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    San Francisco Chronicle: It’s tough to keep your online rep intact

    The San Francisco Chronicle reports on the difficulty of trying to control one’s online reputation, which is just as hard as trying to control one’s offline reputation:

    As the lines between private and public blur, many social network users are actively monitoring and managing their online reputations. In much the way businesses or celebrities must respond to negative reviews or embarrassing press, private individuals are exercising personal spin control by deleting unwanted comments or removing their name from photos. Some are even hiring the equivalent of a personal PR firm.

    But Internet users are often their own worst enemy in keeping personal data under wraps. The information they consciously or unconsciously disclose – by posting comments, rating stories, joining fan pages or connecting to certain friends – amount to digital footprints that advertisers, employers, landlords and law enforcement can and have used for very different reasons.

    The rapid dissemination of information across the Web, fluctuating privacy policies at social sites, emergence of services that specifically elicit personal opinions about individuals and increasingly sophisticated use of data by businesses all mean that online reputation management will become more and more difficult, observers say. […]

    Many people are, however, trying to exert some control. A survey released last week by the Pew Research Center, conducted in August and September 2009, found that 57 percent of adult Internet users employ search engines to monitor their online reputation, up from 47 percent in 2006. Sixty-five percent of social network users said they’ve altered privacy settings to limit what they share online, a question that wasn’t asked in the previous study. […]

    [Michael Fertik, founder of ReputationDefender Inc.] stresses that the problem goes well beyond information that is merely socially or professionally embarrassing. Advertisers, insurers and other businesses are becoming increasingly sophisticated at deriving information from our social identities and connections. He imagines a near future where actuaries might assume you’re at a higher risk for a DUI, car accident or cancer based on the online activities of friends and family members in your social networks.

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