Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Keep Your Online Rep Clean

Everyone has those lapses of common sense- a'la The Star Wars Kid, Numa Numa Guy, Falling Down Open Hole Lady, and poor souls with public MySpace accounts. You post something funny on a private website and the next thing you know, it's viral media, and you're a web sensation (for better or worse).

For genuinely embarassing moments, this isn't anything too destructive. Everyone makes an ass out of themselves at some point. But when the picture of you being naked on a balcony with a dog (don't ask, it was a long night) gets into the hands of a potential employer... that picture could cost you a potential job.

Just to give some scope to where information could be used against you:

  • Your blog, where you posted those spiteful comments about your previous boss, boasted about how much time at work you wasted surfing the web, or where you showed your true colors about sensitive political topics (a'la racist remarks, attacks on religion, etc.).
  • Your Facebook/MySpace, with comments and pictures abound from your latest kegger, and maybe some drug experiences with friends.
  • Your dating website profile, detailing some very personal aspects about yourself (which I'm sure you never planned on having prospective recruiters see). That S&M fetish could, unfortunately, disqualify you from consideration for that executive position.
In your personal quest to clear your name online, you'll no doubt run across websites that grab a hold of what was once a personal thing and lay it out for society's entertainment. Despite begging and pleaing with them them to take it off, they refuse. Maybe your friend posted something, and you're completely unaware of what is getting spread around.

That's where ReputationDefender enters the picture. This is a brand-new service, founded by Harvard Law graduates and toting an impressive staff, that will scour the net looking for potentially image-destroying information, pictures, or movies that would impede applying for jobs, schools, and more. At $10-16 per month (depending on the subscription type), with optional $30 on-demand reports of your online rep, you can now effectively keep track of your online identity.

It's nothing new that human resources have been scanning websites for dirt on potential employees. What is new is you can finally fight back to ensure one screw-up doesn't follow you until the end of time. Rather than being perpetually worried for your professional life, you can let ReputationDefender worry about it for you.

ReputationDefender breaks itself into 3 categories: My Reputation, My Child, and My Privacy.

You'll be able to track down potentially harmful information via My Reputation to fix those moments common sense escaped you. Parents can protect their kid's reputation by using My Child, which scours social networking sites (among others) where young teens could've posted their first experience with booze. Finally, there is My Privacy, which scans what private information data-mining services could have collected, such as your social security number and home address, and attempts to remove it.

How does this service jump through the legal loops, however? The First Amendment says you can post whatever you wish on your website, after all. (Save slander and libel, and other law-protected items such as copyrighted materials, trademarks, etc.)

Well, the strategy this website follows when protecting its clients is submitting a formal legal request of content removal, which usually nudges the website's owner into compliance. ReputationDefender's team knows people will avoid going to court over something easily preventable.

Before you get your Bill of Rights undies in a twist, the website mentions in an interview with Wired Magazine that it will not attempt to block newsworthy pictures or information, and will only attempt to remove blatant attacks on character. If you got arrested and ended up in the Free Press, that might be beyond the legal abilities of ReputationDefender. If the picture of you with a giant penis markered on your face (kudos of friends) is floating around YTMND.com, then this is the website you should consult.

Just in case ReputationDefender can't remove something, you can be comforted in knowing you'll be fully refunded.

The moral of the story here is: Watch what you post, and keep track of where your kids go online. Failing that, you may need some professional "clean-up" assistance. As adults, we're responsible for what we do off- and on-line, and those that forget that will be keeping ReputationDefender in business for many years to come.

(Add'l Note: I'm interested on how the website will defend itself once someone actually contends and challenges them in court, should the day ever come. This is a very interesting business concept, but I feel it skirts the line of First Amendment-breaching far too much, and should this business spawn an actual industry, there may be an intersting legal battle regarding the freedom of posting materials online.)

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