:24AM (#19502919) Journal
      I think it's too paranoid to never use your real name and being beware of mailing lists. Not having an online presence, preferably under your real name, can be a disadvantage in job applications or subcontracting, not to say even in simple social interaction. Those who are accustomed on the Internet ***expect*** to find something about you online, and if they don't many times they may be suspicious.
  • by eebra82 (907996) on Wednesday June 13, 2007 @10:57PM (#19500683) Homepage
    ReputationDefender - "Nothing to see here, please move along."

    and

    DefendMyName - "We created the idea for Rockstar's Bully"
  • Interesting ... (Score:3, Informative)

    by kbahey (102895) on Wednesday June 13, 2007 @11:30PM (#19500873) Homepage
    Interesting ...

    Just today, I was reading an article in ComputerWorld (Canadian edition) about companies that mine the internet for a brand or company, and report flagged items to that company.

    Several companies are selling this as a service or as software.

    One company is Milton based RepuTrace, another is in Seattle.

    They cite a case where workers said they were drunk or high when working, another case of threats against the company, ...etc.

    Here is the full article [itworldcanada.com].
    • by illumin8 (148082) on Thursday June 14, 2007 @12:17PM (#19506835) Journal

      Several companies are selling this as a service or as software.

      One company is Milton based RepuTrace, another is in Seattle.
      What boggles my mind the most after reading the article is that they seem to be selling a service that Google offers for free. You can go to Google News [google.com] and setup custom alerts that email you whenever your company's name appears in a news or blog article anywhere on the interweb... Sounds like the exact same service this company is selling, although they offer you either email alerts or a "phone call", presumably for those people that are not computer literate enough to regularly read email.

      This seems like a totally unnecessary service being marketed to people and companies that don't know any better.
  • by ZPWeeks (990417) on Wednesday June 13, 2007 @11:30PM (#19500883)
    If I had something to hide, and hired an SEO company to bury my dirt, I wouldn't let the Wall Street Journal write an article about it, containing said dirt and my real name.... and I wouldn't let it get Slashdotted!
    http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&q=christina+par ascandola&btnG=Google+Search [google.com]
    Looks like it sure worked!
    • by plierhead (570797) on Thursday June 14, 2007 @01:15AM (#19501457) Journal

      If I had something to hide, and hired an SEO company to bury my dirt, I wouldn't let the Wall Street Journal write an article about it, containing said dirt and my real name

      You have missed the point - she complained about noise from bars, and got unfairly slurred as anti-gay - so its a great outcome for her that her story gets elevated to the top.

  • Nice Try (Score:5, Interesting)

    by brocktune (512373) on Wednesday June 13, 2007 @11:31PM (#19500887) Homepage
    My true name is, honestly... Dave Chappelle. I'm not the famous holder of the name, but I was born first and I stake my claim. I always see it coming. The waiter spend a second too long looking at my credit card, and I know I'm about to be hit with a lame Rick James joke that he thinks is hilarious.

    Let's just see them wipe the internets of Dave Chappelle...
  • by Joebert (946227) on Wednesday June 13, 2007 @11:33PM (#19500893) Homepage
    My buddy runs a similar service, it's so secretive that not even you know it's happening, which gives you plausable deniability.

    He's also the pastor at your local church part time, don't be shy when that collection plate comes around...
  • by Qwavel (733416) on Wednesday June 13, 2007 @11:50PM (#19500989)
    I don't think this service is really meant for individuals (even politicians). It's more for companies. If you company gets a bad reputation for damaging the environment, monopolistic practices, or bad products, then you call in these guys.

    Companies already do stuff like this. When they get a bad reputation, instead of getting at the root of the problem that got them in trouble, they call in the lawyers and the marketing people, or hire a new PR firm. Well, these guys sell a specialty service within that industry.
    • by Fnkmaster (89084) on Thursday June 14, 2007 @02:49AM (#19501933)
      Actually, ReputationDefender is very much oriented towards individuals. Some clients may be small business owners and the like, but its definitely not targeted at large corporate clients who already have access to arrays of lawyers, PR firms, etc.

