Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Can you put the toothpaste back in the tube?

I admit it - I have Google'd my own name. In todays world, I think you almost have to. I am fairly religious about getting my free credit report 3 times a year (once from each company), just to ensure that my credit score is where I expect it to be, and that someone hasn't stolen my identity and started using my credit. Considering the proliferation of blogs, and taking into account the permanent and yet dynamic nature of the Internet, I would think that we now need to be just as religious at finding out what other people are saying about us on their blogs and other posts -whether we are notable figures or not.

I read today about some companies that are trying to make a business out of helping people to stay on top of this. Defend My name and Reputation Defender are just two examples. Both claim to scour the web, watching for your name to be used in an unflattering way.

Their reaction is very different, however: one will start by sending an e-mail directly to the website owner, asking that the content be removed. If it is not removed, then they continue down that path, sending less-friendly e-mails to the owner, and even communicating with the ISP that provides the service for the "offending" site. This can often backfire, as some bloggers have simply posted these e-mails, and mocked the request to remove the content as a blatant attempt at censorship.

The other site takes a different approach: they will create positive posts to try and counter the negative ones. Their hope is to put enough positive things out there that the search engines will push the negative comments down, hopefully to the feared second page of results, which no one ever looks at.

Both of these approaches make me wonder: can you really put the toothpaste back in the tube? Once some negative comment is out there, it is really very tough to take it back - especially if it has already been widely distributed.

And what if the negative comments are actually accurate and well-deserved? What if you are really a con artist, taking people's money, or scamming them out of everything they own - but you want to use one of these services to keep your name from being defamed? Or, what if you are just a jerk, and your neighbor wants to tell people about it? They certainly have that right, at least in this country.

It is indeed a very interesting world we now live in. A few years ago I was involved in an on-going dispute with our school board. My name was mentioned in the minutes, which were posted to the web regularly. My comments were not just available to those at the meeting, or even to those at the school - but rather to anyone who happened to search for my name online (potential employers/employees, family, friends, etc). I kept a fairly close eye on those comments, just to ensure that they were not too defaming. In this case the posts, while not always complimentary, at least fairly accurately communicated my stance on the issue at hand. But this may not always be the case.

Do you search your name, just to see if your neighbor posted some negative comments about your barking dog, or worse yet - some pictures taken through your open window? How much would you pay for a service that would find these things, and attempt to remove them for you?

I would think that a service such as this should be paid for based on a reverse-AdWords approach: the more exposure it had before the company removed it, the less you would have to pay. A premium would be paid for those that were removed before anyone looked at it.

Regardless, I believe that just as we keep watch on our credit report, we all should Google our own names every once in a while, to keep watch on our on-line reputation. It is just one of those things we need to do in this new, online world of ours.

1 comment:

Jeff Barson said...

Nope on the toothpaste.

My medspa blog has received a number of lawyer complaints about items that have been posted. In each case I've simply posted and commented on the letters themselves which was exactly what they were trying to avoid

http://www.medicalspamd.com/the-blog/2007/2/5/dermacare-sends-medical-spa-md-a-cease-and-desist-letter.html

http://www.medicalspamd.com/the-blog/2007/4/23/sona-medspas-ron-berglund-medical-spa-md.html

It's toothpaste. Just try to swallow.