Monday, 24 February 2014

Online Reputation Management

How do you maintain a good on-line reputation? What can you do when others post extremely embarrassing comments (or images) about you? How can they be removed – or at least made less visible to search engines, to prevent others from stumbling across the relevant links?

I've recently been advising someone who is very concerned about what has happened to them: "For years there has been an offensive post about me on the internet. It is embarrassing and I have wished for years that it would get removed. However, the website where it was posted has closed down and I have no means of contacting them."

Despite Google's efforts to remove the offending material from its search results, the victim remains concerned that others will find it.

Not even the fabled "right to be forgotten" proposal in the Data Protection Regulation would have been of much help in this instance - as the material was originally posted by an American company that has folded - but who passed their data assets to another US company before  closing down.

How can victims be reassured that embarrassing material won't be shadowing them for  years to come?

Of course I appreciate the tension between freedom of expression, on the one hand, and censorship, on the other. But I also appreciate the anguish that victims feel when it appears (at least to them) that they are being unfairly hounded.

Perhaps, in time, the shadow from the embarrassing material will slip down search rankings, as more favourable information about an individual is posted.

But the internet (and particularly the Internet Archive) does not forget. Somehow we have to come to terms with this reality. Just as we need to accept that data controllers have rights, too. Particularly in terms of the information assets they have legitimately acquired.

What’s most poignant is that the person I’m advising is just 17 years old. Having had the shadow of this material around their neck for a few years already, you can imagine how they might feel if they were told that there was no hope that this material would ever be placed beyond the reach of internet users.  

If you can’t afford the services of reputation management companies like Iginyte, then who can you turn to?

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