      There are probably other companies out there offering similar services for corporate clients, but ReputationDefender has always been about helping regular people monitor what's being said about them online, tracking down personal information about private citizens that shouldn't be publicly available, and representing regular people who have been unfairly maligned online.
  • Google Approved? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by weinrich (414267) on Thursday June 14, 2007 @12:03AM (#19501065)

    Adding positive content to combat negative mentions isn't against Google Inc.'s rules [...] as long as the content is original and the companies don't use manipulative techniques to push pages higher in search results.

    Since when do Internet websites have to obey rules from anyone, especially a search engine?

    If I ran a web-reputation repair company, I would do everything I could to determine what was "against" the rules in Google's mind and do it on every website where one or more of my clients had trouble. Consequently, those sites would be flagged "rule breakers" and immediately drop very low in Google's search ratings.

    My job here is done!

  • by GFree (853379) on Thursday June 14, 2007 @12:40AM (#19501257)
    How about the opposite? A company which specializes in spamming shit about someone you hate? Ruin their reputation for whatever your reasons.

    They could call it FuckEmInTheAss, DestroyTheOpp or getthefacts.com
  • by vic-traill (1038742) on Thursday June 14, 2007 @01:26AM (#19501505)

    From TFA, ReputationDefender works like this:

    1. Send a polite letter to a site you're looking to expunge info from, telling them who the company is and what they do, and what their specific requests is.

    2. Get less polite, including "contacting a site's Internet service provider to complain about the site".

    3. When there is no response, ReputationDefender will "sometimes suggests that clients hire a lawyer. Emphasis mine to ensure I'm conveying the sheer drama of such a bold move.

    4. No ??? - go direct to Profit!!!.

    I always feel like an idiot when I read these sorts of articles - there's a lucrative living to be made out of the utterly self-evident. Perhaps I need to learn to *never* underestimate the desire of people to have other folks perform simple and obvious tasks for them for exorbitant fees.

    • by Fnkmaster (89084) on Thursday June 14, 2007 @03:01AM (#19502019)
      Well, that's a dismissive analysis, and that is only a portion of the business.

      First of all, there is a technical problem of person-oriented search. This is a large part of finding content, both undesirable and otherwise, that refers to a particular person, and it is a rather complicated technical problem. It involves grouping together search engine results, and resolving a general co-reference problem across disparate types of content - how do you know that "John Smith" in one web page refers to "John Smith" in another web page? A combination of automation and human input is currently required, but this is an active area that ReputationDefender is involved in R&D for. This is more than just "Googling for your own name", as some have suggested in the past.

      If you want to Google for your own name, by all means, go ahead, it's free, though often a good starting point. But that's different from the MyReputation service, which involves aggregating from a large number of sources (meta-search), prioritizing, clustering, annotating, and pushing intermittent updates on search results to clients. This may not be useful to everyone, but it is definitely quite useful to some people. We've heard many people say "Oh wow, I didn't know that was out there".

      Secondly, removal efforts, which you describe, are one service that ReputationDefender offers. Even that service is substantially more nuanced than you make it sound - there is a database of techniques and practices that the services group has developed, and clients often do find this service to be valuable to them. Just because something isn't rocket science doesn't mean it's not useful to many people. Additionally, the fees for content removal efforts are by no means exorbitant.

      There are other services offered by ReputationDefender as well, including higher priced offerings, that work quite differently and rely on making content less easily discoverable using SEO-related techniques, rather than actually seeking its removal. Again, those might not pique your interest, but there are quite a few satisfied customers who do think they are rather valuable.

      As for the involvement of lawyers, it has only occurred in a very few cases. In cases with a strong legal mandate, ReputationDefender has in some cases been able to get law firms interested in representing clients who otherwise might not have been able to afford legal representation, and certainly not of the caliber than has become involved. Clients have been happy when they previously felt powerless about awful things being said about them, and suddenly found that their case was interesting enough to a group of high powered lawyers to take it on.

