Who owns your reputation?

Who owns your reputation? Apparently you, if ReputationDefender has its way…to the potential chagrin of the great Bob Blakley. In this review of the company in Wired magazine:

The mistakes you make on the internet can live forever — unless you hire somebody to clean up after you.

A new startup, ReputationDefender, will act on your behalf by contacting data hosting services and requesting the removal of any materials that threaten your good social standing. Any web citizen willing to pay ReputationDefender’s modest service fees can ask the company to seek and destroy embarrassing office party photos, blog posts detailing casual drug use or saucy comments on social networking profiles.

The company produces monthly reports on its clients’ online identities for a cost of $10 to $16 per month, depending on the length of the contract. The client can request the removal of any material on the report for a charge of $30 per instance.

The troubling thing about ReputationDefender, is the way, the company might go about fulfilling a customer request for eliminating embarrassing information.

Fertik declined to offer an exact description of his company’s means of removing content. “I can say we have codified a series of procedures that we are continually refining,” he says, “and that are specific to the source, location and nature of the content we are asked to destroy.”

If you’re a website owner and ReputationDefender knocks on your door, you are not legally bound to remove anything until a judge orders you to — a scenario that most website owners are keen to avoid.

“Most people will take materials down just to avoid the hassle of dealing with possible litigation,” says Susan Crawford, an associate professor at Cardozo Law School who specializes in cyberlaw and telecommunications law.

“If the letter is sufficiently threatening,” says Crawford, “the threaten-ee could bring his or her own lawsuit seeking a declaration that what they posted wasn’t unlawful. But, again, most people will just buckle rather than fight back.”

I am fine with the company deploying its “series of procedures” on the behalf of a teenager but I am afraid that these services would be misused to strong arm websites to remove newsworthy or to-be-newsworthy information from the web. An extreme example of a similar situation was presented in the movie Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (that was a great flick) where Clementine Kruczynski (Kate Winslet) had her memory erased of all references of her ex-boyfriend Joel Barish (Jim Carrey). In this case the memory being erased is our collective record, the web, and similar to the movie there is a huge potential for foul play here.

I tend to agree with Bob that one just controls one’s actions. After the actions have been taken one shouldn’t really be able to influence other people’s story about those actions…This is not good news for the web and social-media.


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