Here at IT Toolbox we have written a lot about the impacts of social networks, and the risks to privacy and later on employability. Previous articles are Myspace and Privacy, the good part is that now comes along one of the smartest startup idea’s that I have seen, reputation defender. They are being featured in wired magazine today here.
“Michael Fertik and his partners originally conceived of ReputationDefender as a way for parents to protect their children from potentially damaging postings to social networking sites like MySpace or Facebook.
“I don’t like the idea that kids and teenagers might suffer lifelong harm because of momentary mistakes,” says Fertik.
Using both site-scraping robots and good old-fashioned human detective skills, ReputationDefender promises to scour the internet — particularly social networking sites like MySpace, Facebook, Xanga and Flickr — for materials that could threaten the author’s employability once he reaches the professional world and its army of Google-savvy hiring managers.
According to CareerBuilder.com, 26 percent of hiring managers say they have used search engines to research potential employees, and one in 10 has looked on a social networking website.
After launching the site, Fertik quickly realized that ReputationDefender would appeal to a broader market than just minors and students.
“It seemed natural that adults might want the service, too,” he says. “We all make honest mistakes, and there’s no reason the internet should make those mistakes eternally hurtful to ourselves and others.” (Wired Magazine, Scott Gilbertson, 2006).
So as we all talk about the lack of privacy in the social networks, and really regardless how they operate, it will be difficult for someone who posted something about themselves to have someone else remove it. Ideally the person will remove their own content from those sites, but what is stored in various web caches around the planet is what is gong to do the longer term damage. Weeding out the good positives from the false positives would be difficult, as there are to people with my name, both computer experts, one specializes in Linux and one in windows, both are published, college folks, and nearly identical outside of the Linux windows competency. Then there is the university professor who also goes by my name and is about as prolific a writer as the Linux guy and the windows guy. Search on the name, and you will end up with all three, and articles or data going back to 1998, and then there is the photographer in Chicago who also has the same name as the 4 of us, and does a lot of fine art photography.
This is one of the things that any one who posts anything on the internet will have to deal with. And something that hiring managers who Google folks or e-mail addresses will also have to think about, the preponderance of false versus positive hits on just the name alone. While the e-mail is more valid, that will only show up in places where the e-mail is used in the communication. MySpace and others don’t require it, and it would be difficult if the person used an alias on MySpace that does not in any way divulge the name of the person who is using reputation defender. Nor will it most likely work if other aliases, mnemonic on names that do not directly identify the person by name, but there is enough information for people who know the parties involved to figure out who is having a live journal spat on the air. To guard against this in the user agreement at Reputation Defender they state:
“ReputationDefender, Inc. does not guarantee or warrant that we will find or communicate to you every example or all examples of Internet content about the Customer or the Named Party that he or she has designated as the subject of the searches to be undertaken by the Company. ReputationDefender, moreover, does not guarantee or warrant that it will be successful in effecting removal or alteration, if such service is to be performed, of any Internet content about the Customer or the Named Party he or she has designated as the subject of the searches to be undertaken by the Company.” (User agreement, Reputation Defender).
So good idea, a lot of technical hurdles that would be interesting to see how they overcame them, and probably a really good chance of success if the real name, real e-mail, real phone, real address, and other real informational items were used. Where aliasing was used, or where variations on the theme for names, or where multiple people have the same name with similar or like interests it would be a bit harder to figure out the false from the positive. Otherwise, with the disclaimer, they should be pretty well covered. Over all though, nice startup, nice idea, it will be interesting to see where they go from here.
Dan Morrill has been in the information security field for 18 years, both
civilian and military, and is currently working on his Doctor of Management.
Dan shares his insights on the important security issues of today through
his blog, Managing
Intellectual Property & IT Security, and is an active participant in the
ITtoolbox blogging community.