      None of these things might seem valuable to you if you haven't been in a situation to need them before, or if you are so technically savvy as to need no help in any of these areas, but there are quite a few people who do find them useful.

      By way of disclaimer, I am a consultant to ReputationDefender and a shareholder in the company, so I am surely biased on these matters, but I am open minded to legitimate critiques. But your description of what the company does is radically oversimplified.
      • by teslar (706653) on Thursday June 14, 2007 @09:03AM (#19503939)

        As for the involvement of lawyers, it has only occurred in a very few cases. In cases with a strong legal mandate, ReputationDefender has in some cases been able to get law firms interested in representing clients who otherwise might not have been able to afford legal representation, and certainly not of the caliber than has become involved.
        Translation:

        Even when we had strong cases, which does not happen often, we have failed to get law firms interested except in a select few cases but I am not going to tell you we won, which you can take to mean that we lost.
        I don't mean to rain on your parade, but since you're specifically inviting critiques: this doesn't exactly sound like you've been very useful at all now, does it? You may want to work on the sales pitch here.
        • by Fnkmaster (89084) on Thursday June 14, 2007 @03:23PM (#19510013)
          No, you apparently mistook (or intentionally distorted) my vagueness as an attempt to conceal some underlying failure. In fact, that vagueness only means that I can't discuss any specifics nor do I really know enough to do so (I'm not involved in that side of the business).

          The definition of "won" for clients is that they got rid of unwanted, misleading, unfair content out there about them, and we have many clients for whom we have successfully removed or neutralized content. We see it as a substantial positive if we reduce the number of clients who have to resort to filing lawsuits.

          Not every case of undesirable information warrants legal action, and not every case is a viable candidate for legal action. In any case, legal referral is a last resort tool, not a first line service.

          And as you probably know, the wheels of justice in the US turn rather slowly. I don't think it's plausible that any referred cases could have been seen through to completion in the time since ReputationDefender started doing business.
      • by vic-traill (1038742) on Friday June 15, 2007 @05:07PM (#19524747)

        Well, fair comment. I find your post much more informative than TFA. I suppose I knew there was more to it even as I read the article, but the article really did undersell the process, and as such I couldn't help but make a smartass comment. I think it was the presentation of the 'sometimes suggesting the hiring of a lawyer' - it just seem glib.

        Your point is fair and understood.

  • AutoAdmit (Score:3, Interesting)

    by TheoMurpse (729043) on Thursday June 14, 2007 @01:46AM (#19501601) Homepage
    AutoAdmit bills itself as "the most prestigious college admissions discussion board in the world." The law school section is just one big circle jerk of Harvard, Yale, and Stanford pricks who spend their time gossipping like old grandmas about how certain girls in their law schools are major sluts. They allegedly found out one girl at one of the schools was daughter of an international felon or something like that. An even bigger clusterfuck ensued.

    The girl hired Reputation Defender, and it became an even larger clusterfuck; might I call it a mung universe?

    Basically, I don't have anything meaningful to say other than Reputation Defender has the ability to turn a huge clusterfuck of pricks into an even bigger universe full of mung [urbandictionary.com]. Warning: the definitions are nastier than you could possibly imagine!
  • by hondo77 (324058) on Thursday June 14, 2007 @01:46AM (#19501605) Homepage
    I had someone demand I remove a link to someone in a rather heavy-handed way. Oh yes, it backfired. I bought the .net domain of the person's name and posted the whole email exchange. For years my page ranked higher than her own domain. I just checked now and it's only down to #2 and I don't even own hername.net anymore. As for the guy who tried to sanitize things, I have a separate page for him and it is still #1 when you Google his name. Yeah, these things can backfire if not handled properly.
    • by glindsey (73730) on Thursday June 14, 2007 @10:00AM (#19504693)
      I bought the .net domain of the person's name

      This is actually a bit disturbing. I'm not lawyer, but as far as I can tell ICANN rules generally state that if somebody owns your name as a domain name, and uses it to post defamatory information about you, you can have the domain name turned over to you -- similar to the way trademark holders get domain names handed over to them. The problem? It costs $1500 to file a claim with the WIPO, a pittance for a business, but crippling for an individual. And forget about suing for libel or defamation, unless you're damned sure you can include court costs and attorneys' fees in the ruling.

