Sunday, December 09, 2012

Fertik's "Reputation management" company wants to expand into the virtual vault business: good for consumers, or another challenge to speakers and businesses?

The New York Times has a big story in its Business Section today (Sunday, December 9, 2012) about the expansion of Michael Fertik’s company, “” (originally called Reputation Defender).  Fertik, whose life has taken him from New York City to Louisville KY now to the Silicon Valley, wants to offer people the opportunity to manage their own “data vault”, as he expands way beyond his original ideas about online reputation.  My first story about “Reputation Defender” appeared here Nov. 30, 2006, during the first year that online pundits were starting to talk about the effect of “digital dirt”, especially on job seekers. 
The tile of the story (by Natasha Singer) in print is “Your digital Switzerland: An entrepreneur builds a virtual vault to secure personal data”.  Online, the title is “A vault for taking charge of your online life”, link here

The consumer could authorize different sectors of his vault for different kinds of businesses, like health care providers (does that mean “Clear Choice” for me?), banks, insurance companies, ordinary retailers, and media retailers like Amazon.  I just thought of something: if someone wears a pacemaker or Holter monitor (an idea I may use in my screenplay), would this kind of data be there?

One suggestion was that big purchases could go into the “insurance information” vault for coverage purposes.  So could changes in titling or trusts, I suppose.  But the idea sounds to me like it could go dangerous.  People could get “Web FICO” scores on their reputations that could affect insurance rates or availability, employment, or  even leasing an apartment.  For example, could an insurer or potential landlord become concerned that a person could become a target?  Indeed, the end of the news story notes that both Equifax and Trans Union are working out deals with   I didn’t see mention of Experian (the descendant of TRW and Chilton, the company in Dallas that provided my steady work income in the 1980s – in the days that programming the interface to “risk predictor” [Fair Isaacs] employed a lot of programmers). 

There’s a difference between “Reputation Management” and “Reputation Marketing”.

I still think that the “online reputation” issues (as discussed in the last couple of posts about litigation over review postings) could lead to pressure on Section 230 of the 1996 Telecommunications Act.  CNN discussed this litigation Saturday (several attorneys, including Richard Herman and Avery Friedman) and the general view was that the ambiguity was troubling but in most cases the “opinion rule” and “free speech” would prevail in court.  

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