      This appears to make it trivially easy for anybody out there to buy a person's name as a domain, put an Internet smear-job out there, and just wait for Google to index it. Then again, maybe if everybody starts doing this all the time, the Web will be full of it and nobody will take any of it seriously.
      • by hondo77 (324058) on Thursday June 14, 2007 @10:30AM (#19505125) Homepage
        As I understand it, they can't get it back under that condition. If you have a legitimate use for the domain, which posting an email exchange is, as opposed to "Hey, if you want your domain back pay me $10,000", then you can keep the domain. But yes, it is trivially easy to do this. You just need to piss someone off enough to get them to do it. Hence the aforementioned "backfire".
  • by clickclickdrone (964164) on Thursday June 14, 2007 @04:33AM (#19502403)
    Five years ago I got called in to see the boss and was told someone had posted information about our company on a popular investors forum. I thought what I had posted was quite innocent so fessed up. After much deliberation over the next few weeks, I managed to keep my job, mainly because I was open and honest about events.
    However, what I found interesting was that they had for some time used a company in the US who use hoards of bored housewives to Google/MSN/whatever all day for company keywords looking for new stuff that could be investigated by the company. They also did a pretty smart job of cross-referencing and presented me with a thick pile of paper outlining all my internet activities over the previous 6 months, what I'd posted, where, when etc.
  • by hmccabe (465882) on Thursday June 14, 2007 @04:50AM (#19502485)

    The are several firms that now sell their services

    Are there companies that clean up bad online grammer?

  • by adzoox (615327) on Thursday June 14, 2007 @07:34AM (#19503275) Journal
    I had a company that I wrote an article about on my blog do this - it really hurt my serach engine results for a while. It's very easy to counteract though ... A) Change the wording of the "reputation managed piece" B) If they create a gateway page - contact the ISP or search engines - this is usually a violation of a TOS agreement. C) Expose the company for doing it.

    Dell is notorious for this - they did it extensively with the "exploding battery" issue.
  • by mattbee (17533) <matthew@bytemark.co.uk> on Thursday June 14, 2007 @08:12AM (#19503507) Homepage
    Why not just register a personal site with "your side" of whatever else people will find on the net? If you have got a personal site registered with your name at the top, you can guarantee that Google will ensure that's on the first page of their results, and you can explain yourself to anyone who might be interested in your past. That method is honest, permament, almost free and covers any kind of public indiscretion, heinous USENET posts, or just mistaken identity. I agree trying to "bury" information that Google already have on you is likely to end up looking even worse.
  • by ceeam (39911) on Thursday June 14, 2007 @09:51AM (#19504547)
    ReputationDefender, DefendMyName... Meh. Lame. What about MinistryOfTruth?
  • by PPH (736903) on Thursday June 14, 2007 @01:53PM (#19508387)
    ...online comments bury you!

    (Crap! Now I've got to pay to get all those stupid Obligatory posts taken down.)

  • by MrSteveSD (801820) on Thursday June 14, 2007 @05:47PM (#19512423)
    It's a good idea to use different user names for different things to prevent people building up a huge picture about you. Certainly don't use a contraction of your real name as your userID.
  • by PPH (736903) on Friday June 15, 2007 @01:56AM (#19515829)
    1) Create an on-line forum where users can post miscellaneous random thoughts (like /.).
    2) Wait a few years while users post more and more bizzare comments.
    3) Start another business that will clean up content when users start having regrets.
    4) ????
    5) Profit!

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